Visitors to the central county of Nantou who stop off at Chungliao Township (中寮), which was devastated by the 921 Earthquake, will have no trouble finding the building that houses A-mom’s Dye Workshop because it stands in the town just as it did 10 years ago.
The difference now is that very few customers visit the shop on Yungping Road, even on holidays or weekends.
The flood of people that poured into the area after the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck on Sept. 21, 1999, has trickled off and so has business at the hand dye shop.
Established by a loosely formed group of local women after the earthquake, the shop sells items that are colored with dyes made from natural plants that grow in the nearby mountains.
It also offers do-it-yourself classes for visitors on the basic techniques used by the more than 10 mothers and housewives — known as A-moms — in dying the colorful pillows, cellphone pouches, sheets, notebooks and other items on sale at the shop.
The women learned their craft from professionals provided by the Taipei-based ROC Community Resources Exchange Association, and the shop got off to a brisk start after it opened in 2003 with financial assistance from the Council of Labor Affairs.
However, the colorful dreams of the A-moms are being crushed by the bitter reality of fewer and fewer customers over the years.
“We will not give up because we don’t want it to be just a flash in the pan,” said Wu Mei-chen (吳美珍), manager of the workshop.
In their efforts to revive the business, the women refurbished the run-down workshop and set up a classroom where visitors can learn and practice the basics of dying.
“At one point, we even hired fashion experts to teach us how to pose and model and this helped attract some visitors, boosting our revenues for a while,” Wu said. “However, in the last two or three years, very few tourists have been coming the workshop. We’d be lucky if 10 people a day came on weekends.”
This is mainly because large crowds of people are no longer visiting the Chungliao area as they did after the 921 Earthquake, she said, adding that the township’s remote location also played a role.
The products on display at the workshop are also stuck on the shelves because the women lack marketing knowledge and government assistance has dried up, Wu said.
The other women expressed concern over the future of the business to which they have given so much time and effort and which now earns them only a few thousand New Taiwan dollars a month.
One of the women, Chien Chien-mei (簡千美), called for the government to assist them in exploring markets and setting up a system to certify their products.
However, the women are not sitting by idly. They are trying to think up new ways to put the workshop back on track.
“We are mulling a transformation plan to achieve sustainable growth for the workshop, which we established from scratch, and we will continue to strive for its success despite the tremendous difficulties we are experiencing,” Wu said.
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