Positive Impact + Sustainability
There are still more than a billion people round the world living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day. In Thailand alone, more than a million members of hill tribes exist on the margins of society - denied citizenship, shut out of the formal job market and vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
At Yellow Leaf Hammocks we believe that ethical job creation is an empowering long-term solution to extreme poverty.
Instead of organizing a patchwork of charitable donations to provide water, nutrition, clothing, etc., we are working directly with families to build a comprehensive, dignified, long-term strategy toward a brighter future. The causes behind systemic poverty are complicated, but long-term financial stability is within reach.
To put it simply: By focusing on livelihoods, we can cut out the middle man, get money directly into the hands of smart + resourceful mothers and empower families to tackle their own problems (without being subject to anyone else's agenda).
Across three weaving communities, we are working to create jobs for mothers and build a foundation for positive community transformation. Through flexible, safe “prosperity wage” weaving work, our artisans are able to lift their families from poverty and debt slavery to the middle class.
Meet a Few of Our Weavers!
CASE STUDY: THE MLABRI TRIBE
OUR ROOTSYELLOW LEAF Hammocks was first imagined as an opportunity to transform one small tribal community, the Mlabri. Within two years of our launch, we’ve expanded our job creating mission to neighboring villages and began building the platform for a regional microeconomy to benefit similar impoverished hill tribe groups. Of more than 1.5 million hill tribe people in Thailand, up to half are denied citizenship, marginalized and live in extreme poverty. Our vision is to support the growth of a sustainable economy and chart positive new paths for these communities.
THE STORY OF THE MLABRIYellow Leaf Hammocks has deep roots in the tumultuous, heart-wrenching history of the Mlabri people. From peaceful forest dwellers to 20th century slavery, they’ve battled exploitation, death threats, malnourishment, malaria and displacement. Faced with this barrage of plagues, their numbers dwindled until UNESCO placed them on the “Endangered Languages List”, with only 300 Mlabri left in the world. In spite of the extreme hardships they’ve faced, they’ve maintained a fierce determination to preserve their culture.
THE PEOPLE OF THE YELLOW LEAVESVery little is known about the tribe’s existence before the 1930s. The Mlabri were traditionally a hunter and gatherer society, with spiritual beliefs that compelled them to move every few days. They built huts with thatched roofs of banana leaves and abandoned them when the leaves turned yellow. A gentle and reclusive people, they were rarely seen by outsiders and their presence was only known by these abandoned huts- thus they were called “The People of the Yellow Leaves.”
They lived off of the land, with occasional interruptions from anthropologists, thriving well into the 20th century. By the 1970s, rapid economic development in Thailand stripped their forests of their natural bounty and eventually stripped away the forests themselves- lost to slash & burn farming and an insatiable demand for teak. Bereft of their homes and livelihood, denied civil rights, and with no conception of “land ownership,” the Mlabri were especially vulnerable to exploitation.
Malnourishment and malaria contributed to the rapid dwindling of the tribe’s population. Those who had survived were forced into servitude for neighboring tribes, working in toxic farming and made to perform in faked “primitive” human zoos for tourists.
When the future appeared most bleak, a long-shot effort helped turn it all around.
ENGINEERING A TURNAROUNDIn the late 1970s, an aid worker and his family moved to the region and began to dedicate their lives to improving conditions for the Mlabri people. Local powers who were profiting from the Mlabri’s forced labor threatened the lives of the family and the tribe, but through stalwart efforts over the course of a decade, a humble village was built as a haven for the Mlabri people and they began to focus on finding a new way to earn income while preserving their cultural values.
This determination to safeguard their heritage presented obstacles to financial freedom. Theirs is a culture that values family time above material possessions and has a number system reaching only to 9 (everything else is “a lot”). The land around them had been gobbled up and there were no fertile fields for agriculture. Attempts to sell traditional woven goods met with limited success and didn’t bring in enough income to support the village.
Through a lucky inspiration, the unlikely proposition of turning their weaving skills to hammocks won the day. The villagers worked with a textile engineer to adjust tension and develop new weaves, eventually reaching the cocoon-like level of comfort that is Yellow Leaf’s trademark. A Belgian hammock devotee discovered their products and helped establish several shops in touristed areas along Thailand’s coasts.
THE FOUNDATION FOR A BRIGHTER FUTUREThe security of a stable, growing revenue source had a tremendous impact on the village. The Mlabri were able to start a school and build a community center for weaving and socializing. They established one of Thailand’s first unemployment funds. With increased economic power, they successfully lobbied for citizenship and civil rights, which they were first granted in 2001. Hammock weaving is flexible work, ideal for mothers who can work from home and make their own schedules. Unfortunately, without access to global markets, the demand for hammocks was limited to the Thai tourism season and there was no way to ensure year-round employment.
SPREADING LASTING CHANGE: THE HAMMOCK REVOLUTIONTHIS IS about where Yellow Leaf joins the story! Over the past few years, we have worked to develop consistent sales channels, build international partnerships and stabilize operations within the villages.
Corollary economic opportunities, like a post office, food preparation and sustainable coffee farming have sprung up to employ those who are not weaving. Our partnership with Kiva has spurred financial training and financial planning, with many weavers opening bank accounts for the first time in their lives!
With our growth continuing to accelerate, we will not only be able to employ all Mlabri weavers year-round, we will also be able to continue to expand and provide training and ongoing employment to hill tribe communities in the surrounding region. Until weaving work and sustainable jobs are available throughout the area, destructive agricultural practices will continue and the exploitative cycle of indentured servitude will not truly end.
Through the establishment of Yellow Leaf as a global lifestyle brand, the hill tribe villages we partner with will be able to sustain this positive impact and continue to lay the foundation for a brighter future.