DEFINING ARTISANAL WITH NATURAL DYE CLOTHING
This is the case with textile weaving and dyeing, using natural dyes drawn from plants and minerals is part of the practice in communities that continue to weave and dye by hand. We work with artisanal communities in the Northeast of Thailand, specifically in the province of Sakon Nakhon.
This feature, the second in our Slow Fashion series, deciphers what the artisanal means for us and how the artisan and building a community play a role in the natural dye clothing that we make. Ultimately, we hope to further define the link between the artisanal collaboration at Philip Huang and how this relates to ESG in fashion and the environmental and social goals that are key to creating a sustainable structure for the future.
What makes an Artisanal Natural Dye Clothing Collection?
Artisanal clothing refers to the design and making of clothes and accessories by artisans who transmit their knowledge of traditional craft techniques by hand through the textiles and clothes that they make. Over the last seven years, we have gotten to know our artisans directly, and the collaboration we have means that our designs are “touched by hand,” that at some point it is made by an artisan. This is the case always with our natural dyes, and with the handwoven textiles used in our artisanal collection.
Some of the key features that go into making our collections are as follows:
- Crafted by hand: Made by hand by skilled artisans. We work with five artisanal communities in Sakon Nakhon to dye and weave garments and textiles, the ladies at the Fatima Centre in Bangkok hand-embroider and crochet the details on our garments, and Pinky Tailor to hand sew and create the garments in our tailoring program.
- Small-batch production: We produce in small batches, emphasizing quality over quantity. Moreover, small batches also mean that we can ensure that as we focus on details
- Use of traditional techniques: Artisanal clothing often incorporates traditional, time-honored techniques that have been passed down through generations. This can include techniques like handweaving, block printing, or natural dyeing. Each piece often contains slight variations due to the handmade nature of the process. This uniqueness adds to the appeal of artisanal fashion.
- Stories and Processes: Artisanal clothing often carries a story and a connection to the maker's cultural or regional heritage. It may incorporate cultural motifs, traditional patterns, or materials unique to a particular region.
- Time: Each garment takes time.
The Far-reaching Value of the Artisanal
The artisanal is an alternative that presents itself at a time when fast fashion’s negative impact on the environment and human condition is evident. The artisanal takes the fashion and production equation back to where the artisan is, where it is made by hand, rather than that which can be scaled cheaply to meet mass demand.
- The Artisan: Artisans are skilled craftspeople who take great pride in their work as often the knowledge is what has been passed on to them or it’s skills which they have learned to master. The work that they do often contributes to their livelihood or is a part of their lives whether they are in the countryside or city.
- Sustainability: Artisan-made clothing is typically created on a smaller scale, which can lead to reduced environmental impact. Many artisans use sustainable practices, such as working with natural fibers and dyes, reducing waste, and supporting local communities.
- Cultural and heritage preservation: Artisan clothing often reflects the cultural and historical heritage of the region in which it is made. Wearing these pieces can help preserve and celebrate traditional craftsmanship and artistry.
- Supporting local economies: Purchasing artisan-made clothing supports local artisans and their communities. It contributes to economic development and the well-being of these communities.
- Ethical practices: Artisans prioritize ethical and fair labor practices, which are at the heart of artisan clothing. When you buy artisan-made products, you can have confidence that the individuals who created them were treated and compensated fairly.
- Connection to the maker: Buying artisan-made clothing allows you to establish a connection with the maker. You often know who created your garment, which can add a personal and meaningful aspect to your clothing.
- Storytelling: Artisan-made clothing often comes with a story. The piece may have been created using traditional techniques passed down through generations or inspired by a specific cultural context. Wearing artisan clothing allows you to share in that narrative.
- Timelessness: Many artisan-made pieces feature classic and timeless designs that can transcend fashion trends, offering longevity and value in your wardrobe.
Our Approach to Artisanal Natural Dye Clothing
In a time of machine-made perfection and the ever-growing domination of AI, our clothing focuses on being one-of-a-kind. Although there is a distinct aesthetic, each tie dye or natural dye item is unique. The collections are built upon different colors and tie-dye techniques applied to our signature silhouettes and shapes.
The approach we take to the design and making of our collections is to merge traditional knowledge and artisanal methods with contemporary aesthetics and functionality. The core of our practice is the creation of colors from natural dyes in collaboration with artisans using plants and minerals. Working with what is in season and local, the color palette changes seasonally depending on what plants are available. What this means is that our color palette changes and each batch is one-of-a-kind. Although the expertise of the artisans means that we are able to keep consistent hues for each batch, the uniqueness of what we do is that each season tells a different story.
Our clothes combine the artisanal with the functional by merging artisanal work with contemporary design. We make sure that even garments produced in ateliers in Bangkok are touched by an artisan in Sakon Nakhon. A core part of our approach is to look at materiality and explore how traditional techniques and natural colors can be applied to new materials and shapes to create a hybrid that is new. Throughout the journey, we have found that this approach has led us directly back to the land, and the artisans we work with have a harmonious relationship with nature in their practices. What the natural dyes show is that nature is bountiful, even in the colors that she creates, and this bounty is not just on an aesthetic level but the plant dyes are merely a first step to showing us the biodiversity that exists in Thailand and the power of plants to heal and protect.
And finally, our approach is community-driven, not just the communities we collaborate with to make colors and textiles to craft our collections but also the community of family and friends we have around us who have supported us from the start.
This is what the artisanal has meant for us over the years and our natural dye clothing has come to manifest the practice that we have with the artisans and our process.