ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Thai silk enters new era
Thai silk has traditionally been tailored into uncomfortable, old-fashioned styles aimed at well-off, middle-aged folks wanting to express their social status. And the clothes must be dry-cleaned, which is relatively expensive.
But 10 third-generation silk producers in Nakhon Ratchasima's Pak Thong Chai district banded together to modernise the hand-woven products with assistance from Kasetsart University and the Industry Ministry.
They have eliminated weakness in the fabric to attract a wider clientele, thereby enabling the industry to survive globalisation while preserving its traditional pre-eminence. Wachirapun Nualsri, the owner of Chattong Thai Silk Co, said her silk apparel is soft, machine-washable and needs no ironing.
"No longer are our silk garments rough in texture, as we now use prewashed soft silk fabric in modern casual apparel and accessories. They're meant to be worn without ironing. Due to the overwhelming response, we're now developing our own Chattara brand," she said.
The garments, priced from 700-2,000 baht each (US$24-$70), are available only in Thailand, as low production capacity prohibits exports.
Softer, machine-washable dresses made from a new weaving technique are selling well. The group has only 10 weavers who produce a combined 1,500 yards of silk fabric each month, not sufficient to serve export markets.
The average age of the weavers is past 40, as younger generations prefer to work in factories rather than take up silk weaving for a living.
Ms Wachirapun said liberalisation under the Asean Economic Community in 2015 will make it easier to import cheap silk from Vietnam, but its quality is inferior to the Thai product, so local silk will remain the top choice.
The domestic silk industry is valued at 3-4 billion baht (US$100 million-$132.6 million) annually.
Ms. Wachirapun urged the government to stabilise the price of silk yarn, which has jumped to 2,300 baht a kilogramme so far this year from 1,300-1,500 baht last year.
Yarn producers have had to raise their prices due to the impact from recent flooding and drought, she said.
Commerce Ministry statistics show Thailand exported 683 million baht worth of silk products last year, mainly to the US at 30 percent of the total, followed by Japan, Italy and the UK. China is the world's largest silk exporter, commanding 80 percent of the global trade in raw silk and silk yarn, followed by Brazil, Italy, India and Vietnam.
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