Friday, August 3, 2012

The Beautiful Fabrics of Siamese Dream Design

by frédérik

I think best by writing, and throughout the time I’ve been blogging about fashion here at The Fashionoclast, I’ve naturally come to refine my own thoughts about fashion. As I’ve learned more about the process of manufacturing apparel along with the marketing aspects of the fashion industry, as well as the ever-popular design aspects, I’ve become dedicated towards supporting artisans over corporations, especially those artisans whose work reflects high standards of environmental stewardship and fair labour practices. In practical terms, this has involved looking for local (that is, North American) designers, manufacturers, and artisans. However, I haven’t been averse to looking international for worthy fashion products, provided they offer something unique made responsibly.

Thailand-based Siamese Dream Design popped out at me while perusing Etsy for fun and interesting products. On mousing through to their website, I was particularly struck by the beautiful colours and patterns of their batik fabrics. On reading more about owner’s Barbara and Amy efforts to work with indigenous women in Asia, providing both financial security as well as the means of preserving cherished and unique traditions, I had no doubt that I had come across just the sort of artisanal fashion I admire. Stylish, accessibly priced, sustainable, vegan, and conscientious about their business offering products imbued with cultural, let us say human, meaning. Their interest in spicing up men's fashion is a most welcome bonus, indeed.

To introduce you to Siamese Dream Design’s beautiful wares and the lovely ladies who run it, I contacted Barbara and Amy for an interview, which I now present to you for your reading enjoyment.

Can you tell me a bit about yourselves and what prompted you to travel around Asia?
We are a mother-daughter team, originally from the northern Illinois area. We first traveled to Asia in the year 2000. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia – all beautiful colorful chaos. Coming from the homogenous cornfields of the Midwest, it was easy to fall in love with the richness and diversity of the people and their cultures.
Abbie sandals in brights, $34
What inspired you to settle in Thailand and start Siamese Dream Design?
The Chiang Mai area of Thailand offered a great balance of an abundant expat community while still being in close proximity to indigenous mountain villages, the golden triangle and an international airport to take us away on our next adventure. 
How has your company evolved over the years?
Ah, the evolution of it! In the beginning we bought things, many times from the wrong people, many times the wrong products. We now have relationships with the women who actually weave and embroider the textiles. We know the grandmothers and the grandchildren, we know the stories behind the fabrics. We now produce our own products out of the textiles which we purchase directly from the families. 
Novak's men sandals, $26
What challenges have you had to overcome in order to use your company as a means of empowering indigenous women and promoting eco-friendly products?
Some of the younger people think modern is great. They want to incorporate machine embroidery, cheap chemical dyes and fast production as they see this as the way of the modern world. Showing them that the traditional techniques and ways are invaluable is sometimes a hurdle. We have gained such a deep appreciation of the cultural skills that have been passed down for generations that we find the recent craze in western fashion of mimicking and producing cheap copies of indigenous designs outright insulting! The amazing skill it takes to create these textile masterpieces, whether they be Native American, Aztec or Hmong, should be respected and preserved.
Vintage Hmong Embroidery & Batik Handbag, $44
How do you go about choosing and designing the products you offer?
The fabrics, they speak to us. Two women with extremely eclectic tastes, very opinionated, sometimes we fight over a piece of fabric. One sees boots, one sees espadrilles.
Speaking of boots...Mischa in Tribal Applique, $68
The batik prints from the Hmong people are especially beautiful...who are the Hmong, and what makes their textiles so distinctive? What other fabrics do you use in your products?
There are many distinctive tribes among the Hmong people. The White Hmong, the Black Hmong, the Flower Hmong, Green Hmong, Striped Hmong, Red Hmong and Variegated Hmong to name just a few. The Hmong people originally migrated south from China to escape political unrest. They settled in areas of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The symbols, techniques and colors used in their traditional clothing indicate their geographical region and cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community.
To watch one of the old grandmothers sit and patiently hand draw an intricate batik pattern with wax is amazing.
A grandmother.
There is not a single indigenous textile we’ve come across that we haven’t loved.  We try to incorporate the talents of all ethnicities that we stumble upon, inclusive of Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Karen, Taliang, Naga, Balinese….the list goes on and on and expands with every travel opportunity.
Who else do you work with to make your products, and what changes have you seen in their lives as a result?
We have a lovely young Lisu woman named Amee, who does our sewing for us. The work she does for us has enabled her to stay at home in the community with her 2 young children. Many of the women are economically forced to leave their children with the grandparents and seek factory work in the big cities. There are several others that have been able to make the choice to stay in their communities because they now have an income source to provide for their families.
Plus Size Colorful Tribal Jacket, $110
What do you like best about running Siamese Dream Design...any particular moments stand out for you?
Being lifelong repurposers (read garage sales and vintage shops), we love the fact that we get to spend our days in mountain villages rummaging through vintage ethnic clothing and cultural textiles. Then we get to come home and fondle the beautiful fabrics and dream up new designs.
What’s not to love?
Memorable moments…hmmm…fall photo shoots in tropical Thailand, boots and tights with bikini tops and palm fans.
You mentioned in your eMail to me an interest in expanding your men's line...what do you have in mind?
Most men’s fashion is boring. Men need fun too. We are working on designing new men’s shoes and boots incorporating the right balance of funky and masculine, while still maintaining the comfort we are known for. 
Bold Akha Embroidery Men's Vegan Shoes, $52

What does the future hold for you and your company?

Peru, Japan, Turkey, Mozambique, Uzbekistan…the world is our oyster.

There you have it. Visit Siamese Dream Design's website to see their full range of lovely apparel, shoes, accessories, and textiles.

And yes, I'm back. For now.

Many thanks to Barbara and Amy for taking the time to correspond with me. I'm looking forward to seeing  what lies in store for Siamese Dream Design.

Note: Images borrowed from the SDD website for illustrative purposes only.


Mica said...

I like a lot of these pieces - especially the handbags and that jacket! Nice to see so much colour and print, and even better that it helps local communities too! :)

Frederik Sisa said...

Right you are, Mica! :)

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