Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Studio Naenna & Weavers for the Environment

Making the most of a precious opportunity often necessitates changing hats several times a day. Recent weeks keep me busy volunteering alongside Jenny Willett, a professional knitter from London and Ms. Lamorna Cheesman, the director of Studio Naenna. Working as a textile stylist, photographer, and writer for their new website, I also consult for them to actively market and advertise their products. Despite a decrease in sales since 9/11, Studio Naenna enjoys an international reputation for luxurious, high quality silk and cotton garments and accessories for men and women, textile furnishings, and art. Much of its inventory is masterfully handwoven by experts who are proud of their work and have earned a better life for themselves and their families in it. While learning about dye-production, dyeing, weaving and designing first hand, we gain insight into the local community and the functions of a small, family-run business with respect for fair trade ethics and the environment. As part of our volunteer work, we intend to diversify the product line. I've introduced the gallery to a few vehicles for web-advertising through social media sites in order to reach younger customers and more of the studio's mature and discerning clientele (mostly western expats and Japanese tourists). This is critical since Weavers for the Environment rely on Studio Naenna to sell their work. I am enthusiastic to conduct interviews with the weavers and research more about textile & trade history while I assist in planning and curating an exhibition of the founder's's antique collection at the gallery. This week, Jenny and I attempt to set a new standard for commercial textile photography and utilize photoshop for careful editing. We're learning to distinguish fibers, dyes, and motifs just by looking and to the touch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cottage Industry Appeal & a Young Businesswoman in Phrae

Beyond a few wats, there are hardly enough attractions in Phrae to bring in foreign tourists. However, a nearby museum and the town's sleepy cottage industry draw textile enthusiasts from elsewhere in Thailand and abroad. My favorite memory of our visit was the climb driving up a mountain in Long. Looking out the back of our truck, we passed dewey jungle foliage and fluorescent green rice paddies spotted with bamboo shelters. Our destination was a weaving pavilion filled with about five looms and women in their late 40s to 60s each working on something different. Ever smiling, they patiently answered my questions and made conversation in Thai. They invited me to try a hand at a few passes of the weft. Considering it takes them about 2 days to weave a skirt, they laughed at my joking remark that it would take me two months at the rate I was going. The best chance encounter of our Phrae road trip was with a special young woman at her whitewashed shop on a main street where most of the stores display indigo-dyed shirts, skirts, and pants in every shade of blue waving in the breeze outside their entrances. In the window, a loom demonstrates the creative process by which the store's inventory is produced. Several stylish pieces caught our eye. After inviting us to dye a few handkerchiefs with indigo in the dye vats out back, we spoke more with the young store owner/designer and her older sister who helps run the shop and make things to order. They hope to inspire appreciation for hand weaving among young people and kids. Having studied in Bangkok, she felt that Phrae would always be home, and the right place to eventually raise a family and continue her business. It will be exciting to interview her again in the near future. Also, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that another of her sisters is a Thai Fulbrighter currently spending a year in the Midwest United States. Small world.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sip a Fruit Smoothie & Read City Life Online

The internet junkie or remote worker finds Chiang Mai a dream! I LOVE all the free wifi in every freshly-themed and designed cafe here- especially Iberry, Milk Garden, and Pai yai nay. Cafes here are open, airy spaces full of spirited and colorful vitality in the decor, rich drinks and desserts, and smiley, catering salespeople (mostly youthful, sweetly naive CMU students), and plenty of cozy couches to sink into. Makes my runs to Starbucks haven in NYC look desperate. As if to make itself look worse, the Starbucks here is the only place (with Wawee Coffee) where the wifi isn't free.

Speaking of internet surfing, I check every day. Started by a British consul, the site provides great information for residents here for any period of time to appreciate more about life and living in Chiang Mai. In addition to being the region's no. one stop for happenings, classifieds, current attractions, weather, and real news, City Life provides an easy introduction to all things Chiang Mai. Learn more from In-depth articles and interviews revealing unique and fascinating aspects of local culture and society. Topics vary greatly from batik textile classes, local archeological findings, and university issues to lady boys, dating, Thais abroad, NGO's, and active expat communities.

Taking my time in getting to know Chiang Mai has been a critical step in my Fulbright experience. I hope to delve deeply into my work here, which is a challenge because my plans keep changing shape. I feel welcome and inspired (when I'm not down for the count after having eaten the wrong thing for lunch!)