Innovations at the Hub

Research focus on handweaving does not mean a neglection of the current developments in the use of textiles. Thus here is an example how Myanmar entrepreneurs create new products with existing fabrics.

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I think Soe Maung Aungs shoes are an interesting case for understanding how a variety of relations are negotiated, in a very simplified version these are relevant elements:

A) Keeping together past and present: Using known patterns as a means to present and continue the traditional/culturally known
B) Ethnicity: Taking up different ethnic group ascribed designs, allowing for identification and a broad representation
C) Adapting the material to a new context: ballerina shoes
D) Economic participation: Creating a connection to the international market, where ballerinas are a standard shoe form, thus targeting expats and travellers as well
E) At the same time presenting an innovative model for the local shoe consumption (usually flip flops and their more fancy version Ka Lee Ba as well as shoe imports from abroad).

Concerned how to give back to the community I will use this post also to share the contact information with you.

Different designs and sizes are always available. And the economic strategy also includes a customization service: bring the fabric you like and the shoes are made in 2-3 weeks! Can’t get any more special I think.

Find the nice team around entrepreneur Soe Maung Aung at the Bogyoke Market. When standing in front of it it is the first inner-row building from the left, outer row quite in the back.

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Ma Pan Ei will find the perfect shoe for you

Don’t hesitate to show the pictures on the phone to someone at the market, they will help you find it!

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Innovations at the Hub

Same Procedure as Every Day. How to find Routines and Ways of Participation

Every beginning is troublesome and every day was different. As you could read, several people helped me to find research sites and introduced me there. At that point structuring days or weeks was hopeless. Sudden appointments and unexpected discoveries were the daily normal.

First visits to sites often already included longer talks than I planned: because people were expecting me to ask questions. So my position at that moment seemed clear,  even if I didn’t really plan it to be like this. So first I explained a little what it is that I am doing and I was improvising on the questions then. But this situational conversation actually led to some relaxation after a while and we chatted more easy going and it was very informative for me.

Now we got to the point where we know each other a little and there are some behavioural routines. Not all available food in the area is brought and work/lectures go their way nearly without interruptions (sometimes things are explained to me in English to make sure I follow e.g.).

But to say I blend in would be said too much. Even if I feel not that visible in weaving class anymore – I am mistaken. My movements are registered,  as soon as I am about to sit down on the floor one of the girls brings a small stool.

Although I bring my own food it is stapled above with more food by the teacher at lunch break. I am treated like a guest, so not yet perfectly arrived at the social spot that I would like to be in. Also, there is a certain hierarchy between weavers, shop owners, employees, students and teachers. So it is not completely easy to position myself clearly,  as I wish to understand and include as many perspectives as possible.

And I face another problem: the Acheik weaving is too difficult to learn just randomly at some time in between and the fabric to precious to let me train on it. So to say: participating observation is not possible in the manufacturing process. I try to find different solutions to get as close to this standard as possible though:

1) I spend time with the weavers anyway. Mostly it is quiet or we listen to music, talking amongst each other works well, too. But me asking questions is too distracting in this highly concentrated surrounding. Only simple things like: this is really nice/difficult work.
2) At the weaving school I try to participate in the flying shuttle class – but also here it is problematic, and I don’t yet fully understand the teaching system. But I am here, bringing lunch to eat with the students and in the afternoon I visit the lecture like they do.

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3) Be a photo object and take pictures for the everyone as well – at least a small social spot that I can take.

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Another thing concerning the daily routine: all the motorbike riding in sun and dust and on bumpy streets in heavy traffic, thinking in English, speaking Myanma, trying to understand conversations and making all these small decisions during the day – I am used to it now, but when I arrive home in the afternoon I feel it is actually still quite exhausting. Writing down everything in the evening as I planned – impossible. So I scheduled myself like this now:

Day 1 Amarapura: Weaving School or workshop, sometimes one in the morning, the other one in the afternoon. The school is not open Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays, so there are some shifts in the schedule.

Day 2 Mandalay: Myanma lesson and chatting with Uzin Agga.
In the afternoon keeping track of research audio records, pictures taken, work with new information and plan the next day.
Repeating Myanma class & my vocabulary.

Day 3 Sagaing: Three weaving workshops and one designer to visit alternately. Enjoy family time with my guest family,  having lunch or afternoon snack together before returning to Mandalay (40 minute drive).

Back to Day 1.

In general it works well, but of course I still feel I cannot manage to do enough, see enough, learn enough…
Especially as the everyday life of my own person is also taking place to some extend: groceries need to be shopped, dinner prepared and cooked; presents organized, motorbike repaired etc. (this also takes longer as usual because everything works differently). And of course: communicating with friends in the field, colleagues and framily at home. And being present at the University of Mandalay every now and then to exchange and chat about what is going on.

And then Uzin Agga says:

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Same Procedure as Every Day. How to find Routines and Ways of Participation

Self-Censorship and Secrets

To fulfill the idea of transparency, it needs to be added that some issues are excluded from being passed on absolutely transparent.

Myanmar is in a state of transition, which means the government has not yet been installed although the elections have been conducted in November and the legal situation has thus not significantly changed either. So I will not disclose related matters, neither facts that can sound too critical nor my own opinion on these. I also don’t think it is necessary for this blog, I just wish to be clear about its limitations in terms of transparency.

Another point is that it is professional business networks and competition between the weaving stores I visit. Several of these links I can understand now, but I am asked not to publish them (kind of clear anyway) – and I wouldn’t do any other place either.

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And if you don't censor yourself - maybe your computer helps on that 🙂 still working on a solution how to save myanma font in Word

Self-Censorship and Secrets