Pushing 'phasin' to the fore
In the Northeast, a government campaign is helping a traditional garment make a comeback
Until recently, phasin -- a long fabric which is often wrapped around the waist like a skirt -- was considered outdated. It was seen more as a relic from the past, a piece of cultural heritage that belonged in the museum as a part of an anthropological exhibit rather than daily life.
Back when phasin was still widely worn, people used to weave their own clothes with their own patterns to wear. While this D-I-Y approach to fashion managed to last for centuries even after the arrival of modern fabrics and technologies, today phasin is generally seen as a novelty.
Not any more -- at least in the lower northeastern provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram and Surin.
Female students and staff at some universities and government offices have been encouraged to start wearing phasin to classes and work, especially on special occasions.
The push is a part of the government's initiative to promote local cultural heritages as a part of daily life.
In Buri Ram and Surin, some villages have even become famous for weaving exquisitely-patterned phasin. Here, a well-made and beautifully patterned cotton phasin can fetch many thousands of baht. The premium version made of silk may go for over 50,000 baht per piece, especially if they were woven by a famous traditional craftsman.
Akradej Deeoom, 37, a lecturer of Western University, Buri Ram Campus, told the Bangkok Post the government's push has been well-received by the public.
"It's practical. Plus, students are only required to wear them once a week and on special occasions," he said.
Mr Akradej, who oversees the university's cultural preservation campaign, said he hopes to see phasin as part of mainstream fashion in the future.
"This campaign can become a model for the preservation of other Thai art forms and cultural heritage," he said.
REVIVING LOCAL WISDOM
The campaign to bring phasin back into fashion at Western University's Buri Ram campus launched in 2018. As part of the push, the university asked staff and students to wear phasin on Tuesdays.
The university asked staff and students to wear phasin teen daeng -- a variation local to Buri Ram which is made of silk -- but cheaper, handwoven cotton phasin are also acceptable.
"Tha aim of this campaign is to promote local wisdom and honour Queen Sirikit, who has played a significant role in preserving and promoting traditional handweaving in Thailand, as well as Thai silk," said Mr Akradej, who oversees the university's arts and cultures affairs and activities.
Janit Prasongkul, 59, a teacher at Romburi Phitthayakhom Rajamangala School in Ban Dan district, Buri Ram, said her school also encourages students to wear phasin for special events, such as merit-making.
"Our school is working with local communities to produce handwoven cotton and silk phasin at affordable prices," she said. "A cotton phasin starts at about 400 baht."
For many students, the university's phasin policy was once seen as yet another order to follow. However, many found themselves becoming big fans of the traditional cloth.
One of them, is Kalayarat Niwinram, 20, a second year student at Western University. She told the Post that since she started wearing phasin teen daeng in August 2018, she has become a fan of the garment -- often incorporating it into her daily outfit for day-to-day activities beyond special occasions.
"I feel proud and very confident when I go about my day in it," Ms Kalayarat said.
Apart from its beauty and the craftsmanship behind each piece, Ms Kalayarat said phasin are practical -- and according to her, the garments are great investment pieces.
"I usually spend about 2,800-3,000 baht on a phasin teen daeng. It is a good investment because the real well-made ones last for a lifetime," she said.
When asked about how the campaign to bring phasin back can benefit society, Ms Kalayarat said they increased demand for them will jump start the local economy.
"About 100 [Western University] sophomores now only dress in phasin. If they were to buy phasin all at the same time, their combined purchases will contribute 200,000-300,000 baht to the local economy," she said. "In phasin-weaving villages, that is a lot of money."
BRAND BURI RAM
Buri Ram governor, Thirawat Woottikhun, said traditional cloth weaving has a huge potential and the province is working with experts to help local weavers to improve their designs and equip them with marketing skills.
"Napho and Phut Thaisong districts, for instance, are famous for producing silk linthong which can fetch as much as 50,000 baht apiece," he said. "Unfortunately, their wide popularity and their premium tag are exceptions, rather than the rule."
The governor said he wants to see traditional weaving take off in Buri Ram, so more villages in the province can benefit from the phasin trend.
Other popular patterns -- such as phasin hang krarok made in Krasang district -- should also be promoted, as they can add about 20-30 million baht in additional sales each year.
Now, researchers are trying to find ways to make local weavers more competitive.
For instance, researchers at Buri Ram Rajabhat University are supporting efforts to upgrade the quality of the product, by improving on local weavers' designs and adding value to their product, said Mr Thirawat.
Mr Thirawat used the example of pha phu arkanee, a cotton cloth weaved by villagers in Buri Ram, which are dyed with soil from inactive volcano in Chalerm Phrakiat district to gives it unique colour.
The cloth was recently chosen by Buri Ram Provincial Chamber of Commerce as the province's souvenir under "Brand Buri Ram".