A slice of watermelon

A slice of watermelon

The creator of the 'Tangmo' line has kept her clothing business running for decades on a self-help philosophy

At the height of its commercial success, the “watermelon” brand of T-shirt was a staple in the wardrobe of fashion-conscious teenagers. In the decades since, the brand creator has relentlessly carried on the brand but with the aim of encouraging individuals to produce the products as self-employed workers.

Amara Phungchompoo, owner of Siam Hands Co Ltd, regularly makes merit at a temple in Omkoi district, Chiang Mai. (Photo by Pradya Wutthithumrong)

Instead of placing her “Tangmo” products in high-end department stores, Amara Phungchompoo, the 59-year-old proprietor of Siam Hands Co Ltd, a Thai apparel firm which has been producing ready-to-wear clothing for more than 20 years, targets smaller markets.

Motivated by the country’s political turmoil in the mid 1970s when university students played a pivotal role in shaping national politics, Ms Amara, who at that time was an undergraduate student at Thammasat University’s faculty of political science, started making T-shirts printed with quotes related to political philosophy.

Today, the Tangmo line of clothing has expanded, from T-shirts to polo shirts, dresses, sweaters and cardigans.

Following the enormous success of apparel sales in Bang Lamphu and Siam Square in Bangkok, Ms Amara dedicated herself to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

She launched a campaign to spur employment with small business start-ups as, in her view, the current economic downturn can be addressed by strengthening the country’s economic infrastructure.

To that end, people fired up by the entrepreneurial spirit are given the opportunity to enhance their business potential so they can be self-employed and stand on their own feet.

Her project helps generate revenue among the people and also brings prosperity to remote areas.

“If our products are on the shelves of big shopping malls, only profit and loss will matter. Therefore, we put a priority on 2,000 to 3,000 small- and medium-sized operators who run retail outlets with us. This gives me the pleasure of being part of making life better for them.”

Ms Amara said Tangmo items are available in local shops in Bangkok and also in local communities in many provinces.

Of her watermelon trademark, Ms Amara explained she was enchanted by the contrast of red and green in a slice of watermelon. She added the Japanese characters for watermelon, or suika, to the label. 

“I decided to market Tangmo products only in our country. We didn’t export, mainly because I wanted to create jobs here for Thai people. Also, I’m not so
heavily interested in making lots of money because I am happy with what I have now,” she said.

Tangmo outlets can also be found at PTT petrol stations and she hopes this will show potential producers that there are outlets everywhere for small business owners.

Ms Amara is willing to give individuals looking to run a business of their own the opportunity to sell the Tangmo products.

Besides producing high-quality, reasonably priced clothes in an attempt to serve clientele at all levels, she wants her business to contribute to peace and goodwill in the country after the years of political turbulence.

She believes employment can bring contentment as there is less hardship to battle and people are less prone to being drawn into unnecessary social or political conflicts.

“Fidelity to the motherland is also part of my business success,” Ms Amara added.

The businesswoman said she decided to give back to her home country in return for the financial gains she has received over many years.

Back in 2006, Ms Amara visited Ban Bo Kho in Sungai Padi district in Narathiwat, one of three southern provinces where violence occurs on almost a daily basis, to launch a project to make Tangmo yellow T-shirts to commemorate the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s ascension to the throne.

She said the aim of the project was to promote peace and harmony in the strife-torn southern border provinces.

At that time, 11 women from the village were recruited to attend an embroidery course arranged by the firm so they could embroider the King’s emblem on the Tangmo T-shirts.

“I spent a month there supervising the local women on needlework until eventually they were able to attain the skills of a seamstress. I wasn’t afraid (of violence) because I believe I went there to help people.”

Before the training course was over, the firm also built a playground for children, fish ponds and a fertiliser plant. They were built by people in the community in accordance with the sufficiency economy philosophy of His Majesty the King. 

After Narathiwat, Ms Amara headed north to Lamphun where she began a similar project to help the ethnic Karen Paka-Kyaw highlanders in Li district.

But this time, the King’s emblem was to be sewn on traditional Paka-Kyaw apparel so that villagers could be dressed in their own indigenous clothes for the occasion and make a living by selling them.

“The living conditions of the native highlanders improved. At the end of their daily farming, villagers spent their time weaving and sewing Tangmo clothes as a sideline,” Ms Amara said.

She said revenue the company earned from the project in Lamphun was donated to the construction of 1,000 weirs across the country.

As for the material used in making the Tangmo clothing items, Ms Amara said her products are woven from 100% cotton, which does not trap heat, making them comfortable to wear.

During the early stage of her business, Mrs Amara noticed local T-shirts were mostly produced with TC fabric, a blend of polyester and cotton.

However, cotton textile was used for manufacturing clothes for export only.

In Thailand, garments made of 100% cotton were imported from overseas and available only at department stores and were steeply priced, she added.

Ms Amara then saw a business opportunity in producing fine-quality clothing which was also affordable to the masses. This strategy has helped increase turnover of her products.

She said her recruitment reflects her philosophy of doing business.

She does not consider employees so much on the basis of their educational background. The businesswoman offers jobs to those who are family breadwinners first. 

Siam Hands’ annual profit is divided into three portions: A donation to Buddhism; a contribution to royally initiated projects; and a reserve for maintaining and repairing industrial machinery at her firm.

“We want our employees to realise what they have done is not only working to earn money for their families, but they also play a vital role in creating top-grade apparel for customers, promoting Buddhism along with developing their own country.”

Ms Amara and some of the Muslim women in Narathiwat who joined the skills development scheme run by her company. Pradya Wutthithumrong

A Tangmo store at a petrol station. Siam Hands does not have outlets in major department stores, preferring to create local jobs through franchising. Wipawan Thaithanan

Karen women display their wickerwork after finishing a skills training course, with Tangmo clothes as a sideline. Wipawan Thaithanan

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