The Cloud x British Council
อ่านบทความภาษาไทยได้ที่นี่

When talking about basketry, we have in mind nothing other than weaving wooden carps, baskets or a variety of tools that attract only elderly people, rather than something we may think of buying ourselves.

Vassana Saima, Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at the faculty of Fine Arts and Architecture, Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, and owner of the Vassana brand, has introduced a new perspective on basketry with usable, fresh fun designs.

Thai craft products, Vassana

        In her workshop, various pieces have been carefully placed on the shelves and ceiling. The room is filled with a range of basketry consisting of tiny woven carps, frogs, and flower garlands, all with different shapes and sizes waiting to be put together to produce something special.

The garlands seem wonderfully delicate — it’s hard to believe they are made of wood. There are even Thai ornaments, like those used in auspicious ceremonies, along with luxurious handbags no one can resist.

Thai craft products, Vassana

Lamps hanging from the ceiling illuminate the whole room. They are elaborately designed with the artist’s impression of beehives, bird’s nests, squids, corals, and various other animals, displayed in such a unique way.

Such creativity and uniqueness will completely change the way we feel about basketry.

Thai craft products, Vassana

A study brought to life

Vassana’s ambition was not just motivated by the desire to sell something, she wanted to utilise the local bamboo materials to develop traditional basketry and create more jobs and income for the local community.

“There are a lot of handicraft workers in Chiang Mai. Just simply ask for one, and you will find a hundred”, said Vassana. Her time spent in the region has meant she has got to know the locals inside out.

Bamboo is more common in the North than any other parts of Thailand. It thrives in the region’s mountainous terrain and climate. Therefore, many elderly locals have knowledge and experience of basketry which has been passed down the generations.

“When I was researching traditional weaving designs, I had the chance to visit a number of local communities. Hence, I saw a lot of woven handicraft toys: frogs, turtles, prawns, and carps. All of these precious handcrafts were made for children and not for sale, although some simple woven handcrafts were sold cheaply to provide decorations for festivals. These weaving art pieces were painted and sold very cheaply, with woven hats and bags costing only about 10 to 25 baht — even then, some remained unsold. This inspired me to use these precious woven handcrafts to create a story and add more value to the products.”

        So the Vassana brand was founded, based on the owner’s desire to preserve traditional basketry.

Thai craft products, Vassana

Thai craft products, Vassana

Signature pattern, signature design

After receiving funds from the Support Arts and Craft International Centre of Thailand (SACICT), Vassana studied traditional designs to find those which offered the best usability. She discovered that bamboo grows taller in Payao than anywhere else. Typically, the bamboo found in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Lampoon grows to approximately 80–90 centimetres high. However, Payao bamboo measures 100–120 centimetres which is better for weaving as longer length helps to quicken the process.

This discovery eventually led to a new weaving technique and created “the stripe” that became the inspiration for Vassana’s signature design.

“I took my inspiration from the ‘Aiyares Orchid’ (Rhynchostylis retusa), or what most Thai people know as ‘the Elephant Trunk Orchid’. I began to wonder if I could create some art pieces from the leftovers, so decided to make a spiral and use it as a core or sepal. Later on, this art piece became the centre of my life because it was an eco-design I created exclusively out of trash. I turned something useless into something useful.”

Thai craft products, Vassana

Thai craft products, Vassana

That design has now become Vassana’s own signature pattern and gained her first prize in the basketry competition at the Innovative Craft Award 2012 held by SACICT.

It was Vassana’s first step towards success.

“What people don’t know about woven bamboo products is that they stay mould-free for up to five years. After cutting the bamboo into pieces, it is then boiled and left to dry in the sunlight. When dry, the bamboo is stored carefully and we always soak it in water for three days before starting the weaving. We learnt this procedure from the locals. We also let customers know about the duration of the process and how to take care of the products. Bamboo is easier to take care of than people may think.”

Vassana, brand of the community

The success of the Vassana brand is not only due to the talent of Vassana herself, but also the contribution of the local community.

