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The Conscious Couturier: Thai Textiles Revolutionize Sustainable Fashion

CEO Tinh Phung
The fashion industry has long been criticized for its detrimental impact on the environment, fueled by overconsumption and mass production. However, in the realm of Thai textile production, a different narrative is unfolding. Enter Tohsang,...

The fashion industry has long been criticized for its detrimental impact on the environment, fueled by overconsumption and mass production. However, in the realm of Thai textile production, a different narrative is unfolding. Enter Tohsang, a women-led cotton textile producer and learning center in Kongchiam, Ubon Ratchathani, that is spearheading the shift towards sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion.

Threading sustainability into fashion

A model wearing a blazer made of Thai Textiles. Tohsang Cotton Village for Rare and Fair. Source: Rare and Fair.

The fashion industry currently stands as one of the world's largest polluters, contributing significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. But Tohsang Cotton Village is challenging the status quo by collaborating with renowned eco-luxury UK fashion brand Rare and Fair, Thai design platform Seire, and TENUN, a digital fashion week celebrating Southeast Asia's weaving communities and textiles. Together, they are creating culturally-rich, contemporary, and sustainable fashion pieces.

The premier of Tohsang's fashion collection during TENUN Fashion Week in October 2021 was met with widespread enthusiasm, securing the coveted Best Collection Award. Their commitment to slow and sustainable fashion showcases the potential of Thai textile production as a catalyst for change.

The traditional production of Thai textiles

Traditional Thai textile production is rooted in generational wisdom, passed down through the local weavers in northeastern Thailand. Unlike the fast fashion industry's standard practice of replicating styles with synthetic fabrics, every Thai textile is unique. Each thread is carefully soaked in rice water and hand-dyed with natural pigments, encapsulating the stories of the diverse local communities contributing to this collective cultural narrative.

Cotton and indigo seeds. Cotton and indigo seeds. Source: Tohsang Cotton Village.

The journey begins in October and November when cotton and indigo seeds are planted along the banks of the Mekong River using natural farming techniques. The reliance on the river's nutrients and the local biodiversity creates a resilient ecosystem, allowing for year-round cultivation of cotton and indigo. The harvested cotton is handspun into yarn and prepared for weaving, with patterns such as chok dok meticulously created on traditional looms.

A lady preparing yarn to turn into fabric for weaving and embroidery. Yarn preparation process. Source: Tohsang Cotton Village.

Natural dyeing is another essential part of the production process. The cotton-dyeing process takes approximately four days and involves the fermentation of indigo paste in large vats. Indigo flowers and other locally foraged ingredients, like tamarind, are used to create natural dyes that infuse the textiles with vibrant colors. Praire, the founder of Tohsang Cotton Village, has even experimented with a plant-based rainbow dye palette using ingredients like padauk bark, mango, lac, myrobalan, and indigo.

The indigo plant used as a natural dye. The indigo plant is locally foraged and used as a natural dye. Source: Tohsang Cotton Village.

The environmental and social impact of sustainable textiles

Tohsang Cotton Village's production process leaves a virtually neutral environmental footprint, aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It not only improves the lives of low-income women in the Kongchiam community by providing additional sources of income (Goal 1: No Poverty), but also empowers them through the preservation of local heritage and culture, with over 95% of the staff being women (Goal 5: Gender Equality).

To avoid undercutting prices in the Thai textile industry, the Village ensures fair wages through a sustainable business model that values people over profit. Local voices are included in decision-making processes, reducing inequalities within the community (Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities). By responsibly growing cotton and dye through local manpower and natural farming practices, Tohsang Cotton Village contributes to responsible consumption and production (Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production). Moreover, by prioritizing the health of the Mekong river's ecosystem, the Village takes climate action to protect our planet (Goal 13: Climate Action).

Cotton looms used to produce Tohsang textiles. Cotton looms used to produce Tohsang textiles. Source: Tohsang Cotton Village.

Climate action through traditional wisdom

The recent IPCC Report 2021 highlighted the urgent need for climate action to combat rising sea levels, extreme weather, and worsening droughts. It is evident that the fashion industry must play a crucial role in this endeavor. Thai textiles offer valuable insights into how traditional knowledge, foraging practices, and natural farming can strengthen ecosystems, reduce transportation needs, and uplift local communities.

Fashion brands can learn from Tohsang Cotton Village and the rich heritage of Thai textiles. By tapping into local wisdom and embracing sustainable practices, we can make a meaningful contribution to climate action. If you want to delve deeper into the world of Thai textiles, explore the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, visit the Kalm Village, or immerse yourself in the cultural offerings of the Jim Thompson Art Center.

Let's embrace the conscious couturier within us and shape a more sustainable future for fashion!