By Kupluthai Pungkanon
Offering everything from traditional to minimal, the spring and summer 2018 collection of the DoiTung Lifestyle brand, part of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage, was recently unveiled in a special event hosted by the founฌdation’s headquarters on Rama IV Road. The brand has expanded over the past year, adding a new Nature to Wear line to its readytowear and homeware collections.
Initiated by the late Princess Mother, Princess Srinagarindra, the Mae Fah Luang Foundation has long been known for transforming tradiฌtional Thai highland textile styles into modern fashion items by enhancing their natural beauty and tribal charm through the introduction of contemฌporary designs and innovative weavฌing and cutting techniques.
The new collection, all of it handฌmade by the villagers of Doi Tung, has flowed from the pens of some of Thailand’s awardwinning designers, namely Kris Yensudchai, Jirat Subpisankul of brand Sanchai, and university lecturer, Theera Chantasawat of brand TRa.
Kris, who has been with DoiTung for more than 15 years, says the key elements of the readytowear collecฌtion are very much dependent on its yarns and weaving techniques that creฌate easytowear clothing with a new dimension of imperfections.
“For us, DoiTung textile has special features because it is a handwoven fabric and we appreciate its imperfecฌtions. We don’t consider these as defects. True to our distinctive aesthetฌic, our thinking process goes from the yarn to the woven fabric. The design process starts with the designer working from their inspiration, which can be an image or even a short message. From there, we talk with the lead texฌtile designer and weaving director, Saithong Auksornsri, about translatฌing the idea to a sample piece of fabric to see whether it will work in real life. The weaving process remains tradiฌtional, using an oldstyle wooden loom but the yarn is innovative with natuฌral dyes in pastel colours incorporatฌed in the same thread so that when these individual multicoloured threads are woven, no piece of DoiTung fabric is alike. That randomness makes one shirt different from another and that’s the charm of our readytowear,” he says.
In addition to focusing on design and creating a lighter fabric to enhance comfort, another unique and captiฌvating element in the DoiTung Ready to Wear collection is the inspiration, most of it drawn from the costumes of the tribal people living in Doi Tung area.
“We tend to mix the ideas with clasฌsic and postmodern designs, preferฌably in a minimal silhouette. The clothes are like origami. It is the ‘nodesign design’ yet still has a sense of traฌditional ethnicity due to our skilled local artisans,” he explains.
Saithong, 61, who heads up the weaving department, says she loves being at the loom and her 23 years of experience with the foundation makes her proud.
“Working with designers is never easy but I love it. I’ve no formal eduฌcation so this is a great opportunity for me. I’ll transform the imaginative idea of a designer into a patterned fabric measuring 20 by 20 centimetres first, which takes three to seven days. If this works out well, then I’ll pass it on to aunty Kham to manage the weaving department and take the production full steam ahead,” she says.
Kham Tarkhamjing, 66, who has been with DoiTung for more than 25 years, explains that the distinctive feaฌture of DoiTung textile is that you touch every single yarn with your hands. “We don’t do electric. Our looms are still the wooden ones passed down from our grandmothers. The weavers are aged between 30 to older than 60 and we all love turning the soft yarn into simฌple fabric. I don’t come to Bangkok often, but when I see how beautiful the final products are, it makes me very proud.”
With the Nature to Wear collection, codesigners Jirat and Theera are aimฌing to give fashion lovers the comfort of nature combined with the aesthetฌics of Thai textiles in everyday life. After thoroughly studying the beauty of the textures and colours of natural fibres, Theera was able to put his decadelong experience in the fashion industry to good use. Jirat adds that he drew upon nature’s simplicity as his inspiration, creating a collection that is minimalist, easy and casual, yet infused with a sense of modern living.
“DoiTung outfits are not only handwoven from natural fibres like cotton, linen and hemp, but are dyed using natural colours from waste or local sources such as onion peel, macadamia, charcoal, coffee grounds, camellia oleifera, bits of trees, lacquer, sappan and indigo. These are the cash crops of the villagers living near forest areas and by using them in this way, we are conserving local plants and folk wisdom, as well as preserving the enviฌronment through a ‘Zero Waste’ prinฌciple. The patterns and designs on the clothing and accessories of the DoiTung Nature to Wear collection tell the stories of the tribal people around Doi Tung,” Jirat says,
Theera, who only recently returned to the foundation, says he has found many changes since his time there 16 years ago. “At that time, I was young and didn’t have much experience in Thai fabric. I had lots of ideas but didฌn’t know about the market. Now I’m a lecturer in fashion design and have been working with many local textile artisans. There is no better time to come back to DoiTung than now. I creฌate mostly scarves and am delighted to hear that 91 per cent of them are snapped up. That’s because we are the trendsetters and our marketing, which is now handled professionally at the foundation, allows designers to understand the target groups better. To be honest, every Thai fabric is hard to work with but if the designers of my age don’t do anything about it, then we can’t expect young generation designฌers to do it. DoiTung is really famous for its very soft handwoven cotton that’s so light and so comfortable, and its beautiful patterns,” Theera says.
Jackrayu Kongurai, Mae Fah Luang Foundation’s product designer, is equally proud of his new homeware collection called “First Light”, which is inspired by the beauty of the sun’s rays at dawn and symbolises new beginฌnings, freshness and hope. He comฌbined the patterns with the shapes and forms found in the tribal cultures of northern Thailand, and brings them to the designs of the home decor prodฌucts and ceramics in DoiTung Lifestyle’s Spring/Summer 2018 colฌlection.
“The First Light collection is also infused with the joy of the artisans durฌing all stages of production, from the innovative weaving process, to the colouring and firing of the ceramics. It’s the feeling you get when you see the morning light reflected on the rippling surface of water, or on a window or anything around us. More importantฌly, the production process and raw materials we use here have no negaฌtive effect on humans or the environฌment because we rely on the idea of susฌtainable design, which is the path towards safeguarding the future for humankind and the earth,” Jackrayu explains.
These products blend natural raw materials and folk wisdom passed down through the generations with the creativity of DoiTung’s own proฌfessional designers.
The result is a collection of quality products with unique characteristics that are both eyecatching and enviฌronmentally friendly.
ML Dispanadda Diskul, chief execฌutive officer of the foundation, stressฌes that the goal of DoiTung Lifestyle is to attract more young customers like first jobbers.
“We would like to encourage young people to appreciate and wear Thai clothes. They are interested in design and if they have a true understanding of the foundation’s purpose in creatฌing the DoiTung Lifestyle, they will surely support the brand and help creฌate awareness through social media. That’s a powerful message,” he says.