For over 10 years, Au Lac Designs has been working closely with artisans, producing a soulful assortment of handicrafts developed and designed throughout remote regions of Vietnam. It is a multi-faceted organization that works with approximately one hundred and 56 full time artisans, bringing the spirit of Vietnamese craft to the world market. They specialize in a variety of media including, buffalo horn, silk, lacquer, bamboo, shell, bronze and stone.
There are many beautiful items in Au Lac's collections. Their buffalo horn jewelry is made by hand, and is a process where first the material is heated, flattened, carved, sanded, polished, and then is crafted into cuffs, earrings, and necklaces. All horn items are made out of the buffalo’s by-products, therefore it is not harmed in any way. Following a tradition where all animal parts are used after death, nothing goes to waste. Throughout Southeast Asia, the buffalo is highly respected and valued for its meat and horn, as well as for the labor it performs. Lacquerware is another popular line, which has been produced in Vietnam for thousands of years. This art form involves mixing multiple layers of special paints with resin onto shaped bases, which are then vigorously polished to achieve a deep, glossy sheen. Among the layers, inlays are sometimes added, including mother of pearl, bone, and eggshells. Au Lac’s lacquerware is from Duyen Thai, which is located in the south of Hanoi.
Traditionally, this craft was produced for the kings to use in The Pagoda and Royal Palaces, but is now being exported worldwide. The bamboo ware also undergoes a tedious but interesting manufacturing process as this natural grass family fiber can be molded into almost any shape and size. All pieces are cut from tall bamboo trees, which grow in abundance throughout Vietnam. Then they are cleaned and split into fine strips. Lastly, they are soaked in a natural glue until pliable. The products are then painted or lacquered to create a fine and smooth finish.
The company also works with a group of tailors from Xuan Truong, which is another rural district in the south of Vietnam, where all of their silk items are made. Products include apparel, plus fabrics for the home and personal accessories. Fifteen years ago, a few graduates formed a non-profit collaborative, which now acts as a training center to improve the quality of the artisans’ products and also provides work to over twenty-eight full time tailors.
Head of product development and marketing, David Au Lac states, “Our biggest challenge is probably the same challenge that all businesses have in this difficult world: the economy. It is difficult to find steady and continuous work for the groups with which we work. Our goal is simple, we want to help bring employment opportunities back to the artisans. We are always coming up with new products to keep things fresh for our buyer. Most recently, we have been introducing the use of recycled materials, to create a wide array of items out of used paper, rubber, fabrics, and glass."
In order to create a sustainable enterprise, they also focus a great amount of their time and energy into their education seminars, which cover topics such small business development, exporting, global trends, quality control, and product management. Au Lac Designs is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, as well as the World Fair Trade Organization, which have both been great platforms for attracting an array of foreign buyers. Au Lac Designs will also be participating in Artisan Resource, a production-sourcing venue for overseas artisan
enterprises which runs January 27-29th, 2013 at the New York International Gift Fair.