Seventeen o’clock, and it seemed Ari was spared from the rain. I was in an old house next to Suan Bua School on Ari Soi 1. This house is known in Ari as Landhaus, an authentic German bakery that rented the place and made a name for themselves a couple of years ago. People might not know that the second floor of this house, a space as ample as a single bedroom, is modified into a showroom of clothes and small household items. The room was filled with clothes racks and wooden tableware, and among them was a plain-looking desk that belonged to the BDS Collective brand.
This is the office/shop of the two women by the name of BDS Collective. One is Sedam, a South Korean designer who is an expert in haute-couture and fast-fashion industries. She had been to several countries until she fell in love with Thailand. Chiang Mai introduced her to clothing production lines responsible for the environment while being fair to their craftsmen. She decided to settle in Ari and make clothes for Korean customers.
Unfortunately, Sedam was in South Korea for some business today. Instead, I met her partner, the owner of POR Thapae Gate Hotel, a small hotel near Tha Phae Gate that is as dedicated to its service as the reduction of waste disposal from their services into the environment of Chiang Mai City. In BDS Collective, Mew handles the marketing with her expertise in hotel management.
Mew greeted me in a cheerful voice. She wore a simple sleeveless jumpsuit in white that looked comfortable, her hair gathered in an updo – I greeted her back and flew straight to the cotton pants that I’d had my eyes on, having been here so often that I was familiar with every corner of the room.
Then we began to chat away while I checked out the clothes I’d planned to buy from home.
BDS Collective. It started with two neighbors.
“How did you meet Sedam?”
“We were neighbors in Chiang Mai. I was running my hotel at the time. Sedum had already started BDSC and lived in Chiang Mai as a lone business owner. We became close in a heartbeat since we had a lot in common, including our interest in sustainable business. We exchanged advice and helped promote each other’s business for free. I also used her products in the hotel.”
“Sedum moved to Bangkok after that, and I would crash at her place whenever I was in the city. Recently the hotel business was hit by covid-19 and was in a slump. I wanted to do something, so I helped with Sedam’s work to repay her hospitality. One day she suggested a partnership. I was like: Guess what, I just happen to have time!”
Sedam was born in South Korea and had the tall and slender silhouette you’d see on models. She dresses simple but chic, reflecting her decade in the high fashion industry. The duo’s affable smiles give the shop a friendly feel and make you feel comfortable to stop by for a chat or browse through the clothes now and then.
After deciding on the base for her sustainable business, Sedam set out around Thailand to explore OTOP (One Tambon One Product) products in several provinces. Intending to export Thai products to the South Korean market, she usually ended up showing pictures to the artisans and asking:
“Bowls like this are very popular in South Korea, but they’re made of plastic. Could you make them out of wood?”
River Tamarind VS Acacia Wood
Mew walked over and picked up a few wooden utensils.
“This wood is from river tamarind trees; they’re commonplace in Thailand. When customers hear that an item is made of river tamarind wood, they quickly put it down. It probably sounds too dull for them, so now I call it acacia wood. ”
Do you know that products by Thai artisans are famous for their fine craftsmanship among Korean people?
I looked at the curious little wooden bowls. Mew explained that these are for Bibimbap fried rice. The bowls must be deep enough to be used with chopsticks and large enough for one serving. Most bowls in the South Korean market are made of ceramic or stainless steel, so Sedam began ordering the wooden version from artisans in Buriram, Chonburi, and Chiang Mai, by contacting their villages directly. She made sure that the artisans receive fair payments, the transportation leaves minimal carbon footprints, and that her customers in South Korea get quality products.
Mew’s story about the wood reminded me of another Ari neighbor, the famous Chalermphon “Chef Van” He told me that he used to name a dish after the Thai name fish its ingredient, and nobody ordered it. However, after switching to the Japanese name, orders came flooding even though it was the same dish. Chef Van once said that pricing up local Thai ingredients is impossible.
