Saving the planet, one stitch at a time

Thai start-up fashion line features fabrics made from natural, eco-friendly fibres

Taktai founder Kanjira Songpaisan.

Three years ago, software engineer Kanjira Songpaisan left the corporate world and got weaving as an entrepreneur.

The city girl headed to Isan and northern parts of Thailand to meet artisanal communities, in order to open up new avenues for traditional weaving with eco-fibres.

"It was an exploration. I was literally a backpacker when I went to Chiang Yuen, Maha Sarakham, where I stayed in the community for a week. Their artisans were very enthusiastic about my experimentation with natural fibres," she said, recalling one of her trips.

The exploration in Chiang Yuen and other small towns led to the birth of Taktai, an eco-lifestyle social enterprise brand, which recently opened its flagship store at Siam Center.

Kanjira's projects made use of agricultural waste from bamboo, banana, galangal, hemp, lotus, pineapple and water hyacinth, by turning them into natural fibres.

She was particularly interested in bamboo, whose stems undergo a steam explosion to extract the plant's fibres. The shortness, however, require them to be mixed with cotton.

Bag made from bamboo fabric with a leather handle.

The combination is then made into yarn, for weaving into textiles. Ongoing research and development aims to minimise the cotton use as much as possible.

"Bamboo fibre is more delicate than cotton and harder to work with," she said. "Through trial and error, using traditional techniques, the Chiang Yuen artisans ultimately wove a soft, silky and lustrous fabric with a unique pattern, rendered by the bamboo fibre."

Over three years, the Thai brand has launched five ready-to-wear collections.

Taktai flagship store at Siam Center. Taktai

The Taktai Handcraft product line features the bamboo fabric while Taktai Tee unisex clothing is made from recycled materials.

"The apparel is cool and comfortable to wear, while analysis of bamboo fabric shows its antibacterial and UV protection properties," said Kanjira. "Starting with simple yet elegant pieces, we now offer more fashionable designs to attract a wider clientele."

The latest Winter Hometown collection is inspired by the changing urban to rural scenery, during a journey upcountry during Thailand's cooler months.

The bamboo fabric has been naturally dyed to boast tartan, tortoise and rain streak patterns as well as colourful stripes. Woven from the same material, the emblematic pla tapian is a detail in some of the pieces.

Hung as wind mobiles, the auspicious fish are traditionally woven from palm leaves -- a disappearing folk craft requiring conservation.

"The Taktai brand is also about conservation through our fabric innovations," she said. "An increased demand in clothing made with natural fabrics would in turn revive traditional weaving and hence preserve local wisdom."

Taktai means "greeting", and Kanjira aims to put this Thai name on the map as an international eco-friendly fashion label.

Traditional weaving is revived through innovative natural yarn.

Sustainable approaches include co-operation with local farmers and artisans in adopting green practices, encouraging recycling and using scrap fabrics, as well as replanting natural resources such as bamboo.

The fast-growing grass actually saves the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing more oxygen into the atmosphere than hardwood trees.

"The store has been designed like an exhibition to tell the brand story and our exploration of natural fibres," she said. "We welcome customers to be a part of our journey, to promote a greener world."

Chic Taktai Handcraft pieces.

Taktai flagship store is located on the 1st floor of Siam Center. Call 061-681-4664.