Kanchana Shnatepaporn, the creator of BWILD ISAN, leads sustainable fashion trends by HHC Thailand.

Chompoo-Kanjana Shnatepaporn is a native of Udon Thani who moved to Khon Kaen after completing her MBA at Khon Kaen University. After graduation, she decided to pursue additional education in fashion design and tailoring to manage her husband’s family business. This decision was driven by her desire to gain genuine knowledge and understanding of the industry, leading her to fall in love with the craft. In 2007, she gathered a team of craftsmen and founded ‘by Heart,’ a small studio specializing in designing and tailoring wedding and formal attire. Over the 15 years at by Heart, Chompoo had the opportunity to meet skilled craftsmen from Isaan who wished to return to work with their families. Additionally, she encountered new designers who, despite their recent graduation, struggled to find work in their hometowns. Recognizing the challenges in her community, Chompoo wanted to initiate a small business to provide a proud space for local artisans and craftsmen to work close to home with their families.

In 2019, ‘BWILD ISAN‘ (Be Wild Isaan) was officially established as a business, not solely focused on maximizing profits but aiming to bring value back to Isaan. BWILD ISAN became a community for local designers and craftsmen who shared a common belief in creating together. It serves as a platform for the younger generation in Isaan to have opportunities to work in their areas of expertise, creating work that is sustainable and meaningful, contributing to both individuals and society.

Today, Chompoo takes us back to the authentic roots of the Isaan brand, sharing the vision she and her team are dedicated to nurturing. This includes the past, present, and the envisioned future of BWILD ISAN as a sustainable fashion brand ready to grow alongside the people, community, and country she loves, as discussed in this interview.

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Starting from Crisis

After gaining enough experience and expertise, and embarking on further studies to enhance business knowledge, including strategies for creating a sincere brand that could lead the team to survive. This brand from Khon Kaen faced challenges from the very beginning, as 2020 marked the global crisis with the outbreak of COVID-19. Almost every business was freezing, while BWILD ISAN, being in the fashion industry, faced an unnecessary necessity in the era of COVID. In a time when a significant number of people were losing their jobs, and many businesses had to adapt drastically, BWILD ISAN believed in creating a brand that, no matter what the situation, would be in the hearts of people. Even if it’s just a small brand, it can create value for people if it finds the right spot, is relatable, and doesn’t need perfection but can start from where it is. What BWILD ISAN did was to take courage and transform ordinary things from Isaan into something special and valuable, using materials from its own land. They utilized the diverse skills of community members, including the craftsmanship of local artisans, creating a collaborative effort of different generations.

“We started building the brand around 2019, and when COVID came to our country in 2020, we were just starting. At that time, the question for everyone was, ‘What should I do?’ because everything was so frightening. However, we saw the reality, felt, and realized the difficulties of people around us, not just us alone but the entire nation and our world. At that moment, we regained awareness and thought about what we could do in this situation. We didn’t think about how we could survive alone, but rather thought that, with our 14-15 years of business experience in Isaan, if our existence could at least embrace people around us during this crisis, it might be better than just sitting and worrying about ourselves, saying that I and my family shouldn’t be anything, let others handle it. It was something like that.”

Thinking like that, Chompoo and her team started creating the ‘Wild in The City,’ the brand’s first collection that underwent trial and error, learning, and development among designers with different preferences and skills. The product line includes patterns on silk scrunchies, drawings on scarves, casual clothing, perfumes, bags, and ceramics.

“The first year of BWILD ISAN went with a sense of excitement because the first collection we created received a great response. ‘Wild in The City’ won the Best Collection Award from the Qurated Fashion Incubation Project 2020. However, as we entered the second year, we started to think that we couldn’t continue making a lot of traditional products because each product required a significant amount of storytelling. The less we told, the more we felt that what we were doing had no value. So, we gradually slowed down. The second year was a time for us to find the right balance. It was a period when we trained ourselves to deeply understand what it means to be Isaan. We talked about our homes with keen analysis, walked back to our roots, and admired what we had. This was narrated through the ‘Ant Colony’ collection, showcasing the beauty of the Isaan region in the hot season, where even though the earth may crack, there is still hidden beauty. This collection connected with the authentic lifestyle of Isaan, and we were able to secure the award from Thai Designer Academy 2021.”

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Birth of the Village Chicken

“As mentioned, during the first 2 years, we became more recognized, but the direction of our business looked too broad. This led BWILD ISAN to reassess the brand’s identity, make adjustments, and reconsider what post-COVID fashion should look like.”

Chompoo had the opportunity to participate in the ‘Por Laew Dee The Creator’ program, which seemed like a wake-up call for her to come back and see if what she was doing had a meaningful impact, including assessing the immunity level. She questioned how her uniqueness and passion could drive the brand towards sustainability.

“The word ‘sustainability’ means we need others to be part of it. If you just do business without caring much, you don’t need to know a lot. Just make and sell enough to cover the costs. However, for the future of BWILD ISAN, we need to survive sustainably. Our business, created by creative individuals, is not only profit-oriented but also considers people and the value that society receives from the designed work, not to mention avoiding creating problems for the environment and the world (Planet). When the 3Ps – Profit, People, and Planet – happen together, it becomes a path for the business to be good and sustainable.”

“This learning experience was a turning point for us to seek balance for the brand, especially in the COVID era. We noticed a lot of waste in the fashion industry, but we still believe that fashion is not inherently evil. We can be a good fashion brand that brings hope and pride back to creators. This challenge led us to create the prototype ‘กระเป๋าไก่บ้าน’ (Village Chicken Bag) in just one version.”