Every Vassana product is put together by skilled locals from over 20 regions in Northern Thailand, including Payao, Chiang Rai, Lampoon, and Chiang Mai, specifically from districts such as Mae Rim, Sarapee, Mae Taeng, Sanpatong, Chai Prakan, Chiang Dao, and many more areas where Vassana is trying to expand her network to collect enough skilled locals to meet market demand.

“A lot of locals are skilled in basketry but do not make that much income. So we teach them what we have learnt through research and they can sell their products to us. We will even provide them with a machine so they can have an effective tool to work for us. However, it is unusual for the locals to have only one job at a time. If they are not busy working on the farm, they will do something else to provide for their family and community.”
Thai craft products, VassanaThai craft products, Vassana

From a small spark of hope to creating extra work for the local community, Vassana has become one of the most eminent designers in the market. Her woven products are now the main source of income for many elderly people, stay-at-home mothers, and college students looking for work during school breaks.

“Some families use it as their primary source of income. Some get the kids to help and ask the elderly to carry out the quality control. Many did not know how to weave a bag before, but now they can earn 500 baht a day from weaving. Additionally, the elderly who never had an option to make money before can earn 250 baht daily now. It depends on how much they can contribute. Many of them cannot go out on the farm anymore. They let their husbands do the farming while they stay at their home earning money from weaving.”

From a handicraft that was once considered obsolete, Vassana has invigorated the tradition, providing the chance for it to integrate into the modern world, with new designs, creativity and usability that takes it beyond just an ordinary tool.

Thai craft products, Vassana

An old craft in a new world

A woven wooden carp not even worth 10 baht is now available to people around the world with support from the British Council and SACICT, which has also given Vassana the chance to work with new wave artists and discover a fresh perspective for improving the products and showcasing her work internationally.

The school of woven wooden carps, from the hands of locals and children, were swimming gracefully in the “Craft Pavilion”, an art exhibition and one of the highlights of the Wonderfruit Festival 2017, which attracts music fans from around the world.

The art piece is called “Wan” which means whale, and is the result of a collaboration between four designers: Naomi McIntosh, Saruta Kiatparkpoom, Piboon Amornjiraporn, and Vassana, to turn leftover metals into a majestic whale with thousands of woven wooden carps swimming inside.

This collaboration has brought traditional crafts such as woven carps into the world of installation art. With this display, Vassana has proudly proven that the work of the locals is no longer obsolete.

Thai craft products, Vassana

She has also brought her “Coral Lamp” to the Scottish–Thai Craft & Design Exchange exhibition in Edinburgh, as well as the Clerkenwell Design Week in London. In addition to showcasing at exhibitions, Vassana has also held a weaving workshop.

Consequently, it is really no surprise to see Thai weaving becoming a trend in modern life very soon.

Thanks to Vassana’s attempt to preserve this Thai handicraft, we can appreciate how interesting basketry can be for young people. It need not be just a decoration or an old craft that has lost its usefulness. Adapting to changes and creating value will keep Vassana’s products alive and move beyond just a woven carp.

Thai craft products, Vassana

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

Writer

ธนาวดี แทนเพชร

ครีเอทีฟประจำ The Cloud ชอบใช้หลายทักษะในเวลาเดียวกัน จึงพ่วงตำแหน่งนักเขียนมาด้วยเป็นบางครั้ง ออกกองตามฤดูกาล จัดทริปและเดินทางเป็นงานอดิเรก

Photographer

ลักษิกา จิรดารากุล

ช่างภาพที่ชอบกินบะหมี่ ถูกชะตากับอาหารสีส้ม และรักกะเพราไก่ใส่แครอท

Crafting Futures

ความสวยงามของงานคราฟต์ที่ไม่ถูกทำให้เป็นแค่กระแส

The Cloud x British Council

Those who have heard of Chiang Mai Design Week will know that it is an annual festival, bringing together the artistic talents of local designers, artisans, artists, and entrepreneurs in the creative industry. This year, we had an opportunity to visit the festival which was held under the concept of “Stay Safe, Stay Alive, Live Happy”. 

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

As we entered the exhibition, a mirror captured our attention and gave us inspiration.

