Nature Bag

Nature Bag

Nature Bag Logo

 

Green Reusable Bag Unique In Style & Structure 

Our reusable sustainable organic bag is compact, lightweight and minimalistic. Elastic construction enhances versatility. Amazing strength and beauty enrich today's fashionable eco-conscious users and the ancient enduring Khmu culture which makes it.    

What is Nature Bag? 

The Nature Bag is unique in style, structure and shape. Homemade in Laos, its design has been perfected by thousands of years of use on steep mountainsides by the Khmu indigenous minority. The result is a sturdy versatile tote evolved from the survival necessity of safely carrying a day’s harvest.     Who make these Green Bags?  Southeast Asia’s poorest make these eco-friendly bags at home using wild growing JungleVine™ (tropical kudzu). Coordination and quality control come from a 22 year-old Laotian student. Skilled volunteers empower our poverty-reduction mission. Funding is entirely private, mainly from an elderly disabled American.    

Why use Nature Bag? 

The stretchable durable organic bags provide a fashionable ultimate green way to leave bad bags behind. JungleVine™ purifies our air by removing harmful carbon and creating oxygen to breath. Making bags at home aids in child nurturing, preserves traditional social interaction and needs no wasteful commuting.

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Nature Bag Khmu/Lao Poverty Reduction Project

This is what we commonly call our activities of linking the Khmu tribe of Northern Laos to the rest of the world. The economic foundation of these linkages is marketing the Khmu reusable organic bag. Proved by thousands of years of sustainability, it has relevance today as humans work to survive on our planet.

The Khmu Makers

The Nature Bag is homemade in Laos, a landlocked country in Southeast Asia which has one of the lowest per person income levels in the world. The knowledge and skill used in its craftsmanship rest exclusively with the Khmu ethnic group, which has lived at high elevations on the mountainsides of Northern Laos for centuries. 

The Khmu are the indigenous people of Northern Laos. Their rich culture dates back thousands of years. Some scholars believe it to be 5,000 years old, which would make it among the most enduring. 

Some Khmu continue to live at a subsistence level, searching the forests for their basic needs — food, medicine and fiber for clothing and shelter to protect from environmental elements. Many have no monetary income. 

Their bags offered to the world on this website have been essential to their survival allowing for the gathering of essentials. Today, as it was a thousand years ago, the loss of a day’s harvest if a bag were to fail or to slip off a shoulder and fall from a steep mountainside could be critical. The availability of the Nature Bag worldwide is perfectly timed with the current urgency for sustainability in all lifestyles. 

During the past 25 years, basic educational opportunities have been extended to most Khmu children. This has allowed many to choose to leave the traditional villages and integrate into mainline Lao culture. Most of those who have left maintain strong ties to their families and continue to celebrate their traditions. Those who remain prefer traditional life and the opportunity to pass traditions on to their children. 

Since 2004 some of those remote villages have been reached by electricity and mobile telephone service. This has brought the opportunity for more efficient linkages between the ancient culture and the rest of the world. 

Our poverty reduction project is designed to strengthen and extend those links, giving the traditional a means to progress technologically and economically while remaining rooted in and preserving the ancient ways. Our mission can be summarized as being a means of strengthening in depth and economic power the inevitably evolving links between the Khmu and general society. We hope to enhance the empowerment of the Khmu as important participants in the rapidly progressing Laotian nation. 

Professor Damrong Tayanin (Khmu name Kam Raw) of the Department of Linguistics and Phonetics of Lund University in Sweden, grew up in a remote Khmu village. He has put together a website that offers excellent information about Khmu culture. His work can be seen by clicking here

Your NatureBag allows their grandchildren to have books for school, money to pay for health care, the benefits of electricity in their villages.

Nature Bag Earth Day 40 Video

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Our Involvement With the Nature Bag

 Project Organizer and Managing Director Bounsou Keoamphone spent his early childhood in a village that has dozens of Khmu settlements nearby. Although the Khmu did not trade their bags (even with nearby neighbors) frequently Khmu children would use one as a school bag. Thus at a young age Keoamphone learned about the Nature Bag. 

A few years ago Keoamphone gave an American man a Khmu bag as a souvenir after guiding him to a remote area deep in the jungles of Asia. It was a trinket to show friendship and to remind of an exotic adventure, seemingly too small and fragile to be useful. 

The American travels light, even on journeys around the world. Had the primitive bag not been virtually weightless and easily folded into a tiny nearly flat bundle, it would have remained in rural Asia. But it went to Iowa USA because it was insignificant additional luggage. 

Usually uninterested in souvenirs, he put the gift aside. About 6 months later a reusable canvass supermarket bag used to tote tools, parts and supplies on handyman projects was not large enough to carry everything needed to do a roof repair. The Asian souvenir seemed to be sized right for what could not fit in the apparently larger and stronger canvass bag. 

Being of a practical rather than a sentimental inclination, the American chose to use the “fragile souvenir,” reasoning that if it could get its contents onto the roof before failing, enough of the supplies and parts would be consumed during the roof work that the canvass bag would be adequate to take remaining items back to the ground. 

Not only did the “souvenir” not fail, it also held much more cargo than expected, expanding around its contents, gently gripping to keep things in place. It had other special qualities: It did not slide down the sloping roof like the canvass bag tended to do. It kept its contents in place, securely enclosed, protected from sliding down the roof and falling to the ground. It was amazing as a tool carrier! 

