Quilling Comes to Myanmar
Daw Aye Aye Swe has found a new way to enjoy retirement and is following it enthusiastically.
She earned a history degree and worked from home for 20 years, then worked as a general manager at a company after her children grew up. Then she retired and reached a turning point.
So when her sister introduced quilling as a way to help the country by creating jobs for teenagers and young adults, Daw Aye Aye Swe decided to take a chance and try to help her sister in the nascent business. Now she enjoys the job and is the owner and general manager of Quilling Card Myanmar.
Quilling is an art form that involves the use of thin strips of coloured paper that are rolled, shaped and glued together to create decorative designs. Advanced techniques and different-sized papers are used to create three-dimensional miniatures, abstract art, flowers and portraits, among many other things. It is not too popular in Myanmar yet but is very trendy in other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, and Japan.
Filling the skills gap
“To create a card, first we draw a sketch and then mould it by using quilling tools. After carrying out many steps, the cards become 3D,” Daw Aye Aye Swe said.
Fortunately, she has the support of Ms. Huong Nguyen Wolf of Vietnam, who has set up three quilling factories in that country since 2011.
To spread the skills needed in quilling and create more jobs for women, Daw Aye Aye Swe recently got the idea to set up a vocational training school, for which Ms. Huong supplies raw materials and technical assistance.
“Our country is weak in vocational education, so I wanted to fill the gap by providing jobs for young people who did not complete their educations. If we start this as a social enterprise, we can create a lot of jobs similar to the garment industry. Quilling is not only paper but also a creative art, so one needs to be artistic,” Daw Aye Aye Swe said.
Both men and women take the training, but she has a couple of criteria they must meet first. They need to be interested in making handicrafts, and be between 18 and 30 years old. She worries about the concentration of trainees who are over 30, and Myanmar labour law prohibits people under 18 in the workplace. However, if the trainee shows obvious talent, she will waive the upper age limit. The training is free, and she gives trainees a daily allowance.
She trains newcomers in the art of quilling, and they will in turn train those who follow, which will spread the skills throughout Myanmar, Daw Aye Aye Swe said.
“I plan to grow this market. Now I am preparing skilled labourers for when the market booms. On the other hand, we want to point the way for our trainees to have jobs and make money,” she said.
There are four tools for quilling: forceps, a mini motor to shape paper, scissors, and a little stick. It is delicate work, and care must be taken not touch the piece with your hands. Huong supplies the raw materials, tools, and everything else that’s needed from Vietnam. Everything is imported from other countries, such as Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, so the production cost is high.
However, she is confident that, with persistence, the market will boom and she will be able to set up a factory with Ms. Huong.
“Setting up a quilling workshop is difficult because the production cost is very high, so we need foreign investors and partners,” she said.
The handicraft market is beginning to gain momentum, with people appreciating and buying such items more, Daw Aye Aye Swe said.
She currently has over 30 trainees, and she wants to open a factory with 500 workers in Myanmar employing the cut, make, pack (CMP) contract manufacturing system commonly used by garment factories.
“Now I am running the business as a social enterprise, but I have a lot of cards and the quality is very good,” she said.
The most important thing about quilling is colour separation, and now she has a team of workers that is skilled at this and ready to run a factory. Paper quality is important, so she uses imported raw materials.
Besides being art, quilling cards can be used as gifts, souvenirs, or in company promotions.
“Quilling provides peace of mind, and improves concentration. If someone is good at it, he or she has less stress and fewer problems, and it helps keeps teenagers out of trouble.
“My partner and I do not expect to make a quick profit, but we need to be persistent and take a long-term view. We invite young people to join our training as the next step in their futures,” she said.