The Cloud x British Council
อ่านบทความภาษาไทยได้ที่นี่

Alison Welsh was a regular in the front row of London Fashion Week.

In the eighties, she was one of the Knights of the Long Table, predicting the colours of the forthcoming fashion season two years ahead.

She collected photos from fashion shows as quickly as possible, to gain inspiration and learn about the influence of culture on British fashion, and compiled a book of the latest trends, newest colours and designs and sold them all over the world.

She was a fashion consultant for many big fashion companies producing jeans or sportswear. She gave them information and reassured them they were on the right track.

Fashion was fast, but Alison was faster. She knew which colours designers would use, or saw the shirt collar before they even sketched it.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

All of that happened more than 30 years ago when Alison was fully immersed in the fashion business. When she decided to start a family, Alison moved away from London to work as a fashion design instructor at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Nowadays she travels all around the world. One of her tasks for the British Council is to teach young Thai designers and develop handwoven textiles in the Nan Province.

The day we met in the Pua District, Nan Province, Alison wasn’t wearing anything ultra-modern. On the contrary, she wore a handwoven Indian cotton dress which she got 10 years ago, and was very proud of.

The Head of Fashion Research at MMU hasn’t turned her back on pretty clothes, but she is so certain that the fashion business which is the second dirtiest industry in the world next to Big Oil will eventually lead to craft and become environmentally responsible.

“The fashion world will slow down — this is our only path since we don’t have another planet to spare.”

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

Before working here, I’ve heard that your previous job was great fun.

I was working in fashion trend prediction. I was not quite comfortable with the word “prediction” because it sounds like a mystical thing. Actually, my work was based on facts, gathering information and making decisions.

In the early eighties, Jean-Paul Gaultier was a big influence. His fashion show was a theatrical extravaganza but still very trendy. When I was younger, I would sit in the front row and take photographs of fashion shows. I would absorb and digest that information. My predictions were quite accurate, especially for menswear since the change is quite small. It’s easy to say next year the colour is going to change from a subtle grey to a warmer grey, the collar will get smaller or suits will be double-breasted.

I worked closely with big companies. They would come and talk to me every season. I would do presentations 18 months ahead of the season, or two years for colour. I never knew what year it was because my brain was always a few years ahead.

Why did you have to start work so early prior to the season?

Colour is the first thing in the season and the most interesting because when you choose the colour, you give it to the textile mills, and they then weave the clothes. The textile mills need at least six months to weave.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

How did you predict fashion?

I always had an eye for designers introducing new works, influential films, exhibitions, music or even poetry. I would be looking at a broad range of influences on fashion and colours. In England, I used to go to a colour group meeting with people who worked in the textile industry. We would meet and decide twice a year what colour to use in the next season.

I was probably the youngest person at the meeting. The day before I would collect information; I would buy books on painting, or anything else that inspired me because we had no internet. I would refer to an exhibition I saw in Paris or Florence.

We would sit around a long table and wait for our turn to explain our thinking to the others. When we sat down, the first person expresses their thoughts, and then the next, and so on. By the time six people had taken their turn, it became very interesting because there would be similarities between them. Some might say warm grey and a touch of brown and the next person would say they had grey too. I’ve been looking at concrete and hard surfaces and urban landscape. Somebody else would say they had been looking at architecture and white and grey.

Although our own research was conducted instinctively, by the time all those very knowledgeable people had come together, the result was very interesting. After the meeting, the group would collect all the information and publish a British colour card, and that went into an international group where all the different countries matched. The Japanese, British, Italian and French would all meet and do the same thing. From there, the international colour card would be published and sold at Premier Vision — a big textile fair in Paris.

Do these countries still have a colour group meeting?

They still do it nowadays but there is no longer a trend book. A lot of people kept those expensive books. They’re full of design ideas. I would draw ideas and publish images, details, technical information and trend pages. Companies in Japan, America, Australia and England used to buy them.

Now we live in a completely different world. Everything is on the internet instantly. Burberry did livestream years ago.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

Can we predict fashion now?

I don’t think we can do it anymore. Silhouettes, shapes and skirt lengths belong to the past. Now anything goes and people can wear whatever they like — something from 10 years, 20 years or 30 years ago and nobody cares.

What is the current fashion trend?

