Fashion designer Pipatchara Kaeojinda creates handbags with a purpose

Fast fashion changed the clothing industry forever. Business today continues to chase ever-increasing profits while most consumers are still eager to indulge, generating an insatiable craving for novelty. In defiance of this frivolous, albeit profitable, approach, fashion designer Pipatchara Kaeojinda and her sister Jittrinee Kaeojinda decided to run their small accessories business, PIPATCHARA, with a slower and more intentional process. From the start, the duo set out to achieve a lofty goal: to create jobs in their homeland of Thailand, and maintain sustainable and responsible production in every part of their supply chain process. brand – and, you know, create really cute bags.

The story of the PIPATCHARA brand began in 2019, when Jittrinee visited a village in Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand. She was a volunteer for a non-profit organization that installed drinking water tanks in several communities. (The rural population of the region faces discrimination and economic inequality by the wealthier urban elites.) During the trip, she was introduced to several educators (i.e. elementary school teachers) who lived in the area and discovered that many of them were turning to short-term weaving jobs as a source of additional income. At the time, the sisters were well in the process of mapping out the exact manufacturing processes for their brand of handbags. They had already determined that the label’s piece de resistance would be macrame – a type of art technique where various cords and strings are tied into textiles and patterns – and now they needed people to help them give life to this vision.

As a craft, macrame is no different than weaving or knitting – so it was only natural for Jittrinee to ask if these educators would be interested in teaching the technique to future PIPATCHARA employees in order to regularly supplement their salaries. (Teachers would be paid for each piece of macrame completed.) In the end, the teachers said yes – and the rest, as they say, is history. The process of learning macrame did not present a challenge for the majority of Thai villagers.

“Thai people are really good at all things handmade, so they usually know how to create these kinds of things by hand,” explains Pipatchara on Zoom. To date, the label’s macrame instructors don’t have an arts and crafts specialty and still teach subjects like Thai, English, math, and science.

Initially, PIPATCHARA had only five employees who worked on the macrame details. Since then, the business has grown almost sixfold. The company now employs between 25 and 30 macramé artisans in several villages in Mae Hong Son province. (The exact number of workers depends on the size of a given collection and the demand for the pieces.) “It’s been four years now [since we first launched our brand], and these villagers are still the core of our business,” says Pipatchara. “They still make every piece we sell by hand.”

Pipatchara and Jittrinee, who currently reside in Thailand, also continue to personally teach their employees how to create PIPATCHARA’s signature macrame pattern. This face-to-face communication also serves another purpose: the technique must remain a company secret because it is the proverbial “special sauce” of the brand’s creations. Traditionally, macrame is a weaving technique that uses knots to create textiles and decorative items like table runners and wall hangings. There are dozens of knotting patterns used in macrame, and the sisters experimented with them until they created a special one.

“We consider it a work of art – that’s why we have to choose a teacher who we believe has the potential and the responsibility, and understands that it’s a business,” says Pipatchara. “They can’t just teach [the technique] to anyone, so that other people can go and reproduce it on the market.

Once completed, these macramé patterns are added to the front sides or straps of PIPATCHARA bags, as well as to the top of their shoes. Moreover, they are not only a decorative element, but also reflect the sisters’ common love for the visual arts. The idea to use this craft as a signature design element came about when Pipatchara came across one of the largest macrame pieces that Jittrinee made while studying crafts.

“I told her how inspiring it was for me and how much I really wanted to wear it. [the macramé] with me every day,” she recalls. “So we [started] thinking about creating a brand based on this idea of ​​using macrame as [foundational] technical.”

Pipatchara and Jittrinee’s interest in crafts stems from early childhood, as their mother was an artist. Pipatchara earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Womenswear Design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2013 and moved to Paris to study fashion for a year. During her studies, she held design positions for industry legends Ralph Lauren, Givenchy and Chloé. During this time, Jittrinee worked for the United Nations and later other non-profit organizations such as the Issara Institute in Thailand. It was there that she learned the importance of ethical and responsible business practices, as well as environmental sustainability, at all stages of production such as sourcing, manufacturing and recruitment. This would become useful later, because Jittrinee is supervising now all these processes at PIPATCHARA.

If at this point you now want to add a PIPATCHARA piece to your collection, that’s understandable. And if you’re unsure which piece to buy, consider the Sama Box macrame shoulder bag, Pipatchara’s very first creation for the brand, which holds a special place in his heart.

“I feel like it’s not just a fashion bag, it’s a work of art that people [will appreciate for a long time]says Pipatchara. If this option doesn’t pique your interest, don’t worry, there are seven additional handbag styles. you can choose from, all offered in a variety of sizes and colors. And handbags aside, the brand has now expanded into other product categories like macrame-embellished sandals and wallets, as well as several ready-to-wear options.

With product expansion, the two sisters are also keeping in mind their pact to build an eco-friendly business. Speaking of the brand’s sustainability philosophy, Pipatchara cites several elements that she and her sister have incorporated into the supply chain to reduce PIPATCHARA’s environmental impact as much as possible. The leather, for example, comes from a leather factory in Arzignano, a town in the Italian region of Tuscany, which has been awarded the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) environmental responsibility certificate. (Essentially, this means that its water consumption, waste disposal, level of air emissions, electricity consumption, etc. meet ISO standards for sustainability.) Additionally, the leather itself is a by-product of the local meat industry and comes from cows that are raised. for meat and/or milk, rather than just their skin.

“Working at Chloé and Givenchy, I used to fly a lot to visit suppliers and see their product in person,” recalls Pipatchara. “And what I’ve found is that their leather is of such high quality that I can use almost 100% of what they have. That translates to less waste, which is better for me and for the environment.

The duo is also experimenting cactus leatherwhich was advertised as a greener alternative to plastic-based vegan leather options, to make their handbags and shoes. In addition, Pipatchara indicates that the brand is set to introduce a new range of handbags made entirely from recycled plastic materials such as HDPE (high density polyethylene), PS (polystyrene) and PP (polypropylene). . in the coming months. “You haven’t seen it anywhere in PIPATCHARA yet, so I’m excited for this next step in sustainability,” she adds.

This admirable desire to create a lasting and positive impact on the planet and in Thai communities remains the driving force behind their business to this day.

“From day one we launched our brand, we’ve had this community [of villagers, teachers, and weavers,] which worked for us,” says Pipatchara. “Whenever I feel like I don’t have the motivation to run our business, I look at them and immediately feel like I know what I’m doing. I know it’s going to work because it’s not just me and my sister, but it’s them too. We do not regret anything that we have done in recent years. »

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