The Cloud x British Council
อ่านบทความภาษาไทยได้ที่นี่

The introduction of new textiles or fashion brands generally begins with the story of a Bangkok owner or a person from a rural area coming to the city to learn how to start a business.

It seems like the capital city has its own standard of beauty, and all designers must pass through this stage to prepare their brand for the target market.

However, the “Phaeo Phafai” story is different.

Phaeo Phafai

Phaeo Kumpanuch was working for a sports shoe factory in Bangkok when faced with the loss of her husband in tragic circumstances; she returned to her hometown to take up a textile career.

Although many successful entrepreneurs have started their journeys to success from zero, Phaeo began hers at minus.

The day we met, her products were on the shelves and being sold nationwide and Phaeo Phafai Tai Lue style clothes are advertised on numerous channels. Some of the country’s main banks have even asked her to design uniforms for their staff.

Recently, Phaeo Phafai began working with the British Council and young designers from KRAM-HUG  to produce a new collection of clothes for the Chiang Mai Design Week 2018.

Phaeo Phafai

Tai Lue women from Nan Province have taken a great leap of faith, playing an important role in driving the rural textile industry forward, and assisting locals with job opportunities.

This successful tale started from a simple 43 baht bed sheet.

A Weaving Marketer

Phaeo Phafai

The bed sheet in Tai Lue style has since created its own identity in white, red, and black.

Phaeo’s mother was a productive weaver of Tai Lue textiles and taught Phaeo how to weave too. The only textile Phaeo could make at the time was a Tai Lue style bed sheet.

Weaving bed sheets was the career chosen by Phaeo when she decided to return to her hometown. Despite her best weaving efforts, as she had to use a middleman to sell them, her bed sheets were only sold for 43 baht.

Things started looking up for Phaeo when a shop in town bought some of her many accessories and she was commissioned to weave for them. She earned 130 baht in total for each sheet, and after deducting the cost of raw materials, actually made a profit of around 80 baht. Phaeo carried on her weaving career with the locals for more than 10 years, before forming a community weaving group together.

Despite her lack of commercial experience, Phaeo knew about marketing and took on the role of selling the handmade textiles to a hotel in town. When the weaving community ran into financial difficulties, Phaeo was nominated as leader and successfully eradicated all debt in just five years.

Phaeo PhafaiPhaeo Phafai

“I used to be a tailor, and unlike others, didn’t have the chance to study because of my circumstances. I learnt tailoring when my mother bought me a sewing machine. I started to use my own textiles to make curtains, and people kept asking to buy them. I then realised I should sell the woven curtains instead and took every opportunity to attend fairs to market my products.”

Phaeo became responsible for both designing new products and expanding the market. When the home decorating products became sufficiently stable, Phaeo decided to take another step towards making clothes from the popular textiles and began wearing the items herself to gain feedback.

Speaking from her attractive contemporary Tai Lue clothes shop, Phaeo Phafai’s owner said:

“When I attended training sessions and meetings, I wore my own designs to seek feedback. I was also given some important advice — to know myself first and then the market. At that time, I was trying to sell everything I thought looked attractive, and it turned out that the items had nothing of myself in them. Then, one day, I suddenly asked myself the question, why don’t we use the traditional textiles from our hometown?”

Phaeo Phafai and her Community Support

Phaeo Phafai

Phaeo soon began to realise the business potential and hoped someone would take it seriously because it could actually generate income for the community rather than just providing part-time jobs.

She decided to invest in the business herself, and apart from her responsibility as leader of her hometown community, Phaeo managed to use local raw materials in her business and pay everyone monthly as well as annually.

The guaranteed income provided stability for everyone in the community, and the 40 weavers and 100 members became confident in Phaeo Phafai’s ability. Girls no longer had to go into town for work, and older women could generate additional income to enhance their lives. Phaeo Phafai’s intention was not only to earn as much money as possible but also to make life better for everyone in the community. Teenagers no longer need to leave their hometown to be successful, and learning how to turn products into popular fashion items can also help to preserve the Thai cultural heritage.

Phaeo Phafai Phaeo Phafai

Tai Lue Designer

From being just an ordinary weaver and tailor, Phaeo has dedicated herself to learning as much as she can about new design and fashion concepts. Her mindset has changed and she now crafts her designs before uniquely weaving new textiles. Phaeo always uses Tai Lue textiles as her inspiration in every collection and adapts the best aspects of her existing work to create something completely new and original.

The impressive feedback from her creations has resulted in more awards for Phaeo Phafai, and she is now a regular participant at popular events.