This fascinating exhibition is a collaboration between the British Council and Fashion Revolution—a network which aims to revolutionise the fashion industry towards a more sustainable future. Their message to everyone is that clothing, global warming, society, and the economy are all related.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop
Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

We talked to Patcharawee Tunprawat (Jay) from the British Council—the UK’s international organisation for culture and educational opportunities, and Kamonnart Ongwandee (Ung), a representative from Fashion Revolution, about the exhibition entitled Homegrown, and Circular Design Lab: Closing the Loops, suggesting that the solution to climate change is circular design.

01

Global Warming VS Fashion

In response to a year of environmental changes, the British Council collaborated with Fashion Revolution for the Chiang Mai Design Week to raise awareness among young people concerning the impact of fashion on climate change. 

“The British Council has been working with craft entrepreneurs and artisan networks for a while. In 2021, the United Kingdom and Italy will co-host the COP26—a global United Nations summit on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland. We would like to engage with future generations through our work to make people aware that the environment is relevant to everyone.” Jay said.

Ung acts as Thailand’s network coordinator and began by explaining the concept behind the Fashion Revolution. “We first started in the UK and brought together a network of designers. We are now beginning to recognise the impact of fashion on the environment, society, labour, and fairness in the supply chain. The network is gradually expanding and includes many volunteers around the world. We try to raise awareness in all sectors, brands, consumers, and everyone involved in driving a sustainable fashion industry.” 

We communicate our message through activities, such as by participating in the exhibition and workshop during Chiang Mai Design Week this year.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

British Council and Fashion Revolution are working together at the international level. This enables us to work closely in Thailand with future generations to explore and find a way to tackle climate change through circular design.

Before we talk about the solution, we should mention the challenges faced by the fashion industry. Why do fashion designs or clothing have such an impact on climate change and why do we need to talk about it? Understand the context, and the purpose of this exhibition will become clear. 

Ung explained. “Now in Thailand, when we talk about global warming, we only think of plastic straws and plastic bags because they are clear examples of waste. We don’t see clothes as waste but in fact, a massive amount of waste on the Earth is generated by clothes.”

“Actually, most people don’t realise that we are responsible for climate change, in the way we dress or the things we use every day. For example, yesterday one visitor viewing the exhibition said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that buying a pair of jeans means more than 3,700 litres of water is wasted.’ The fashion industry is one of the most environmentally damaging.” Jay added.

Therefore, with this exhibition and workshop, the British Council and Fashion Revolution are making an effort to raise awareness of the way fashion is consumed.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

02

Circular Design

According to statistics, we only wear 25% of the clothes we own. We keep too many things, even though they no longer spark joy in us.

Ung relayed the shocking truth. “In our wardrobe, there are a lot of garments we don’t wear. The fashion industry as a whole has quite an impact on the environment. At the global level, its impact is greater than all airlines combined—since fashion items are now being produced across the world, resulting in considerable carbon loss. A significant amount of carbon dioxide is produced through the manufacturing process and transportation. Cotton production uses many chemicals, while the water used during the process of textile bleaching and dyeing is polluted and released back into nature.”

To provide a wider picture, the fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater. The manufacture of one pair of jeans requires almost three years’ worth of drinking water.         

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

“Plastic is also a key concern. Apart from cotton, the most popular fibre is polyamide. About 60% of today’s clothing contains polyester. Every time we do the laundry, microfibres or tiny strands of plastic we cannot see are discharged from effluent pipes into the ocean, eventually returning to us on our plates.” 

At this point, most people will have heard of microplastics in mackerel and other aquatic animals but may not know that some of those microplastics come from our clothes.

“Only 1% of the clothes we wear will be recycled. The rest will be wasted. When clothes go to landfill, they contribute to global warming. Aerobic bacteria grows on the clothes, generating greenhouse gases. Everything in the fashion industry has an impact on the real world and we want everyone to know that.”

This is why there is a mirror at the entrance to the exhibition. The team behind it want us, the people, to examine our clothes and what they do to the global environment.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

So what is the solution to this problem? Jay provides the answer. “Craft is the solution to the problem. Crafts are from nature, cotton or natural fibres in natural colours. They are durable and stay in the system for a long time. Many people may not know how the use of natural products can help to solve climate change. The new generation may not be able to connect with crafts or don’t know where to buy them. Or maybe they retain the image that crafts are old-fashioned and not for the younger generation. Thus, this is our goal. We want metropolitans and the younger generation to know more about handicrafts in modern designs.”

