Samatoa Lotus Fabric featured on ARTE, Futuremag, 24/04/2016

Samatoa Lotus Fabric featured on ARTE, Futuremag, 24/04/2016


For thousands of years, Cambodian people cultivate Lotus considered as a sacred plant. They use the flower, the pistil, and the seeds but let the stem decompose itself in the water. For them, stems are useless. Awen Delaval a French telecommunications engineer perceived the potential of that stem. Thus, he decided to take over an ancestral technic to transform these stems into fabric. Here is the path of this utopist engineer: Lotus is deeply ingrained in Cambodians’ lives. According to a local saying: “A pond without lotus, is like a home without woman”. It is used for rituals in Pagodas to create medicines, cosmetics or to eat. But until then the stems were not exploited. Awen Delaval has been living in Cambodia for 15 years, he decided to collect and valorize those stems which will grow up again a few weeks later to provide fruits. Those young women traditionally pick up the fruits, the only thing left in the water is the stem which is not used. Here we can find 1 meter, 2 meters, 3 meters … From 3 to 5 meters long stem, but they are stems they leave in the water, what a waste! There is inside the stem a hidden treasure: around 30 fibers extremely fine, soft, and silky. The weaving technique of those fibers is known for thousands of years in Burma. Awen Delaval had brought it up to date and thanks to 5 years researches he improved the quality of the yarn. Awen’s innovation is also a social one: His goal is to provide work to hundreds of vulnerable countrywomen to emancipate them from the marital situation in a region where domestic violence is frequent. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the project it has not been easy to find the first spinners to extract the yarn. They are familiar with Lotus but they also know you do not make silk or yarn with it, that’s why it has been very complicated for us to find the first spinners because they did not believe in it at all. Here is the very first spinner to accept the challenge in Cambodia. First, she was not very motivated, but she played the game and today she has a good work rate. She found the technique to spin 5 Lotus stems at the same time. Today, the yarn she produces has a pretty good quality. Next challenge: be able to dye this fiber using natural colorants from plants without adding any heavy metal to preserve the ecological aspect of the product. We use a lot of different types of woods from the forest, for example this one will provide a yellow color, and this one a chocolate color. We also use a lot of fruits like this one which is very appreciate by Cambodian, it contain red seeds that will give a burgundy red. This precious yarn Awen Delaval sent it to the French Institute of Textile and Clothing. Elizabeth Govart, a textile engineer studies Lotus for the first time, and what she discovered is a real surprise: Lotus is the first natural microfiber. A microfiber is a micrometric fiber which diameter is very small, close from the micron. A microfiber can be 10 times smaller than a hair. That is amazing because thanks to those small fibers we will have multiple properties: softness, comfort and breathability. The Lotus fiber is the only natural microfiber known, the others are all synthetic. To show the difference between the two fibers, Elizabeth Govart realized a hydrophily test to determine which one better absorbs water. The Lotus microfiber is amazing because she has a very good water absorption, which means that when worn the product will be very pleasing, very breathable, very comfortable, a real well-being feeling. Contrary to traditional polyester which can generate the sensation of being wet when you move too much. With a Lotus shirt, sweat will be absorbed and evacuated easier than with a synthetic one. After a day in laboratory the answer is clear: Lotus fiber has qualities that make it an exceptional fiber and can be industrialized thanks to its mechanical strength. And that is what Awen Delaval is looking for in Cambodia. The test results encouraged him to further improve the Lotus fiber quality, but a long way has already been done in 7 years. Shana Ang professional weaver from mother to daughter has been the first one to work with Awen Delaval. It was a tough task because of the extreme finesse of the yarns. When I told my parents I was about to weave Lotus they told me: « This is not possible », and this is what I was thinking too. At the beginning, I was very mad at my boss who always asked me to do it again and again, I didn’t know how to weave that kind of thing, I couldn’t do it. It has been a lot of work, and a work no one knew about, because it was new. So first it was a little hesitant, we had to push people a little, and then day after day satisfaction arrived. The rarity of this fiber makes it an expensive product, indeed you need between 3000$ and 5000$ for a Lotus jacket in the biggest luxury stores in the world. Our goal is to keep on reducing the costs to become more competitive compared to other natural fibers, Silk is still 4 times cheaper, and our goal is to reach a price almost competitive with the silk price. If we reach this target, I am quite certain that it will be sell like hot cakes. If we suceed. Currently Awen Delaval is studying collaborative projects with big luxury brands. His dream is to create several other weaving workshops in Cambodia in order to keep on helping the inhabitants of this country he loves so much.

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