The next day the bag was placed in frequent use to see what extremes it could endure. Nearly every day for 2 years that Nature Bag was used for shopping, as a gym bag (including carrying sweaty clothing back home), transporting books, audio/video equipment and DVD ’s, picking up trash, hauling stacks of newspapers for catch-up reading on extended journeys, harvesting garden produce, carrying picnic items, collecting bottles and cans for recycling, as a laundry bag, for hiking, even as an overnight bag. It was exposed to lots of sweat, sun, heat, cold, rain, snow, ice, leaking liquids while frequently bloated and stretched from volumes of heavy cargo. It required no care, and when empty, it would rest on a shoulder without being noticed, or easily it could be slipped into a pocket. 

When a sharp object snagged and severed one of the jungle vine cords, the American feared that the fabric would unravel and the miraculous bag would be useless. Amazingly, the small hole grew very slowly. Larger holes developed only after nearby JungleVine™ was snagged or cut. 

That Nature Bag, with some gaps so large that carrying small items is impossible, now hangs on a wall as a piece of memorabilia and work of art, its remaining in-place JungleVine™ cord seemingly as strong as ever. The seam, strap and strap attachment techniques show no signs of weakness. The decorative colors applied to the JungleVine have faded or disappeared entirely, although colorful cotton threads continue to entertain around the opening, and the black bands of dyed jungle vine cord are as they were the day it left Laos. Its original light tan has become more gray, but the color change was so subtle that you can detect it only by comparing it with a new bag. In the years that bag was used, it never seemed soiled and never was cleaned. 

The American, now retired due to physical disability, has provided most of the “seed” financing for the poverty reduction project. More about him can be seen by clicking here. There are some wonderful Khmu images posted there as well. 

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A Benefit Analysis of the Khmu/Lao Poverty-Reduction Project September 2009


Slightly more than 10,000 Nature Bags have been purchased directly from the Khmu families who have made them in their homes. The first few thousand bags were acquired via person to person negotiations with a representative of each family on a bag per bag basis.

Subsequently bags were purchased at generally uniform prices both makers and buyers agreed were market values. And we have been moving towards “placing orders” for bags monthly via informal Khmu maker networks specifying design and size factors and quantities. Under the current system, we have declined to buy a few bags that have been presented for purchase if quality and other specifications were not met. 

The American has invested more than US$100,000 cash in the project and incurred approximately an additional US$40,000 in expenses, none of which has been reimbursed. Bounsou Keoamphone, the project’s managing director, has invested the equivalent of approximately US$3,000 cash and incurred approximately an additional US$5,000 in expenses, approximately 50 percent of which have been reimbursed by the project. Neither Keoamphone nor the American has received any salary, return on their investments, any other form of monetary compensation or other material benefits. Additionally, both have donated thousands of hours of personal time to the project. Other non-cash contributions with market values totaling the equivalent of at least US$70,000 have been made by dozens of other individuals and organizations as goods and services used by the project and its organizers. 

By design, there has been no significant government or NGO involvement other than advice sought by the project organizers, although efforts are made to keep all relevant parties informed about project activities. Less than US$1,000 has been paid to various units of the Lao government for business licenses, permits, translation and documentation. Gifts valued at less than US$50 have been received by Thai customs personnel to facilitate transit of bags through that country. Substantial import duty payments have been made to the government of the United States of America usually at specified tariff rates but occasionally at rates the project believes to have exceeded levels provided for by statutory law. Shipping and import broker fees have totaled approximately US$15,000, some of which included taxes and other charges received by various governments. Nearly US$80,000 or the equivalent has been used in promotion and marketing. 

Fewer than 10 percent of the purchased bags have been distributed, some for revenue at both wholesale and retail prices. Total revenue realized has been less than US$5,000, all of which has been reinvested in the project. Fragmentation and isolation of production sources/purchasing points and substantial fluctuation in the values of the currencies involved (US Dollar, Thai Baht, Lao Kip) over the duration of the project make precise analysis of the amounts received by the beneficiaries impossible. The only precise data is from initial purchases of fewer than 80 bags in 2007 by a trusted German banker, then a volunteer for the project, who paid Khmu makers an average of the then equivalent of approximately US$5 per bag. 

However, from what the organizers have seen and evaluated personally during 2009, it is believed that the overwhelming majority of the expended funds, except as noted above, have benefited the families of approximately 100 extremely skilled and proficient bag makers in a cluster of about 10 Khmu villages. This represents a minute percentage of potential bag makers in Laos. 

Economically-deprived relatives of Mr. Keoamphone (not of the Khmu ethnic group) are involved in project administration and in the acquisition, labeling and handling/shipping/storage of bags in remote areas. They have received significant (for them) financial benefit, believed to total the equivalent of less than US$3,000. 

The project organizers hope to have their monetary investments returned sometime in the future. But the timing of such return, if it occurs, cannot be predicted. 

Each Nature Bag is made in Laos PDR of natural materials and purchased for export by project volunteers at a price determined by the Khmu family who crafted it. The members of those families and their predecessors have refined a primitive tool into today’s Nature Bag, a convenient, efficient and environmentally friendly means of carrying things in the modern world. Its users in the developed world benefit not only because of its green usefulness and practicality, but also because it reminds others of the importance of sustainable fashion, environmental awareness and participatory poverty elimination.

Because of our project, these families have decided to share their “green” knowledge and skill with their close-by neighbors who live in the forests of the Asian mountainsides as well as with their more distant neighbors around our planet. By doing so, they have new opportunities to improve their lives and to speed access to electricity, which will make living more convenient, productive and comfortable. 

May they be wise in using their new wealth, making changes prudently and always respecting nature and the rich cultural traditions of their forefathers!

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