 “This includes the understanding of circular design or a design that mimics the life cycle of nature and looks like a circle. Clothes are normally seen as linear. They are produced, used, and thrown away. However, the circular concept is an effort to return clothes to the soil, make them biodegradable or recycle items as much as possible.”

“Integrated thinking comes from the concept of a circular economy which addresses global issues. If we want the resources to meet the needs of the people, we need two worlds with a conventional linear economy. Circular design redefines the economic potential of resources through a new model. We just need to change the way we consume and the world will be better.” Ung added.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

03

Homegrown  

“We named the exhibition ‘Homegrown’ because we thought of the word eco, which is derived from the Greek language, meaning home. We chose this word as the concept of the event. By reconnecting with home, community, and nature, we will be able to find a solution to climate change. The main idea is a circular design, starting from home, planting near home, and after decomposition, returning to the system.” Ung told us.

Through this exhibition, we can see the impact of fashion on global warming and how quickly the fashion we consume creates a linear effect. Solutions are also proposed. Sustainable designs will not leave any burden on the world.

“I received a scholarship from the British Council and studied circular design in the UK for about a week with friends from six Southeast Asian countries. They see crafts as the solution—it’s the local wisdom, and similar to what we already know (laughs). It’s our tradition. It is very Buddhist. The cycle of life is not invincible. One day, everything will decompose, return to the soil, and become useful once again. Now, crafts are becoming the future of design. Designers around the world are returning to crafts.”

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

“I received a scholarship from the British Council and studied circular design in the UK for about a week with friends from six Southeast Asian countries. They see crafts as the solution—it’s the local wisdom, and similar to what we already know (laughs). It’s our tradition. It is very Buddhist. The cycle of life is not invincible. One day, everything will decompose, return to the soil, and become useful once again. Now, crafts are becoming the future of design. Designers around the world are returning to crafts.”

Circular design is different from eco-design. It is a complete closed-loop thinking process from start to finish. When one item completes its lifecycle, what will it return as?

“Circular design exists in our local communities. If we make it happen across Thailand, each community in every city will achieve sustainability. What will happen if we don’t need to import fabrics? We can support the community to grow plants for fibres and support craftsmen and seamstresses. The community will be strong.”

“The products chosen for the exhibition are mostly from brands that actually work with the community or associated with community members, rather than just from a one-off designer visiting the community.”

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

A variety of brands were displayed at the Crafting Futures project such as Tai Lue, Wanita, Bhukram, and FolkCharm, to illustrate green fashion that we could support.

Jay, who reached out and travelled to meet this group of designers, told us. “For example, FolkCharm work with a community that grows and weaves organic cotton in Loei Province. They created a local impact on the community they work with. We would like FolkCharm to inspire young designers interested in following this path.”

“As for Tai Lue, they work with weavers and want to minimise waste in the production process. Usually, when making a dress, the pattern creates some waste. This group came up with a pattern that weavers can make money from and leaves no waste. Moreover, they invented a weaving technique to create a pattern.”

“It will develop into innovation. The local crafts carried out by the villagers are safe, and not at all harmful to this world.”

Finally, at the end of the exhibition, we found a table where visitors could sit and spend time designing clothes for paper dolls. Many people might think this is just a children’s activity but it is actually another step towards encouraging young designers who care about the world.

“They were given the task ‘Design Your Future Dress’ after exploring the exhibition. We let them design clothes for the world they want to live in. We prepared flowers and leaves for them to create clothes. When people are doing arts and crafts, they start conversations. Ultimately, they realise that climate change and social issues are connected.”

04

Circular Design Labs

Besides the exhibition, a platform for sustainable fashion is open to the public, and another activity created by the team is a workshop for artisans and designers. Ung developed this workshop from her experience at the design camp organised by the British Council in 2018.

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

“It’s a circular design workshop but we focus more on sharing thinking processes for sustainability. This is something I learnt from the Circular Futures Lab, which at the time was a collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation—an organisation for promoting the circular economy globally.” 