While Sedum, who came from South Korea, appreciates the value of Thai craftsmanship so much that she decided to export these products and make handsome money for herself – including her casual wear brand under the name Wearless Wear.
Who decides that loungewear is only for home?
Wearless Wear is a clothing line from BDS Collective, designed by Sedam herself. It started the same way as her woodware: the demand from South Korea. First, she made cotton pajamas in solid color with white trim, just like any comfortable pajamas seen in the K-drama series. Only hers are sustainably produced by Thai artisans and exported to South Korea.
“Sedam, view that the South Korean market has more awareness of sustainability. If a product is said to have reduced environmental impact and is fair trade, people are more attracted to it. This is partly due to the government’s campaigns. However, the supply is relatively low, and when they hear that they are made in Thailand, people are interested.”
I picked up the cotton pants that I wanted to buy. The truth is, it’s been harder and harder for me to buy clothes, as my growing concern is how not to waste them. I had wanted simple pants that were low-key, comfortable, and versatile. Ones that make you look effortlessly good. Once I put them on, I noticed the flexibility and lightness of the fabric, as well as the fact that they fit me like a glove.
“As the business grew, Sedam became determined to minimize our impact on the environment, to let the customers wear our clothes on more occasions. She came up with something that can be worn comfortably at home and outside.” Mew explained confidently, standing behind me while I looked in the mirror.
BDS Collective who spearhead Slow Fashion
The term slow fashion has been heard more often since fast fashion was identified as one of the industries with the worst environmental impact after oil and gas drilling. Cotton is grown by tons of farmworkers poisoned by the daily use of pesticides. A piece of cotton fabric requires hundreds of gallons of water to produce. On the other hand, polyester often ends up as non-biodegradable waste. Do you know that 60% of the polyester made on earth goes to clothing production? That’s more than water bottles we are so against. Not to mention the microplastic released into the water every time we wash polyester fabric.
This is just one aspect of material choice. I believe that many are familiar with this, but if you want to learn more, check out Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes, or visit Fashion Revolution Thailand website.
Back to slow fashion and its definition, the opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion products focus on durability, fair trade, organic materials, natural dyes, and biodegradability. Some brands go as far as to pay attention to how much soil erosion their material causes or if the plants can be farmed sustainably – the catch to these products, though, is their high price.
The same goes for Wearless Wear.
“Patterns these days are so easy to create with chemicals. You pick colors and designs then hire a manufacturer in China. We go on-site to look at the patterns to reduce the carbon footprint from sample transportation. We produce our clothes in small numbers only once a year and sell them slowly. We’ve been doing this for a few years, and our first collection is still for sale. Sedam is trying not to launch new collections too often, or people won’t buy from older collections.”
“We try to minimize the use of chemicals in our productions. Normally a lot of pigment is needed for the dye to fix the fiber. Nowadays, people use chemical fixing agents to cut costs. We still need these agents for some colors, especially darker ones, or the color will fade when washed. However, we reduce the number of times we apply the chemicals to once, for example, instead of three times like the standards. These details are thanks to Sedam’s experience working in the fast fashion industry.”
Without support from the government, this is us doing the very best we can.
To those who are interested in sustainable business.
“Prepare to feel discouraged. Once you start to examine the problems, you find more and more issues. You get upset by the condition of the rivers. It’s even depressing to wonder why you’re going against the world. High selling prices might also take a toll on your income. If I want to make money, I’d better import clothes from China. With a 50-baht cost, I can sell them at 300. However, here we have customers who trust our product quality and responsibility. These are our regulars.”
“I often talk with Sedam about how we do business not to get rich, but so that we don’t feel bad about what we’re selling.”
Almost 18 o’clock, and I’m still processing the conversation with Mew in my new pants. It was an interview that helped me organize my thoughts. Can it be that I only need two pairs of pants to switch between washes? The future of fashion designing is probably not how to stand out or look classy, but true class is shown in the dedication to choosing something more profound than the appearance of your clothing.
_____ BDS Collective เสื้อผ้า และ ความ ยั่งยืน