People are looking at different things now. Fast fashion is cheap and affordable, especially for young people. In England at the moment, online companies are doing very well. Very often young kids will buy six outfits, and have them delivered to the house the next day. Kids can try six things on, choose which one they want to keep and send the rest back.

A lot of companies are looking at methods of dissuading customers from sending so much back. If it fits the body really well, customers are unlikely to send it back because they look great in it. Many companies invest a great deal in making garments fit properly. They measure hundreds of size 8 women — it’s both difficult and interesting.

The problem is there are those who want to buy something really cheap from a store. They can wear it that night and never again because it looks good on Instagram or for a particular occasion.

I can understand that. When I was young I made my own clothes. I understand the need for instantaneous change and the excitement of wearing something new all the time. Most people get bored with their wardrobe or what they are wearing — I used to, but don’t anymore.

Why?

If you keep something for longer you go through a barrier whereby you become less bored with it. You start to love it again. I got this dress 10 years ago and I’m happy to wear it today, even more than I was 10 years ago because I kept it and looked after it.

The research on why people keep garments in their wardrobes is fascinating. It could influence the next design that comes along. People have garments in their wardrobes that they love and never throw away, we keep them for a reason. It might be sentimental, practical, might just fit really well or might be great for every occasion.

In the past, we were embarrassed to keep things for a long time. Now we can start to be proud of them and happy to be able to still wear them.

Alison Welsh อดีตนักทำนายเทรนด์แฟชั่นอังกฤษ ที่ผันตัวมาออกแบบผ้าทอมือไทย

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

If we wear only old clothes then fashion is not predictable anymore. What does the future hold for the fashion business?

The big companies around the world have a department to take care of social responsibility. They’re looking at the future of the fashion business. People are finding a way to reduce the amount of waste. H&M has sustainable projects. They have a big competition on sustainability, and people who are not in the fashion world can apply. They support projects so they can move on. That’s a very clear statement.

Some designers have started to appreciate that and want to produce something to pass on to the next generation with a life beyond the weaver; made slowly, carefully and hand stitched. You can see the love that goes into it. You can feel the spirit of the maker in the items. An exquisite handmade skirt is something you will never throw away. You just know from the minute you look at it that it will pass on from one generation to another.

I was always afraid to wear something made of organic cotton with massive hand stitches but that had to stop. If you have something, you have to wear it. The handwoven natural dyed clothes will fade gently and softly. They are getting better as time goes by, and look better after 10 years — like a pair of jeans.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

How do you know that Slow Fashion is a coming trend?

Years ago, if you went to buy a loaf of bread in Paris, you would just see a smart, pristine bakery but now the oven is in the centre of the shop, and you can see the man making the bread. You can smell the bread, look at the baker, shake his hand and talk about how he made the bread, the flour he used, even the time he got up in the morning.

The craft of food is really obvious now. Not everywhere, but there is an understanding of where the ham came from, or which mill produced the flour in Italy. It is on the label and we can see it.

I think the clothing and fashion industry are not far away from that. People are waking up and beginning to realise the potential of buying handmade or handcrafted items. The food industry is probably 10 years ahead of the fashion industry. We can learn from their achievements. We can absorb their methods. Food has not suddenly become organic or ethical. It’s about every person making an effort to be organic. A move to become responsible in farming. If everybody does a little bit, we move on.

We just need people who really make a difference. Part of that is working directly with makers or cutting down waste. These fabrics are handwoven. It’s a crime to cut them off.

One of the young designers is trying to make a dress without cutting it at all. That is just one small example in Thailand. I have no doubt there are a lot of similar examples all around the world, where people are looking at how to stop wasting fabric and throwing things away because there has to be a future. It has to work that way.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

How do you develop the Pua District’s handwoven cotton?

The fabric we have there has potential. Some of it has been used to make a lovely lightweight coat. It is quite light because it is handwoven and quite warm too.

Now we are working with natural dyes because it is part of the heritage of the region. The countryside in the Pua District has been used for natural dyes or weaving fabric. Ginger fibre or banana bark can turn into fibre for use in bags or clothes. They are organic and wearable. There is knowledge about using trees, and each tree has a value. The rambutan bush can be used for dyeing; banana trees for weaving.