“They asked designers how they could meet user needs without harming the world. We usually think if we want to meet human needs, we have to harm the world in one way or another, right? But the circular design principles fill the gaps here. We learnt about the thinking process and principles from the beginning to end, which are similar to those of design but with the addition of sustainability principles.”

In human-centric startups, working to meet the needs of a target group, design thinking may feel like a common term but for a sustainable designer, the term is different.

“Design thinking is very popular since it is human-centred, and relates only to meeting consumer needs. It just serves humans. However, the circular design invites us to think about how to meet human needs without using more and more resources.”

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

“For example, a shirt made from different materials is very problematic for the recycling process, since natural and human-made materials such as zippers and buttons are mixed, but this problem can be solved by using circular design. It requires the designer to consider at the beginning how these things will be disassembled or separated. The designer must make sure from the start that there will be no waste and think of new materials to use. I want to share and exchange knowledge with young designers at the Chiang Mai Design Week.”

05

Human Collaboration for Fashion 

Whether you visit our exhibition or not, you may realise that awareness without action could not save the world. Therefore, your action could simply start through fashion.

“To support sustainable fashion, the chosen brand must have a positive impact on the environment and society like the brands we share, which help support the community. Designers can sell their creativity. It’s like buying a unique piece of art. The clothes we buy can tell a story. Recently, people have started to feel that brand names may not be as chic as crafts.”

“Consumers can gradually reduce their purchases and wear the same item repeatedly. One shirt can last for 25 years. Craftsmen also wear shirts they weaved 20 years ago. It is a completely different concept from fast fashion. The older garments are more beautiful. The more it is used, the softer it becomes. The value will increase over time, the Japanese people call it— Wabi-Sabi and it’s chic.”

Learn about circular design for the fashion industry through the Chiang Mai Design Week exhibition and workshop

Jay agreed and saw that for other countries, crafts are viewed as works of art, full of the creativity which has been passed down for generations. “In Thailand, people generally see crafts as works by villagers and do not mind asking for a discount. This concept actually reduces the value of their work. Consequently, craft people do not want to continue. Consumers can determine the direction and trend of production—encourage the artisans and they will have more pride in their crafts.”

Giving support to artisans in communities is one thing, but Ung said that we, as consumers, have many other options.

“Thinking about sustainable clothing isn’t just about buying clothes from sustainable brands, there are other options. The easiest step is to look back and see what we already have in our wardrobes and try to mix and match.”

“There are a lot of clothes we don’t wear but still keep because we are bored or cannot find new ways to match them. We buy clothes according to the trend so they get old quickly. If we can match new looks, we won’t buy more. It is called the capsule wardrobe, a challenge that asks you to create 30 looks for 30 days with just 12 clothing items. It is fun and women around the world are interested in this idea.”

“If you want a new shirt, you don’t have to buy one. Let’s swap our clothes. It’s an activity the Fashion Revolution is working on. We invite people to exchange the clothes in their wardrobes.”

Apart from swapping clothes, borrowing or renting clothes is becoming a new business concept in the fashion industry. For old clothes, try repairing and modifying before throwing them away. 

You can be a part of a sustainable fashion society. Don’t wait any longer. Let’s start revolutionising the fashion industry and saving the world at the same time.

Writer

ฉัตรชนก ชโลธรพิเศษ

ชาวนนทบุเรี่ยน ชอบเขียน และกำลังฝึกเขียนอย่างพากเพียร มีความหวังจะได้เป็นเซียน ในเรื่องขีดๆ เขียนๆ สักวันหนึ่ง

Photographer

ชัยวัฒน์ ทาสุรินทร์

โด้เป็นช่างภาพดาวรุ่งจากสาขาศิลปะการถ่ายภาพ คณะวิจิตรศิลป์ มหาวิทยาลัยเชียงใหม่ เป็นที่รักของเพื่อนๆ และสาวๆ ถึงกับมีคนก่อตั้งเพจแฟนคลับให้เขา ชื่อว่า 'ไอ้โด้ FC'

อ่านต่อ

Loading...

End of content

No more pages to load