the origin of the sapa bag

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welcome to the fairly blog!

this is my first post ever, and it is going to be about a unique bag that I dedicated to the town of sapa in northern vietnam. sapa or Sa Pa was established as a hill station by the french in 1922. today, it is a popular tourist destination for backpackers and tour groups alike, most easily reached on a sleeper train from hanoi. sapa is a most scenic destination lying amidst mountains and terraced rice fields, often overhung by clouds. but what makes sapa so unique is its centrality to several hill tribes that live in the region - most importantly the black hmong and the red dzao, who constitute about 75 percent of the population in and around sapa.  if you visit the mountain town, you will encounter countless hill tribe women and children (and men, to a lesser extent), many of them still clad in their traditional garb. 

black hmong girls near the vietnamese town of sapa

black hmong girls near the vietnamese town of sapa

sapa mountains

sapa mountains

the hill tribe subsistence is mainly based on small scale agriculture. even for vietnam's rural standards, the sapa region is very poor and subject to governmental and non-governmental development efforts. 

the simple, rural life-style of the hill tribe people contrasts with their immensely colourful and rich handicrafts - among others beautiful embroideries and delicate batik artwork. generally, the hill tribe people only make handcrafted items for their own needs, but with the advent of tourism, some women have started to sell their creations in the streets. 

the black hmong are the largest minority group in the sapa region. their clothing is mostly made from indigo-dyed hemp that has a deep blue, almost black colour. the black hmong women wear short black trousers, a waistcoat with embroidered sleeves and a wide, green and black belt tied around the waist. their headgear is a round and black hat, and they wear leg warmers. 

the red dzao or dao are the second largest minority group in the sapa region. the women's traditional costume consists of dark, indigo-dyed, baggy trousers that feature panels hand-embroidered with a characteristic flower, tree and star pattern on both legs and a long jacket or blouse with the same kind of embroidery on the lower back. women mostly wear red headgear, indicating that they are married - thus the "red" dzao.

red dzao girls in the sapa region

red dzao girls in the sapa region

as a textile-obsessed person, I acquired lots of vintage fabrics in sapa, among others red dzao jackets and trousers and black hmong baby carriers and belts. I was utterly fascinated by the affinity of these women with textile crafts, and the time-consuming processes though which they turn their home-grown and dyed hemp into stunning apparel. back home and with the hill tribe ladies in the back of my mind, I set out to turn my acquisitions into something new - and I came up with the sapa bag, which is essentially made of a red dzao fabric panel and half a black hmong belt.

red dzao fabric panel and part of a black hmong belt

red dzao fabric panel and part of a black hmong belt

I am not sure what the red dzao and the black hmong would say about me using their traditional fabrics to create a bag - but it is intended as an homage to this very special region in northern vietnam with its unique inhabitants!

sapa bag

sapa bag

ps: if you ever have a chance to visit sapa, do trek to some of the villages nearby. the sapa sisters are a group of black hmong women guides, whose business is owned entirely by themselves and thus enables them to support themselves and their families. they will give you great insight into their special culture on a trek through the unique sapa scenery.