In Laos, a 'Beautiful Side of Globalization'

"We like black cards," she said with a laugh, referring to a type of American Express credit card that reportedly requires that clients spend more than $250,000 per year. "But we take platinum — if we have to."

Looking Out for Workers' Rights

Despite her success, Cassidy has spent her life working with the poor. In India's Assam, one of the more impoverished parts of the country that has suffered from an insurgency for 15 years, she works with weavers from the Naga tribe. In Cambodia, she works with women who have been maimed by land mines, who make up just a handful of the victims of the Khmer Rouge.

She has introduced medical and pension benefits for her workers, in addition to paid vacation and twice-a-year bonuses. She trains the weavers herself.

"The emphasis is on quality and creativity," Cassidy said. "It's highly original. People will see that and ask, 'Oh my God! Where did you get that?'"

In Laos, she works with women such as XX, who XX


When she traveled to Pakor in June, she was impressed by the ingenuity of the women who made the jungle vine bags. "To be so close to utilizing your environment in a sustainable way to make a useful product … They are a wealth of traditional skill. It was wonderful to see so much experience."

Cassidy saw how they made the bag and "made a new design on the spot. I don't like to change what they do themselves too much, so I just suggested incremental changes."

She drew five prototypes that the villagers will produce, and they gave her a handful of prototypes based on her earlier requests. She suggested changes in the width of the fiber and the design. But the material remained the same, as did the design. One woman quickly weaved her a jungle vine cell phone bag.

Cassidy will measure the level of interest in New York, and slowly begin producing more if she believes she can sell them to her customers.

"I love my life," she said. "I get to weave these beautiful things for people who appreciate beautiful things."

And her customers are increasingly worried about the origins of the products they buy.

"There's a growing sense in the industrial world that it's important where the product comes from, who made the product, how it is made," Cassidy said. "The challenge will be not just for the khammu people, but for all of us, to come into the future in a sustainable way."

Additional reporting by Clark Bentson.

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