Gradually we are growing used to natural dyes here because they’re slipping away. I’ve been discussing with local artisans about colours that hurt the eyes and colours that are gentle. Chemical dye is easy, affordable and doesn’t run. It gives a strong colour, whereas natural dyes are soft and gentle to the eyes.

Natural colours are so gentle, even the brightest pink obtained from plants is still gentle. You hardly have to make a colour card because natural colours have something in common. It’s quite easy to make it work. They’re already matched.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

What made you come back to Thailand to help these communities?

It’s fantastic to work internationally and I like working with young designers. Part of my job here is to encourage young people to get involved in heritage and tradition. The weavers here are getting older and older — their skills are highly developed, really technical and very sophisticated.

If we turn our backs on heritage and traditions, they will disappear. I don’t want to be too nostalgic because in Britain we lost our handcrafting skills a hundred years ago through the industrial revolution. The whole of Manchester was full of cotton mills before beautiful apartments replaced them.

Dynamic women are running the business here and the community revolves around them. I’m thriving in many ways and it’s fantastic to be here. It’s a real joy to work on a project like this. You can see people really benefiting.

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

ผ้าทอ, น่าน

Crafting Futures supports the future of craft around the globe. This British Council programme strengthens economic, social and cultural development through learning and access. The Crafting Futures project supports practices and people, through research, collaboration and education. For more information, Click here

Here is the list of all the local brands Alison gave her design lessons.

Phaeo Phafai

Facebook | แพวผ้าฝ้าย น่าน
Tel. 089-851-8918

Baan Donchai

Tel. 086-115-8424, 081-366-7323

Baan Sala

Tel. 087-249-8112

KRAM-HUG

Facebook |   KRAM-HUG.co
Tel.  080-104-7150, 085-717-7494

Krit Boutique

Facebook |   Krit   Boutique
Tel. 085-106-9357

RuayBoon Natural Textile

Facebook |   รวยบุญ ผ้าธรรมชาติ : RuayBoon Natural Textile

Writer

ภัทรียา พัวพงศกร

บรรณาธิการและนักจัดทริปแห่ง The Cloud ที่สนใจตึกเก่า งานคราฟต์ กลิ่น และละครเวทีพอๆ กับการเดินทาง

Photographer

นินทร์ นรินทรกุล ณ อยุธยา

นินทร์ชอบถ่ายรูปมาตั้งแต่เด็ก พ่อแม่ซื้อฟิล์มให้ไม่ยั้ง ตื่นเต้นกับเสียงชัตเตอร์เสมอต้นเสมอปลาย เพื่อนชอบชวนไปทะเล ไม่ใช่เพราะนินทร์น่าคบเพียงอย่างเดียวแน่นอน :)

Crafting Futures

ความสวยงามของงานคราฟต์ที่ไม่ถูกทำให้เป็นแค่กระแส

The Cloud x British Council
อ่านบทความภาษาไทยได้ที่นี่

“Touch me! I’ve been washed about 10 times! The more I am washed, the softer I get!”

The message on the board next to FolkCharm’s clean and soft cotton clothes invites us to test the smoothness with our own hands. Besides the assurance that these clothes can be rewashed without shrinking (because they have already shrunk in their first wash), the board also describes FolkCharm’s clothes as:

  • 100% Thai village-grown chemical-free cottons
  • Handwoven with hand-spun yarns
  • Machine-washable (with a laundry net)

Their storytelling concerning the material and quality might seem to be in a neat Japanese style, but FolkCharm is, in fact, a Thai cotton brand. We traced these beautiful clothes to their origin and met Lookkaew, Passawee T. Kodaka, in a small office located in the garden next to her own house. Naturally, she was wearing FolkCharm’s products, blending into this small world, becoming a part of it, in the same way it is a part of her.

The charm of these natural cotton products goes beyond what can be seen and touched, becoming absorbed into the stories of the people involved. From cotton farmers in Loei to Japanese and Korean customers, weaving deep into a craft-for-society community.

City Folks, Country Folks

Passawee’s interest in social work officially started with her Master’s Degree in Regional and Rural Development Planning at the Asian Institute of Technology. Her final thesis was about the economic and social power of home-based women workers, and it helped her to see a problem in the fabric industry, where the producers of fabrics worth ten-thousand-baht only received mere hundreds for their hard work. This shocking gap provoked her to do something.

