Traditional Thai crafts are increasingly under threat, as cheap, factory-produced Chinese imports undercut the prices of traditional, handmade products. To counter this trend, I initiated a project to bring design to traditional Thai crafts.
I collaborated with silk weavers from Buri Ram and rattan furniture makers in Surat Thani to explore their techniques and work with them on new prototypes. The intention was not to create perfect products, but to give the workshops a sense of how design works and how it could help them in making local consumers 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. This was a very open design and making process where the crafts masters brought in many of their own ideas to better suit the prototypes to the tastes of Thai customers.
The silk prototypes found buyers almost immediately, and the rattan chairs found a home in the residences and at the beach of a wonderful seaside resort in the Surat Thani region, where guests now live with the chairs. The workshop has since received many new commissions from resort guests including local guests, urban dwellers from Bangkok and international visitors.