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Talking Travel With… Thao Phuong of TextileSeekers

Seeking adventure with a side of culture? In our latest edition of Talking Travel, we’re chatting with Thao Phuong, the founder of TextileSeekers, a slow retreat and luxury tour company that connects travellers with local textile artisans and the traditional textile practices of ethnic tribes in Vietnam and beyond.

The fashion designer and consultant shares more about how she started TextileSeekers, why she’s passionate about empowering women, and her top trips of all time:

Source: TextileSeekers

Tell us about TextileSeekers!

TextileSeekers curates experiences which focus on indigenous textile practices whilst highlighting the value of provenance.

For me, it is the coming together of a collective; one that bonds over shared values and forges deeper connections with the local communities we visit. In doing so, we assist in the survival of ancestral knowledge for future generations.

My goal is simply to share a journey that not only uncovers indigenous tribes at the root of sustainable textile design, but also opens a dialogue of self-discovery, planting the seeds for creative aspirations of our own.

How did you originally start TextileSeekers, and why?

In 2018, I was invited to a ‘compassion home’ in Lào Cai, Vietnam, which supports survivors of human trafficking (mostly young girls lured into crime in the hope of securing a better-paying job). While previous generations relied on handicrafts as a means of income, young people no longer felt as though they wanted to continue this legacy, as it is laborious and provides little financial return.

This realisation further convinced me that it’s nothing less than essential to preserve traditional crafts. I knew I couldn’t go back to my day job, and that something within me was transformed. That was how TextileSeekers really began.

Why are you passionate about textiles, ethnic women and local communities?

Having seen the devastating effects of the fast fashion industry first-hand, plus the fact that so many traditions are being lost and so many tribespeople feel like they have little choice but to seek work elsewhere (which, as mentioned, makes them susceptible to human trafficking and often results in them ending up in factories), it’s impossible not to feel passionate about the need for change.

Source: TextileSeekers

How does TextileSeekers directly empower women?

Via a process of sincerity and respect. As a women-led company, it’s absolutely fundamental to our vision to work with women, to support and ignite each other’s inspirations, and to attempt to make a real difference to each other’s lives.

We connect with artisans who become part of our team, providing the time and space for them to showcase their skills through our curated workshops. The travellers are then empowered to return home inspired with the knowledge and compassion to make more considered choices in their day-to-day lives.

Your retreats involve elements of yoga and meditation – why is that?

I attended Vipassana and continue to practice mindfulness meditation, and have also undertaken a 72 hour Jivamutki Teacher Training course. As such, yoga and meditation are part of my daily rituals, and it’s a joy to have travellers join me in my morning meditation and yoga practice, and getting each day off to the best possible start.

Source: TextileSeekers

How do you balance luxury with the authentic, down-to-earth experience that your tours offer?

It’s something which arises naturally from how the retreats are curated. TextileSeekers is all about inviting travellers into the homes and workshops of tribespeople, connecting with local businesses, and cutting out third parties to allow me and my groups to immerse themselves in the culture. The essence of luxury comes from the pace of the itineraries, the space granted in which to explore, and the opportunity to be still and to surround yourself with beauty.

Sustainability is another key element, which is something that greatly influences our choice of accommodation. Staying in homestays was always an option, but it was important for me to offer opportunities to retreat to somewhere lavish yet sustainable, and to enjoy a sense of luxury at the beginning and end of each day.

What excites you most about the next retreat, the Mai Chau Tribes Textile Retreat?

The next retreat is set to be deeply exciting, as it involves a new region which I’m yet to explore. When curating this particular retreat, my entire focus was on connecting with the silk handicrafts and the Tay tribe, who are originally from Thailand. I knew Mai Chau would be the perfect region to visit as it provides the ideal counterpoint of Hanoi, offering stunning natural landscapes and a wealth of authentic artisanal experiences. I can’t wait!

Source: TextileSeekers

You’ve lived in over seven cities around the world! What prompted your jet-setting lifestyle, and which city is your absolute fave?

Yes, I’ve moved from Sydney, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, NYC and now Barcelona. I have a background in fashion design, so moving abroad was always intertwined with work opportunities. If I had to choose a favourite city, it’d have to be where I currently am, in Barcelona.

Besides Vietnam, where are the places that you most like to travel to, and why?

The Kingdom of Bhutan and Tibet absolutely compell me and call to my spiritual interests and fascination with Buddhism. I’m also keen to explore various parts of Latin America – Ecuador in particular, which would definitely help my Spanish.

What was your best trip ever?

The vast majority of my favourite memories have come from times when I’ve been travelling solo. There’s something deeply special about visiting a country for the first time on your own – you have so much time to connect with the city, seek out new friends amongst locals and other solo travellers, and move entirely to your own rhythm.

Whilst visiting Warsaw in Poland, I not only met several wonderful people, but also managed to attend an invite-only front row fashion event, visit an artist community, eat local Polish food and listen to Chopin in the park.

Source: TextileSeekers

And the worst?

I’ve been lucky as a ‘worst’ travel experience doesn’t immediately come to mind! I always make an effort to put in a little groundwork before visiting a city, and try not to have too many expectations. If I had to highlight any negative experience, it would have to revolve around food; like most people, I have experienced some poor selections of dishes, falling into tourist traps and missing out on some important sensory experiences. After all, food plays a huge role in experiences, as much as the people, sights, or culture of a country.

What’s next on your bucket list?

I’m working on a collaboration retreat, which is set to be an extension of TextileSeekers. I’ll be introducing friends and artisans to the platform and offering unique bespoke retreats that explore their cultural heritage. Right now, I’m piecing together a retreat in Guadalajara, Mexico!

Learn more about TextileSeekers

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