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Fair Trade Arts And Crafts Of Thailand's Karen Hill Tribe People In Chiang Mai

Updated on February 19, 2012

Karen People
The Karen Hill Tribe people are originally from Tibet, there are said to be approximately 400,000 Karen Hill Tribe people living in the hills of Northern Thailand. They live off the land, making simple houses out of bamboo, and raising their own animals such as pigs and chickens. The Karen have been known to use elephants to help clear the land for farming, and have since established a reputation as elephant trainers or mahouts. You can find Karen people in the northern provinces of Thailand,in the mountains around the Thai cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as well as the area known as "The Golden Triangle".

Traditional Dress
The Karen women have been sewing, dyeing and weaving for centuries. The techniques used have changed very little over the years. Married women's dress includes a combination of tassels and embroidery, and long hair is usually tied back and often covered with a scarf. The Karen men normally wear colorful woven v-neck tunics as well as turbans. Unmarried women are not allowed to wear colorful garments, and they wear only white dresses. The Hill Tribe people in Northern Thailand are quite poor, and in order to earn extra money, the women use their skills and experience in weaving and sewing to make handmade clothing, bags, scarves and souvenirs. Karen people can be found selling their wares in the streets of Chiang Mai, often walking into bars and restaurants and offering souvenirs to tourists.

The silver jewelry of the Karen Hill Tribe people is world renowned for it's purity. They make the jewelry by hand using 99.9% pure silver (more pure than sterling silver). The Karen people do not wear gold, so this silver jewelry is an important part of their culture and ceremonies. The Karen people make intricate hand crafted silver rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces and pendants from pure silver. Hill Tribe silver has become very popular over the years, not only with tourists visiting Thailand, but also online shoppers around the world. There are many wholesale dealers of Hill Tribe silver operating online from Thailand. One of the more reputable dealers is

In recent years, the people of the Karen Hill Tribes have had to be creative in thinking of new ways to earn money. They have applied their skills of craftsmanship and working with their hands, and have started making quality handicrafts from wood, bamboo, and fabric for tourists. Many of these crafts are offered for sale in the local markets and shops of Chiang Mai. You can find Karen handicrafts for sale in The Fair Trade Shop. They are a a non-profit marketing agency of tribal handicrafts in both the domestic and overseas markets. Their goals are be a Fair Trade Organization by treating both producers and customers in a fair way and help tribal people to be able to preserve their traditional crafts and arts.
Asia Charisma is a partner in the Karen Artisan and Family Aid Program (KAFA) that is designed to assist not the entire village but several families simultaneously. They believe in the Fair Trade Organization, however as a small business in a competitive market, they feel that adding additional cost in the form of registering fees and other policies will not be a benefit to their company or their artisans. The KAFA program aims to help build confidence in each Karen artisan and improve each family's working conditions so that they can conserve their art for the next generation of Karen silversmiths. Customers can shop at and feel that they have made a responsible purchase from a reputable company and know that the money is going back into the Hill Tribe community.

Fair Trade Shop In Chiang Mai


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    • profile image

      Thanyarat C. 6 years ago

      That's an interesting article. It’s also worth mentioning Thai Tribal Craft:

      This group is the only member of the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) in Chiang Mai that sells products entirely hand-crafted by hill-tribe artisans in Chiang Mai. It is managed by hill-tribes …

      By the way, because they live in the mountains, these minority peoples are known to the Tai as chao khao, or “people of the hills”, a term which is often translated as “hill tribes”. In fact, the term “hill tribe” is something of a misnomer; they are not “tribes” in an anthropological sense, and “hill peoples” or even “highlanders” would certainly be a more accurate translation. Be this as it may, the designation “hill tribe” is widely accepted and must be considered standard current usage.

      Thank you,

      Thanyarat C.

    • balihq profile image

      balihq 6 years ago

      Interesting! I've always wanted to visit Thailand because of it's beaches.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fascinating hub and what beautiful crafts! It is the first time I have heard of these people and they certainly deserve recognition. But I think more than anything, was the fact that there are actually companies/organisations out there who genuinely want to help and preserve the lifestyle of the people whose goods they are selling. Very uplifting.

    • profile image

      Jennifer 6 years ago

      I am a firm believer in Fair Trade. Thank you for publishing this article and promoting the concept of Fair Trade. If more people would think like this the world would be a better place. Each person can do their part, do something small, just as you have done by writing this article. Well Done TravelinAsia!

    • TravelinAsia profile image

      TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

      Thank you and The Farmers Wife. Note that this hub is about the efforts of reputable businesses that participate in fair trade programs that will benefit the Hill Tribe communities. There are also several companies that exploit these people due to their lack of education. Tourists interested in visiting Hill Tribes while in Thailand should first do their research to ensure that they are not participating in the exploitation of the poor and uneducated, especially when trekking and taking part in homestay.

    • profile image 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      @The Farmers Wife, Karen People are just one of the various types of Hill Tribe People living in Thailand. There are also Hmong, Lisu and a variety of others.

    • The Farmers Wife profile image

      The Farmers Wife 6 years ago from Turkey

      Never heard of them before. Thank you that was really interesting :-)