Heritage Craft Shop & Café helps preserve traditional Thai craft techniques
From indigo-dyed fabrics to colourful silk scarves and beautiful silver necklaces, traditional Thai crafts are a big part of the country’s heritage. Unfortunately, however, most of the products you find in the markets nowadays are only cheap copies, putting many of the historic artisanal techniques in danger of disappearing forever.
In an effort to prevent the loss of the kingdom’s cultural heritage, the Fair Trade organisation ThaiCraft aims to generate a fair income for village artisans and help preserve the diverse craft traditions in Thailand. For nearly 25 years, they have organised a monthly ThaiCraft Fair, providing a market for Thai artisans while giving customers access to traditional handcrafted products. The fair—the next one is on October 8th—is held at the Jasmine City Building in downtown Bangkok (LF, Sukhumvit Soi 23), and gathers 50-60 artisan groups from all around Thailand, showcasing everything from jewellery and clothing, to household items and musical instruments. However, not all of the artisans are able to travel and attend the fair. This is why the organisation also opened the Heritage Craft Shop & Café. In this coffee shop customers cannot only enjoy locally produced brews, but can also browse selected handcrafted goods. It is located in a renovated shop house, in one of the city’s first brick buildings (dating back 120 years). Within walking distance from The Grand Palace, the café also makes a convenient stop while exploring Bangkok’s Old Town.
Some of the items on display are batik—patterned indigo-dyed fabrics—which are typical for the Hmong tribe in Northern Thailand. Mark Salmon, the owner of the shop and café, explains that many batik fabrics sold around Thailand are factory-printed. In the traditional method the patterns on the cloth are hand-drawn (using beeswax) before the fabric is dyed. It’s just one example of how modern techniques are erasing ancient practices. This also applies to the colouring. Whereas indigo dye is historically extracted from plants grown in rainforests, it has been replaced by synthetic dyes. Nowadays, there are only a handful of indigo producers left using this traditional method.
The danger of these handcrafts vanishing is partly influenced by the fact that many of the skills are primarily practiced by the kingdom’s older generations. “Crafts can only be passed on economically and socially to younger generations if they make sense to them,” Mark continues. This is why the products in the shop are often adapted from their original use or form to fit in with more contemporary lifestyles, in order to preserve the heritage of craft production and support the artisans. As an example, a colourful jacket which is made from traditional fabrics has been cut and fashioned in a modern style.
In general, Mark believes that change is slowly happening, as younger people are starting to become more aware of this cultural loss and opening businesses, which focus on preserving Thai heritage. However, there is still a lot to do. Unfortunately, many powerful authorities seem to have a different approach of handling this issue. On this note, Mark concludes “a lot of things are easy to destroy, but not easy to build!”
Heritage Craft Shop & Café
35 Bamrung Muang Rd.
Tel: 02 221 1330
Open: Mon-Fri, 11am-6pm