After graduation, Passawee settled on a full-time job in social organisation, firstly at the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and then at an international organisation. Despite the impact these places have made on society, she still felt as if her work meant nothing and the salary ill-spent. At the end of the day, the void inside her heart remained unfilled.

On the other hand, Passawee has always been in love with craftwork, with a childhood dream to draw and craft until she became old. One of her favourite shopping places was the OTOP fair, where locals from around the country would go to sell their craft products. However, she did not really buy much at the fair because the products were either too expensive or not durable enough. “I think there’s a gap there,” she stated, “Why shouldn’t we sell good products? It’s really hard work to create these fabrics, but the design and tailoring usually ruin them. So, I decided to make something of my own.”

After taking that decision, a woman who never liked business started researching to find her own business model. Out in the countryside, she got to see a completely different world to her own city lifestyle — village life. Even without the internet, electricity or water, these people still survive and thrive. Someone asked them how they could be happy in such conditions. They responded by questioning “Why wouldn’t we be happy? We already have everything we need.” Passawee was touched by that and became inspired to tell their stories as honestly as possible so that other city people like herself might feel the same.

All her dreams have been weaved into the core values of the FolkCharm brand.

Simply Different

“What does FolkCharm do? We can’t weave, but we know who can. We don’t grow cotton, but we know good farmers who do. Even in Bangkok, we know where the experienced craftswomen are.”

The brand acts as a facilitator for various talents, from farmers in Loei to local weavers, or “aunties”, and tailoring experts in Bangkapi, Bangkok. These workers are already skilled in what they do, and FolkCharm only lends a hand in two main aspects: connecting them into one efficient system, and making their products compatible with the urban market.

Since its main purpose is to solve design and quality problems, FolkCharm goods strongly focus on these two aspects. Although Passawee herself did not major in art or design, her familiarity with Japanese culture and aesthetics has had a heavy influence on the branding of FolkCharm. The result is a simple brand image in brown and cream. The colours come from both the cottons themselves and natural dyeing materials. The fabric is soft yet durable, with every stitch neatly hidden. At first sight, one will definitely fall in love, and adore it even further after trying it on.

However, the design doesn’t come from her alone. With workers who have different skills and creativity and the availability of certain materials in varying weather conditions, the result is a co-designed working process. The weavers and tailors come up with ideas, and Passawee gives them feedback from the customer standpoint. This is why their products look both organic and trendy at the same time.

With pride on her face, Passawee showed us some bizarre examples. An aunty spun three cottons in three different colours into one yarn, creating a uniquely woven tiger-pattern. Another used her sewing skills to make a circle-shaped fabric. Anyone who has ever sewn will know the considerable amount of care and patience required to keep the seams bound in that shape.

“When I first gave the finished clothes to the aunties in Loei, they were so excited. They did not think the tailoring could be this dazzling.” Passawee told us in a joyous tone.

From Trees to Textiles

When asked about the procedure, the good-tempered entrepreneur was more than ready to enlarge. She claimed that theirs is an “ethical process”, meaning it is natural in every way, from start to finish. The resulting products are subsequently friendly to everybody involved.

Beginning with the cotton trees, Passawee chooses local cotton seeds already grown in the area, allowing the farmers to grow them in their own way. The cottons are seeded before the rainy season, making them adequately water-fed with rain, and ready for harvest by the time the season comes to an end. They also use chemical-free local techniques to control pests, resulting in the fields being good to both nature and the farmers’ health, unlike many other cotton fields around the world which are renowned for a chemical and water-intensive approach.

Continuing with the cotton process, FolkCharm’s cottons are hand-spun. While factories are normally used to spin cotton into yarn, there is a local method in Thailand called “Khen-Mue” which literally means spinning by hands. Although this takes much more time than in the factory-spinning process, it also creates much softer yarn.

Khen-Mue is an old tradition that has almost disappeared from many Thai communities. When they first picked it up again, many aunties struggled to produce fabrics of the required standard. Passawee did not refuse their work, instead she urged them to learn techniques from experts in the group. In a short time, the fabrics produced by these aunties became no less beautiful than any of the others.

Great care is also taken in the tailoring process. With her unwavering interest in home-based women workers, Passawee managed to find experienced tailors through her family’s personal connections. She ended up with various home-based tailors in Bangkapi and Ladprao, all of whom are professional with their own expertise. She assigns work suitable to each tailor’s specialty, resulting in high-quality finished products.

