The Cloud x British Council

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

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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


ภัทรียา พัวพงศกร

บรรณาธิการและนักจัดทริปแห่ง The Cloud ที่สนใจตึกเก่า งานคราฟต์ กลิ่น และละครเวทีพอๆ กับการเดินทาง


นินทร์ นรินทรกุล ณ อยุธยา

นินทร์ชอบถ่ายรูปมาตั้งแต่เด็ก พ่อแม่ซื้อฟิล์มให้ไม่ยั้ง ตื่นเต้นกับเสียงชัตเตอร์เสมอต้นเสมอปลาย เพื่อนชอบชวนไปทะเล ไม่ใช่เพราะนินทร์น่าคบเพียงอย่างเดียวแน่นอน :)

Crafting Futures


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.


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


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



“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.”


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.”


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.


ฉัตรชนก ชโลธรพิเศษ

ชาวนนทบุเรี่ยน ชอบเขียน และกำลังฝึกเขียนอย่างพากเพียร มีความหวังจะได้เป็นเซียน ในเรื่องขีดๆ เขียนๆ สักวันหนึ่ง


ชัยวัฒน์ ทาสุรินทร์

โด้เป็นช่างภาพดาวรุ่งจากสาขาศิลปะการถ่ายภาพ คณะวิจิตรศิลป์ มหาวิทยาลัยเชียงใหม่ เป็นที่รักของเพื่อนๆ และสาวๆ ถึงกับมีคนก่อตั้งเพจแฟนคลับให้เขา ชื่อว่า 'ไอ้โด้ FC'



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