Phaeo Phafai Phaeo Phafai

“When I first attended an event at Mueng Thong Thani, no one was interested in our products. So, I decided to stay around and see how others designed, and then went back to improve ours, and my efforts were rewarded by being able to sell the products when I returned for another event. I also visited Osaka and was impressed by the care people took to keep the city clean. The Japanese always look neat and attractive, especially their shoes. They even used pieces of fabric in the design of their products, which was a brilliant idea. I thought about doing something similar and tried attaching pieces of fabric to clothes. The positive feedback was greater than I expected, and some of the items are still being sold today!”

Phaeo Phafai has continued to grow dramatically, and Phaeo Kumpanuch is currently President of both a Community Enterprise and the Nan Textile Cluster. From a girl who dedicated herself to learning everything there is to know about textiles, she is now Nan Textile’s fashion show owner, providing designs for stars and models to wear.

Mixing Tai Lue style textiles into modern clothing has attracted the attention of many Thai banks due to their need for staff to wear uniforms that are both traditional and modern. Banks situated in Bangkok, Lum Pang, and Suphan Buri are among those interested in ordering uniforms from Phaeo Phafai.

Phaeo Phafai

“The clothes we design nowadays seem to align with the preferences of office workers, although this has not always been the case. Teenagers and movie stars are turning towards this type of clothing more than ever, which makes me so proud.”

Phaeo said with a smile that nowadays Phaeo Phafai sells a variety of products such as sarongs, traditional handmade skirts, loincloths, shawls, and raw fabric. Household items are also available, such as curtains, bed sheets, cushions, mats, etc. Moreover, Phaeo Phafai also offers a tailor-made service, producing individual items for males and females as well as uniforms and traditional student outfits.

Back to Nature

Phaeo Phafai is now expanding to join with the British Council team and Alison Welsh. Alison is a British designer involved in thread development, natural dyes, and a process for using the least amount of left-over fabric as well as the development of new products such as mats, pillows, and bags. This collaboration includes designing and decorating the stores to attract customers. Most importantly, the objective is to help weavers become free thinking and able to create new designs without limitation.

For its high-end products, Phaeo Phafai currently operates a natural dying process using local raw materials. Traditional materials used in times gone by include padauk, mango, mulberry, and annatto leaves. Banana and galangal fibres are also used during the dying stage, and can now be produced in larger quantities. In addition, Phaeo Phafai also supports unemployed people by sending bags to be sewn to workers in Chiang Mai, and shoes to shoemakers in Nakorn Pathom for cutting. Phaeo Phafai is also in the process of creating bags using a combination of genuine silver and textiles.

“I am now trying to delve into a high demand, niche market. There is no need to create a large number of products because we don’t have enough manpower — we must produce something extra special which will always be in demand. How does that sound?”

Phaeo Phafai

Phaeo turns to ask designer KRAM-HUG.

Re(new)Lue, the special Phaeo Phafai collection represents a collaboration with Panisara Maneerat and Naphat Tansuwan, the owners of KRAM-HUG, merging the Lanna culture with fashionable outfits in a display for Chiang Mai Design Week.

“We have been on the ground to seek more information, and obviously spotted that Khun Phaeo has decided to use more natural fibres. It is interesting that each item has a different texture, and combined with the new technique, the dress becomes more valuable.” The two young designers said proudly.

Phaeo Phafai Phaeo Phafai

“The design of our clothes has been influenced by mural paintings. One scene of a walking Tai Lue model also shows Portuguese and English guys wearing European outfits. So, we have combined traditional Tai Lue with modernism to create new products. We also ask elders about pictures they like, and then carefully select one of the traditional preferences to create a modern outcome. A contemporary mindset allows them to become part of the design.”

Anyone who thinks that Tai Lue heritage has no place in the latest fashion need only look at the success of Phaeo Phafai to see the possibilities.

Chiang Mai Design Week is not a finale to the success of Phaeo Phafai, because the brand from a small village will continue to move forward.

The strong influence of Phaeo and her team can be felt in every part of the textiles.

Phaeo Phafai

Phaeo Phafai

Facebook | แพวผ้าฝ้าย น่าน
Tel. 089-851-8918

KRAM-HUG

Facebook |   KRAM-HUG.co
Tel.  0801047150, 0857177494
Translated by  Sanhanat Assawaniwest

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

ภัทรียา พัวพงศกร

บรรณาธิการและนักจัดทริปแห่ง The Cloud ที่สนใจตึกเก่า งานคราฟต์ กลิ่น และละครเวทีพอๆ กับการเดินทาง

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นินทร์ นรินทรกุล ณ อยุธยา

นินทร์ชอบถ่ายรูปมาตั้งแต่เด็ก พ่อแม่ซื้อฟิล์มให้ไม่ยั้ง ตื่นเต้นกับเสียงชัตเตอร์เสมอต้นเสมอปลาย เพื่อนชอบชวนไปทะเล ไม่ใช่เพราะนินทร์น่าคบเพียงอย่างเดียวแน่นอน :)

Crafting Futures

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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

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ธีรพันธ์ ลีลาวรรณสุข

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

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