Traditional Thai crafts are increasingly under threat, as factory-produced imports undercut the prices of local handmade products. To counter this trend, I initiated a project to bring design to traditional Thai crafts: A collaboration with silk weavers from Buri Ram and rattan furniture makers in Surat Thani to explore techniques and work with them on new prototypes. The intention was not to use design as a top-down process where the craftsman is merely an executer, but to offer design concepts as a canvas for collaborative interpretation, and in the process give the workshops an idea of how design could help them in making consumers re-appreciate the value of their work.
The weaving of silk in Thailand reaches back over 3000 years. The region of Buri Ram, on the Thai-Cambodian border, specializes in the traditional art of entirely hand woven silk. Each thread comes from the cocoons of caterpillars who are fed only mulberry leaves. Surat Thani, the former capital of the ancient Srivijaya kingdom, is a city in the South of Thailand. Rattan, a vine growing in South East Asia, is related to the palm tree, and its wood is highly durable.
I visited the workshops frequently, spending hours each time in discussing techniques and details in an open design and making process where the crafts masters brought in a wide variety of ideas. The rattan chairs have been created in a traditional craft process without using any metal or plastic parts. The silk prototypes found buyers almost immediately, and the rattan chair prototypes found a home in the residences and at the beach of a seaside resort in the Surat Thani region. The workshops have since received many new commissions from resort guests.