Story by Thin Lei Win
When people plan for a trip to Luang Prabang, they think of glittering temples, saffron-robed monks and a destination to restore one’s weary soul. Few know about the bustling night markets with their colourful wares or the impressive number of boutiques dedicated to showcasing Laos’ unique and long-standing tradition of arts, crafts and textiles.
Kopnoi is a case in point. Meaning ‘little frog’ in Laos, the boutique-gallery is the brainchild of French-Canadian couple and long-term Luang Prabang residents Isabel Drean and Simon Cote and their business partner Nathalie Pouliot.
Located on a street at the foot of the famous Phousi Hill, Kopnoi began in 2002 when they started developing eco-dyed organic cotton apparel to export to Canada. The idea grew and the Export Promotion Centre was opened in November 2005. Now the shop boasts a delightful mix of products that are authentically "made in Laos", as Kopnoi’s tagline suggests.
Walk through the doorway of the restored two-storey building and you’ll be confronted with an amalgam of products ranging from spices and Lao Mountain Coffee varieties (one of the best brands and works with the country’s only fair trade coffee cooperative) to home ware and toiletries produced by the disadvantaged artisans from Les Artisans Lao.
On the left is the original seed of Kopnoi high quality, colourful, eco-dyed cotton fashion items for the family and available in European sizes. Hanging from the ceiling and placed in flowerpots are coconut shell lamps and on the right are beautiful Lao silver jewellery and an impressive selection of books on Laos.
Working with villages, non-governmental organisations and not-for-profit producers, Isabel says producers are chosen "on the basis of the quality, unique designs and the ability to sustain these two through time."
Simon and Isabel are also art directors for the gallery upstairs, which regularly hosts interesting exhibitions related to Laos. It is currently holding "Stay Another Day", a multi-media exhibition urging travellers to stay longer and spend more money locally.
Kopnoi, Ban Aphay, Luang Prabang (across L’Etranger, Books & Tea), Laos
Tel: +856 (0) 71 260 248
Photos courtesy of Stay Another Day