The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Hmong are also one of the sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity in southern China. Hmong groups began a gradual southward migration in the 18th century due to political unrest and to find more arable land.
During the first and second Indochina Wars, France and the United States recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against forces from north and south Vietnam and communist Pathet Lao insurgents, known as the Secret War, during the Vietnam War and the Laotian Civil War. Following the war, hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries since the late 1970s, mostly the United States, but also in Australia, France, French Guiana, Canada, and Argentina. Others have returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs.
Many tribes are distinguished by the color and details of their clothing. Black Hmong wear deep indigo dyed hemp clothing that includes a jacket with embroidered sleeves, sash, apron and leg wraps. The Flower Hmong are known for very brightly colored embroidered traditional costume with beaded fringe. The Hmong people are exceptional craftsman. Roark came across 50-year old textiles that inspired prints in our collection. The jacquarded style and florals have been integrated into prints and weaves on the Hilltribe Woven, the Scribble Knit, the B.S. Boardshort, the Hmong and Off Beat Tank Tops.
Hmong textile art (“flower cloth”) consists of textile arts traditionally practiced by Hmong people. Closely related to practices of other ethnic minorities in China, the embroidery consists of bold geometric designs often realized in bright, contrasting colors. Different patterns and techniques of production are associated with geographical regions and cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community. For example, White Hmong are typically associated with reverse appliqué while Green Mong are more associated with batik. Since the mass exodus of Hmong refugees from Laos following the end of the Secret War, major stylistic changes occurred, strongly influenced by the tastes of the Western marketplace. Changes included more subdued colors and the invention of a new form of paj ndau often referred to as “story cloths.” These cloths, ranging in size up to several square feet, use figures to represent stories from Hmong history and folklore in a narrative form. Today, the practice of embroidery continues to be passed down through generations of Hmong people and paj ndau remain important markers of Hmong ethnicity.
Traditionally, paj ndau were applied to skirts worn for courtship during New Year festivals, as well as baby-carriers, and men’s collars. The core visual elements of “layered bands of appliqué, triangles, squares tilted and superimposed on contrasting, squares, lines and dots, spirals, and crosses. The use of border patterns may show the influence of Chinese embroidery techniques.