In downtown Yangon on historical Pansodan Street, in a shop above Sharky’s you’ll find a unique display of useful hand-crafted items — like laptop sleeves, belts and toiletry bags refashioned from rubber tires and a line of jewelry made from newspaper and semi-precious stones.Established more than a year ago, the Hla Day shop is a social enterprise headed by German native Ulla Kroeber who has spent 8 years living in Myanmar since 1994.“Our main aim is to provide jobs and we do that through creating contemporary crafts. We give design advice,” Kroeber said.All of Hla Day’s products are made by people from disadvantaged backgrounds or with disabilities or sicknesses.
When needy artisans approach Hla Day, their designs are either accepted or rejected, and if accepted — the artisans are given advice for the fine-tuning of their product and often business training too. All profits from sales in the shop are used for the empowerment of the community producers, according to Kroeber.Product ideas that come through the door are often not ready for sale so Hla Day gives design advice and business guidance to the producer following three criteria: the producer’s ability, material availability and the products compatibility with the shop.
Ms Kroeber explained, “We either tweak and twist the existing product or create a new product.”“We found that when we work with people and we make a product, they find it really difficult to calculate their price so we realized that most producers also need business training. We provide this for them too.”There’s new line of placemats and matching napkins which are made by a group of widowed women living with HIV who connected with Hla Day through an NGO called Action for Public.Ms Kroeber says product consistency is one of the biggest challenges, articulating a need to maintain a high quality of the products for sale.More than 40 producer groups currently work with Hla Day to supply the hand-crafted works, all of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds including the disabled, those living with HIV and some struggle to sustain small family businesses.
“We don’t want to be in competition with the local market — we want to broaden the market and bring contemporary creations to the shop,” said Ms Kroeber.
Other Hla Day products include modern clothes and soft furnishings made with traditional Myanmar fabrics as well as traditional papier-mâché toy animals, household decorations made from recycled newspapers, rag dolls, greetings cards and more. A new collection features a range of products from Kayah State provided by a Dutch-funded inclusive tourism project that focuses on community-based tourism in Kayah State. The jewelry is crafted from disused brass coils once worn by the women of the Kayan ethnic group in Kayah State. The Hla Day team members are working on a “Library in a Box” project in conjunction with Third Story Project to produce a concept called Pass it On which provides a platform for visitors, tourists or any person wishing to contribute to society here to buy a library in a box.
The Libraries in a Box contain 22 children’s books as well as a teacher’s guide and include two postcards on which the donator can send the recipients a message and hopefully receive one in return. The Third Story Project team then delivers the books to a needy school or a selected community group.
“No one is getting rich from this but it provides people with a decent income so they can send their kids to school,” said Ms Kroeber.