When trash becomes trendy for Thailand’s fashion industry

Krittiga Kunnalekha (left) is the owner of Nymph Vintage, an upcycled clothing shop. She sources vintage fabric to put together one-of-a-kind apparel that is sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion.- PHOTO: KRITTIGA KUNNALEKHA/ The Straits Times

BANGKOK, Jan 28 (The Straits Times/ANN): While fabric scraps from used clothes, curtains and carpets may look only fit to be thrown to some, Krittiga Kunnalekha sees a world of possibilities.

Once these fabric pieces pass through her creative hands, they are transformed into a colourful selection of blouses, dresses and skirts.

“Others look at the mountain of cloth and see rubbish. But I’ve always thought that (scrap cloth) has lots of potential,” said Krittiga, 48, who owns Nymph Vintage, an online clothing shop that is contributing to the growing trend of upcycled and repurposed fashion in Thailand.

The interest in such garments is growing in the kingdom as fashion-forward shoppers seek more sustainable, environmentally friendly and unique clothes.

It marks an interesting departure from Bangkok’s reputation as a shopping capital for fast fashion and its large wholesale malls stocked with cheap, mass-produced apparel.

Internationally, more fashion brands are trying to market themselves as environmentally conscious and socially responsible businesses that adopt a circular economy, which is a framework of production and consumption that promotes the idea of reusing, recycling and minimising waste.

This is in large part a response to increased consumer awareness about the negative impact of fast fashion, and greater concern over environmental and social issues. And as a result, the market for sustainable fashion has grown.

Since Just Me opened at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok last year, more foreign tourists have been purchasing upcycled cropped tops, corsets and sweaters from the clothing store. - ST PHOTO: TAN TAM MEISince Just Me opened at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok last year, more foreign tourists have been purchasing upcycled cropped tops, corsets and sweaters from the clothing store. - ST PHOTO: TAN TAM MEI

According to The Business Research Company, the global ethical fashion market, which is defined as clothing design, production and distribution that prioritises doing the least harm to people and the environment, was worth US$6.35bil (RM27bil) in 2019.

The sector, which includes businesses that pay its workers fairly and brands that use natural, recycled and reused products, was valued at US$7.57bil (RM32.13bil) in 2022 and is expected to reach US$11.12bil (RM47.19bil) by 2027.

This is also taking place in Thailand, where a growing number of local clothing shops are putting their own spin on the sustainability trend.

“Now the trend is to upcycle. You use existing fabric and give it a new look and style. This way, you create more value,” said Krittiga, who lives in Chiang Mai.

Since opening Nymph Vintage about five years ago, Krittiga has seen her sales increase by about 15%. She has also witnessed several other “upcycle” shops opening across Thailand.

“Some of them copy my style of remaking clothes. But I’m not upset, because it means that more people want to take part in this movement,” she said.While Krittiga’s designs are folksy and kitschy, the upcycled garments created by Sarita Prapasawat, 27, are comparatively edgier, with her store mainly selling brocade-style corset tops, bottoms and bags.

“Many of our customers cannot believe that what they’re wearing used to be a carpet or a curtain,” said Sarita, who said sales have increased by over 50% in the last two years with more customers placing orders from overseas.

When she set up shop four years ago, Sarita would personally sew each garment using fabric from used clothes bought from second-hand markets in Thailand or overseas.

“But now there are too many orders and I can’t do it by myself. I hire a tailor to help me,” she said.

Her brand, Marry Melon, shot to fame in 2022, when several local influencers and actresses were seen wearing her designs. This earned her a deal with Bangkok-based retail brand Pomelo and a spot on their online shop. - The Straits Times/ANN

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