By the Folks, for the Folks

With its community first approach, FolkCharm sends 50% of their income directly back to the makers. In the past year, the fabric-producing community alone received more than one million baht. When she checked the company’s accounts, Passawee was surprised to see that last year, one aunty worked so hard that she earned more than a hundred-thousand baht from FolkCharm — possibly representing even more than a year’s earnings for many Bangkok office workers.

For many people in this community, farming is a full-time job, with fabric weaving being part-time. However, there are some aunties who are too old to work in the fields. Working with FolkCharm gives them the opportunity to earn money again.

There are also psychological benefits as well as financial. This work allows producers to “meet” users, both figuratively and literally. Passawee usually presents the aunties with the finished work and photos of their customers. She also invites city people and foreigners to take a trip to see the origins of what they are wearing. Hopefully, this helps to make the locals aware of the value of their work and increase self-pride. She told us that once a group of Korean and Japanese were interested in the brand, and wore FolkCharm clothes to the villages, bringing great delight to the aunties.

These psychological values are not limited only to the workers but have also spread to their descendants. Village children might never have got the chance to learn the hand-spinning process without their parents picking it up again with FolkCharm. Many of the elderly do not have enough strength to process the fabrics on their own and ask for their children’s help. That is how the knowledge is passed through generations, making it immortal.

Making Fashion Sustainable

Concerning the future, Passawee believes that FolkCharm should not grow any bigger. What she wants to grow is its core idea. Along with GoWentGone, Bhukram, Larinn, and other similar businesses in Thailand, she has assembled a network called VolksKraft, with the purpose of supporting small craft-for-society businesses. Its main mission is to bring together entrepreneurs to share knowledge and drive their small communities further. As a group, they have organised many activities, including markets, workshops and seminars. This network is supported by the British Council’s Crafting Futures project. They have been a tremendous help in many aspects such as financial support, the potential development of entrepreneurs, network growth, as well as searching for seminar speakers.

“When we are together as a group, it is easier for people to contact us. The power of what we do becomes more apparent, giving us a reason to establish VolksKraft,” said Passawee. She also added that with support from the British Council, which encourages handicrafts for society and associates of the Thai-British handicraft network, the community can be even more active and make a greater impact.

One of the impacts they have already made is to gain an invitation from the WTO to become the Thai national coordinator for a movement called “Fashion Revolution” — a global movement with a mission to make the fashion industry transparent. This means the procedures must be fair to producers and good to nature. In today’s fashion industry, fast-fashion products made to spontaneously respond to consumers’ never-ending demands are merely creating profit solely for the companies concerned. The result is an abuse of workers and a huge amount of pollution. In the end, everybody loses.

“I want the tide to turn back to slow fashion. I want people to ask where their clothes come from, to wear things that are psychologically valuable and physically durable so that we don’t create more waste.” In an era where producers never know who they are working for, and consumers never know who made what they are wearing, the human connection between entrepreneurs, producers and consumers is missing. This is what the Fashion Revolution movement wants to restore.

What could be better than having beautiful, high-quality clothes that never do anyone any harm? For those interested in its products, although FolkCharm does not have permanent shops, they always show up at temporary markets here and there and also have an online shop. See more details at shop.folkcharm.com

Photo: Folkcharm

Crafting Futures supports the future of craft around the globe. This British Council programme strengthens economic, social and cultural development through learning and access. The Crafting Futures project supports practices and people, through research, collaboration and education. For more information, Click here

The British Council is also an international partner of Fashion Revolution. If you believe in a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure, Click here.

Writer

อลิษา ลิ้มไพบูลย์

นักอยากเขียนผู้เรียนปรัชญาเพื่อเยียวยาอาการคิดมาก เวลาว่างใช้ไปกับการร้องคอรัสเล่นๆ แบบจริงจัง และดูหนังอย่างจริงจังไปเล่นๆ

Photographer

ธีรพันธ์ ลีลาวรรณสุข

ช่างภาพ นักออกแบบกราฟิก นัก(หัด)เขียน โปรดิวเซอร์และผู้ดำเนินรายการพอดแคสต์ และอื่นๆอีกมากมายแล้วแต่ว่าไปเจออะไรน่าทำ IG : cteerapan

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