By Kupluthai Pungkanon
Once used mainly for classic designs, Thai fabrics and especially silk have been increasingly finding their way into street fashion generating income for the communities that produce them while also popularising little-known patterns.
This month, for the inaugural edition of the “Taproot Thai Textiles” programme, seven types of Thai fabrics from seven communities across the country are being showcased at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).
Initiated by designer, Wisharawish Akarasantisook, founder of the brand Wisharawish, the programme is receiving the support of the Culture Ministry’s Department of Cultural Promotion and Srinakharinwirot University. The collection, dubbed “Complex Simplicity”, aims to underline the importance of local wisdom and culture while showing off the artistry of the weaving communities. Three of these are based in Khon Kaen province, namely Mudmee silk from Khumsukkho Group, Mai Tam Mi Group in Baan Hua Fai, and natural dyed cotton from Jutatip Factory. They appear alongside traditional checked fabric from Impani Pa Kao Ma in Ratchaburi province, silk denim from Ruen Mai Bai Mon in Surin, thin natural cotton from Cotton Farm in Chiang Mai, and Batik de Nara from Pattani.
With the popularity of Thai fabrics increasing on both the domestic and international fashion stages, the Taproot Thai Textiles programme aims to develop learning resources and cultural communities, including promoting local artists and networks with expertise in the field of Thai weaving as well as bringing cultural capital to Thai fabrics to create value added while continuously pushing the limits.
Wisharawish has always worked with Thai fabrics in creating fashionable outfits tailored to the modern lifestyle. Since 2011, when he set up his own brand, Wisharawish has focused on supporting local textile producers and is constantly travelling to rural areas to encourage existing producers and discover new ones. Through these visits, he has developed his approach and successfully reintroduced these cultural heritages to the world.
As suggested by the name, the “Complex Simplicity” collection makes the point that Thai fabrics can be quite complex in the production process yet simple to access and wear with confidence.
“I tend to stick to plain and well-tailored shirts and outer garments like blazers, trench coats and jackets because they are easy to wear and look good for both work and play. It is great to see that urban people are putting more effort into wearing Thai fabrics than ever before because they realise the importance of preserving Thai textiles and enjoy the sensation of wearing a piece of our culture. It’s not necessary to dress up all in silk. Mixing and matching silk and cotton is both stylish and comfortable,” notes Wisharawish, who likes to play with the repetition of forms and geometric shapes.
Wisharawish collaborated with the department and the university to select the seven producers that best represent Thai cultural wisdom.
Acknowledging that Baan Rai’s Pa Kao Ma is already well known nationally, Ekasit Komolkittipong of Impani Pa Kao Ma, who inherited the business from his family, says that one of the biggest problems he has is that the checked fabric is so much part of everyday life, it tends to be considered as cheap. That makes it hard to set a reasonable price and give it the same value as other fabrics.
“Impani’s fabric has been extensively developed. I’ve tried to weave with different yarns. Now we have successfully infused filagen, an innovative functional fibre that uses nanotechnology to integrate collagen peptide into the textile that makes the pa kao ma soft to the touch. We are grateful to Wisharawish for his creative designs that allow us to keep the signature check but make the fabric look more modern in the ways the colours are matched,” he says.
“Listening is probably the important process. I like to work in the areas where these local artisans and weavers are at their best and then help by inserting new and different ideas. For example, for batik, they traditionally tend to use small patterns that have a marine theme. I said we should do bigger prints and on silk satin because it is more photogenic. We took this collection to showcase in Japan and received quite significant orders to produce kimonos, which is great. We also have orders from France to make the fabric into resort wear. The natural dyed cotton from Khumsukkho is also interesting. The producer uses only plants and flowers to create ink for dying fabrics and the resulting colours are beautiful. We call the fabric from Surin silk-denim but it’s actually pure 100-per-cent silk woven in denim style so the look is very fresh and contemporary and extremely easy to look after. It can be machine washed without problem,” Wisharawish adds.
“Thanks to the support for Taproot Thai Textiles Programme 2019, we will be able to continue our work. There are a lot more Thai fabrics yet to be explored, and I hope to draw up new dimensions for the textiles within this industry.”
Textiles on tap
- Learn more about this rich cultural heritage through a series of activities being organised as part of the Taproot Thai Textiles programme.
- Tuesday (May 21), 3pm: Wisharawish’s latest collection “Complex Simplicity” will be displayed in a fashion show on Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s ninth floor.
- May 23–24: A seminar on the Cultural Wisdom Heritage of Thai fabrics takes place at the Four Wings Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 26.
- May 23–26: Exhibition of costumes made with original fabrics under the Taproot Thai Textiles programme 2019 can be seen at Beacon Zone 34, CentralWorld.