If there is one shop in downtown Yangon where you can buy a gorgeous souvenir and help make a difference direct to local artisans, Hla Day is it.
The name of the shop means ‘beautiful’ in Burmese and it’s hard not to feel good when you walk through the door.
Founder and Lead Designer Ulla Kroeber agrees. “People clearly enjoy our products. They come here because we are a happy place,” she said.
The visually stunning craft outlet was established at it’s current site around two years ago by a group including Kroeber. The shop aims to help talented local craftspeople develop their skills, market their goods and, ultimately, have a regular income.
Situated up a winding wooden staircase next to the Rangoon Tea Shop on Pansodan Street, it’s well worth the climb to get there. The light-filled, open-plan first floor space with its high ceilings provides the perfect backdrop to the many lovely things on display.
Brightly colored cushions and woven wall hangings are piled up next to intricate beaded jewelry, clothing and stationery. There is a wide range of high quality household goods, including pottery, glassware and place mats. A special mention has to go to the papier mache dogs, owls, elephants and giraffes – my favorites.
Hla Day provides a market outlet for, as well as design and business training to local producers. Many of these artisans struggle with social exclusion, poverty and related issues.
Kroeber explains that more than 75% of the shop’s suppliers are women. Many are widows or disabled and have no other source of income. Some work from home, juggling their household chores with their craftwork. Others have formed small collectives and work communally.
“They can remain at home. They don’t have to abandon their children,” Kroeber said.
“There are some that work in little workshops because they want the support of each other. There are also a group of women with physical disabilities that work together.
“Our producers are of completely different backgrounds. They range from a single person to a group of thirty people.
“Mostly they are from Yangon and surroundings, but we also have producer groups in Rakhine State, a group from Shan State and also Kaya State.”
“Anyone can walk through the door and show us their product.”
If a product is not ready to be marketed, Hla Day will work with the producer to make necessary changes. The aim is to ensure the artisans can earn from sales of their work as soon as possible.
“I believe that once people have the security of an income they can take care of so many things themselves,” Kroeber said.
One artisan used her first earnings to buy a bicycle so she could take her children to school more easily. Another bought some gold earrings, a savings policy, instead of putting the cash in the bank.
Once the product hits the shelves, Hla Day also sends customer feedback to the producers so they can make improvements.
“We have a responsibility. We have to sell products for more than 50 different producers. That’s why we are open 7 days a week, twelve hours a day.”
The business is also considering new outlets, when the time is right.
“We would love to expand because we are getting more and more lovely products. It would be interesting to do what we do in different regions,” Kroeber said.
I certainly hope they do, because there really is something special about buying things here.
Shoppers at Hla Day leave with beautiful and well-made crafts, and the knowledge they have made a difference to the person who made it.