Shop Local: Celebrating Thailand’s Craftmakers

From ceramics to silk scarves, learn about two emerging businesses who are eager to help others get in touch with their creative side.

Conscious about your carbon footprint and keen to buy locally sourced goods? Or perhaps you’d just like to support emerging homegrown talent? Whether it’s handmade products that reflect a country’s unique arts and culture, artisans passionate about a cause or sustainable brands that give back to communities, we uncover the stories behind these local businesses in our Shop Local series.

In this first instalment, we speak to Rada Loom and Charm-Learn Studio in Thailand. From sustainable silk scarves to ceramics that you can display in your home, both offer the chance to try your hand at making custom silk crafts and your very own ceramic ware.

Rada Loom

Fronted by husband and wife, Mr Thamarat Sukjeeradet and Ms Suparak Rattanamongkonyut discovered the art of making products from Eri silk in Chiang Mai in 2013. Since then, they have expanded their business to the bustling city of Bangkok, where they are set to make their mark one loom at a time.

Rada Loom's in-house manufactured Eri silk yarnImage Credit: Rada Loom

1. Tell us more about your business.

It all started about five years ago when I (Thamarat) heard about Eri silk research. Back then, I had never heard of Eri silk, but what caught my attention was how I learned that Eri silk caterpillars eat cassava leaves and I know my father-in-law owns a cassava plantation. My wife, on the other hand, was exposed to weaving from a very young age, as she observed and assisted her grandmother with the weaving of traditional clothes.

So, over the next few months, we sold our bakery business and headed to my father-in-law’s plantation with some Eri silk eggs we received from Kasetsart University. We weren’t certain where it would take us and it took a while to figure things out, but here we are today selling looms, naturally dyed Eri silk woven products and weaving supplies.

2. Have you seen a rising interest for your crafts in recent years? How do you incorporate Thai influences into your products?

It started out slow as we tried to raise awareness about Eri silk products, but things picked up when we made and displayed both our looms and products at exhibitions with Makerspace. (Editor’s Note: Situated in Chiang Mai, Makerspace Thailand provides local artists with modern tools, from laser cutters to 3D printers, for their entrepreneurial creations.)

As a business, we select partners who are able to use their knowledge and specialities to fuse traditional fabric and patterns with modern designs. We’ve always believed that tradition and style can go together, when thoughtfully done.

Suparak, one of the co-founders of Rada Loom
Co-founder Suparak in action on the foldable loom. Image Credit: Rada Loom

3. You are known for manufacturing your own yarn and thread. Why the emphasis on self-production?

We know we could get great products from suppliers, rebrand and sell them, but it would be similar to what others are doing. From getting the right materials to having the right people work for us, we take pride in the effort and creativity that go into the making of our products. And when our customers find out the life story of each product, we know they appreciate it.

4. Is there an element of giving back to communities in your products?

Our products provide additional income for rural communities, who earn their keep mainly through farming. As their harvests are seasonal and most of them are used for household consumption, they end up with very little monetary income. What we do is provide them with work that they can do at home at their own pace. They contribute their skills and knowledge in return.

As the manufacturing industry in Thailand transits from handicrafts to mass production, the legacy of traditional crafts is nearing its end and could potentially be lost over the next few generations. There are very few practising craftsmen left and most of them are very old, with little interest from their children to carry on their trade. We hope to keep these traditions alive and help them realise that people still appreciate what they do.

Rada Loom's shopfrontImage Credit: Rada Loom

5. Where can people buy your products?

We started in Jing Jai market in Chiang Mai. But we are also in the midst of setting up a shop in Bangkok on Level 3 of EMPORIUM (a luxury shopping mall in Khlong Toei district), where people can browse our products, take weaving lessons or join a workshop.

Our workshops are themed and are designed with a large group of beginners in mind.  They are suitable for anyone to enjoy. Our lessons are more personalised. People can walk into our shop and choose to make the products we have. Or if they would like to take their weaving to the next level, our instructors can show them how to do this.

6. You also run workshops for your craft. Who are these workshops for?

Our loom-weaving workshops are open to all and are held on two weekends each month. Though thematic, we would still assist our participants in making what they want, if they feel like doing so. On other days, we offer private weaving lessons too.

Charm-Learn Studio

Fuelled by their passion for ceramics, this trio of crafters, Mr Chanchai Boriboon, Ms Thanita Yothawong and Mr Natthapol Wannaporn, founded their studio in 2013. Despite starting during a tumultuous time in the midst of Bangkok’s political crisis, they managed to grow their business and go on to win awards for their designs.

A potted ceramic creation from local craft business Charm-Learn StudioImage Credit: Charm-Learn Studio

1. Tell us more about your business.

We are passionate about creating handmade ceramic art and designs, and we hope to share the joy of creating such products with others.

2. You are known for custom-making all your ceramic pottery and crafts. Why the emphasis on self-production?

We enjoy self-production because we have control over what we make, while also developing skills and knowledge at the same time.

3. Have you seen a rising interest for your crafts in recent years? How do you incorporate Thai influences into your products?

We have seen a rising interest in our crafts and products. We think this is because there has also been a growing understanding of the local creative industry as more art and craft studios open. This has led to not only more competition, but also more alliances as well. The media has also helped to increase overall awareness.

Our business is very much influenced by our evolving Thai culture, which goes beyond graphics or elements of art.

Pin-To ceramic lunch boxes from local craft business Charm-Learn StudioImage Credit: Charm-Learn Studio

4. What has been the one piece of work you are most proud of?

Our signature product is ceramic lunch box set “Pin-To”, which has clinched various recognitions, such as the PM Award 2017, the DeMark Award 2017 and the G Mark Good Design Award 2017.  (Editor’s Note: In evaluating the product for the Good Design Award, the judges were impressed by how the lunchbox was inspired by Thailand’s classic aluminium lunchboxes but adapted to suit contemporary needs.)

5. Is there an element of giving back to communities in your products?

Many of our products are done in collaboration with local designers as we believe in tapping on local wisdom and supporting local communities. We are also doing what we can to give back to society by being involved in various charity projects.

Ceramic homeware from local craft business Charm-Learn StudioImage Credit: Charm-Learn Studio

6. Where can people buy your products?  

Our products are currently available at Charm-Learn Studio Phanakorn, Bangkok; Thailand Creative & Design Centre (TCDC), Level 1, Bangkok; and Good Design Store, Level 4 Central Embassy, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok. 

7. You also run workshops for your craft. Who are these workshops for?

Our workshops are open to all who are interested in ceramics and crafts. Anyone who’s looking for a break from the fast-paced city life is also welcomed to sign up with us. We run our workshops every month, with different types of courses available depending on whether you have a few hours or more to spare! Visit our Facebook page to find out more.

If you’re planning to visit other local cottage industries and social enterprises, check in with our concierge at Modena by Fraser Bangkok who will be happy to arrange such activities for you. 

Or want to recommend other local artists worth checking out in Thailand? Share them with us in a comment below!

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