Thailand: Fashion Gateway of Asia
Thailand is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world and beloved for its delicious cuisine, tropical weather, and beautiful beaches. However, Thailand’s strengths go beyond being an attractive tourist destination. It has become a gateway for the fashion industry thanks to its global reputation for fashion design and production.
Thailand hosted the 34th Bangkok International Fashion Fair and Bangkok International Leather Fair (BIFF & BIL 2016) from March 9 to 13. Malee Choklumlerd, director-general of the DITP (Department of International Trade Promotion, Ministry of Commerce), organized the event, and said the fair shows the great potential of Thailand’s fashion industry.
“It proves we are ready to be a fashion platform and trend leader,” said Malee. Thai designers and manufacturers have received good responses from both local and international buyers from China, Japan, Korea, and Europe, according to DITP.
Thailand, famous for its silk and cotton, has recently diversified into production of synthetic fibers and filaments. Thailand’s textile industry has a complete supply chain from the production of fibers, fabrics, and textiles to apparel, and home and industrial textiles.
Thailand also has an extensive tanning industry, producing traditional and exotic leathers such as crocodile, snake, and stingray skins. These leathers are used in the production of high-quality shoes, bags, and accessories.
The theme of the fair this year was “Catching the Creative Spirit,” with a focus on creativity, design, and quality. Some Thai designers and fashion brands are already well-known internationally. Their international success is a result of great talent and inner spirit, as well as strong support from local suppliers, manufacturers, and labor forces.
DITP encourages more brands to break into the global fashion scene, and the fair in Bangkok is a great platform to do that. More than 500 companies attended the fair in Bangkok this year to showcase their products and services.
World-Famous Thai Silk
Thai silk is famous for its quality, unique designs, and affordability. One of the notable Thai brands at the Bangkok fair was Greenville Silk, which produces innovative silk fabrics and silk products. The company is owned by Thanapaisal R.O.P., which is a family-owned business with over 100 years of experience in cotton and silk production.
“I had a dream of exporting Thai silk to other countries. And that dream came true 10 years ago when I first started to export to Japan,” said Pilan Dhammongkol, the owner of Thanapaisal. He is the third generation of his family’s textile business.
Pilan praised the government-sponsored programs that aimed to advance the Thai textile and garment industries. The government hired a team of Italian fashion consultants who specialize in weaving, designing, dyeing, and finishing to advise Thai textile companies. Pilan was one of the entrepreneurs who was inspired by these Italian experts. He started to focus more on the quality of the fabric to differentiate his brand.
“Italians do not focus on mass production, they focus on creativity. They take care of the fabric and they make it really soft. When you wear it, you feel the difference. In technical terms, we call it mechanical finishing. I call it massaging the fabric,” said Pilan.
To create a sustainable business, he thinks it is important to make a difference as well. He is focused more on teaching and helping others than on making money. “Most businessmen are focused on self-interest and money, but I like to help others and be useful. This makes me happy,” he said.
He traveled to North and Northeast Thailand to collaborate with textile craftsmen and small-business owners. He taught them how to dye and design materials. “It is a learning process. I learned a lot from them as well. We work together. We can sell fabrics with a new design and new materials three times higher than normal price,” said Pilan.
Thai designer Pruetthida Srisuntisuk is passionate about quality leathers, fine craftsmanship, and premium materials. In 2010, she founded the local Thai brand ARTTY Exotic, which designs and produces leather goods like shoes and bags.
Her family has been in the leather tanning business since 1960, which is great support for her brand. She procures her materials mostly from Thailand, Europe, and Japan.
Pruetthida showcased her latest collection, “The Art of Geometric Leathers,” which illustrates a combination of geometric art and high-quality fine leather.
Thai brands that specialize in high-quality yet affordable clothing are particularly appealing to international buyers. Iconic, which sells 40 percent of its products internationally, is one of them.
Founded in 2012, Iconic designs and produces clothes for young women. Blended tribal heritage, original designs, original textile design technique, a twist of modern bohemian, affordable pricing, and a younger look are features that make the Iconic brand unique.
Thailand Gears Up to Become a Regional Hub
Thailand enjoys a strategic location and serves as a gateway to the heart of Asia. The country offers convenient trade with China, India, and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Thailand is the second-largest economy in ASEAN and a major player in the regional value chain for key manufacturing industries, including textiles.
Thailand is an export-oriented economy with exports accounting for around 65 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To promote exports, the Ministry of Commerce developed six-year international trade strategies.
One of the government’s strategies is to promote Thailand as the regional hub of ASEAN in terms of trade and investment, said Somdet Susomboon, assistant director-general of DITP.
ASEAN, with a population of more than 600 million people and a GDP growth of 6 percent, is a highly attractive market for Thai industries like textiles.
Another strategy implemented by the Thai government is to improve the competitiveness of the local private sector. According to the presentation provided by Somdet, over 2.6 million small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in Thailand account for 90 percent of all businesses in the country, though they contribute only 30 percent of the country’s overall exports.
The Thai textile industry is expected to grow further in coming years with significant private sector technology investments and government policies to improve textile production, designing skills, and supply chain management.