Coming from the rural lifestyle of the Northeast where everyone raises chickens, it’s common to see chickens in every household. However, how can these chickens be unique and special when everyone knows about chickens? Including the rural lifestyle that we are familiar with, how can it make people in the city and around the world find it interesting? These questions became a challenge that Chompu went back to work on for nearly 2 years before the ‘Chicken Bag’ (Village Chicken Bag) collection was unveiled to the public and went viral. The bag is introduced with three main materials: genuine leather, microfiber leather, and a special edition that incorporates woven silk inspired by the chicken in the view of the fabric weavers. The bags tell the story with a playful and unconventional narrative, breaking away from the conventional frame and being able to go far. At the same time, it highlights the cultural values and local lifestyle vividly.”

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The Endurance Challenge in Fashion

“We don’t want to create fast fashion; we produce just enough. We sell consciously. For us, the silk weavers, the mulberry growers, the silk farmers, and the weavers all contribute to the production process. We don’t harm the environment on an industrial scale. Everything is done by hand, by one person, and we try to produce with minimal waste. We believe that these processes contribute to sustainability. If we choose a material that is globally recognized as excellent but inaccessible, requiring a tremendous amount of money to prove that you are on the path of sustainability, that’s not sustainability for us.

So, our main products right now are the ‘Chicken Bag’ and the ‘Random Chicken Bag.’ As we aim for sustainable fashion, we won’t stimulate excessive consumption. We won’t create products that follow global trends but rather provide products that communicate the stories we want to tell to the people of Isan, designers, children, and Thai people. We want them to be proud, return to their roots, and attempt to inspire the joy of rediscovering oneself and the values of our homes. The journey of coming together, exploring, and walking together is joyful. Despite COVID being the worst period for the fashion industry, we can still join hands and move forward together happily.

Our sustainability is in being a brand conscious of production and storytelling, respecting all creators in our environment. The products of BWILD ISAN have never been discounted because we believe in and value the handmade work and craftsmanship that takes days, months, or sometimes even years to create. The key is working with love. We don’t just sell bags as storage; we are conveying our own stories. The beauty and hope of Isan, the struggle of the creators who want to stay at home, this is the challenge. We all accept that it’s tough, but every time we walk each year, we find that more and more people understand and love our stories. Each time, we realize that everyone is happier. If we don’t deviate from our path, we will reach our destination one day. A destination where we want artisans and designers from Isan to do what makes them proud and bring back the pride of Isan in the eyes of the younger generation. It will be really cool if we can bring our cultural heritage and strong roots to the global stage, making everyone acknowledge that Thailand has something this good.”

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Her Dream, My Dream, Our Dream

Because we believe that ‘people’ are the most valuable resource, Chompoo chooses to invest in valuing people as the top priority. The work here is highly flexible, with open communication. Everyone works together equally, with roles assigned based on individual strengths. There is support, learning, and a journey taken together.

“We established the way we work from the beginning that BWILD ISAN is a group effort. We share a common goal, and each member of the team has individual tasks and dreams. Everyone has personal goals in life – what they want to do, the type of business they want, the person they want to be in their family and society. At BWILD ISAN, we work in a way that brings us together for half of the month. The remaining time is for each member to live the way they want. This is something that COVID has given us as an inheritance.”

“Everyone here may have different lifestyles, but we share the belief that Isan is cool. We have to stay home and make a living. What matters is that everyone makes an effort to find opportunities. We create jobs together with others to fill in what the community lacks. It’s about working together, not competing. It’s about building together so that we have more friends. This is what makes the brand strong, not afraid of failure because we are always ready to try again. And on the day we can create a system where everyone can grow steadily, we will pass on these opportunities to others as well.”

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The Middle Path of Life

“What we gain from doing BWILD ISAN is likely happiness, contentment, and a balanced life within a community-oriented society. We have been in business for our family, making a living just like everyone else. Even during the 15 years of running the ‘by Heart’ tailoring business, we still considered it working for ourselves. The sense of satisfaction came when we gained recognition, but it was mostly for us. This is different from when we work in a way that is verifiably for others. If we say we work for others, it means they have the right to grow and develop with us. Every time we achieve good sales, it means our team members should have the right to grow and have a reputation, no matter what role they play.”

“People often say that BWILD ISAN is very good at social media content, but in reality, we just live our lives through the brand’s journey. We didn’t deliberately create happiness or achieve success on social media. BWILD ISAN has come to this point through the collective efforts of everyone in our environment, both the team and those who support us. If we could go back in time, we think we made the right decision not to let anyone go, never stopped, never fired anyone, even during times when the whole country was stagnant.”

“Now we are entering our third year. What we have to do is increase our immunity to make the brand stronger. Because the reputation or being known in the past few years cannot guarantee whether we will survive in the future. We are now laying the groundwork for building a brand that tries to close every vulnerability and has to be more aggressive than this. We hope to find good partners who understand the concept, the background, and the story of the brand.”

Chompu tells us that BWILD ISAN means the courage to turn ordinary things from Isan into something special. It is a brand with a purpose to create value for her homeland and pass on wisdom and opportunities from generation to generation. It also aims to push every corner of the region to grow in its own way.

“If there comes a day when we are no longer here, BWILD ISAN can continue with the people of Isan coming back to embrace it. Until one day, it might not be necessary to have BWILD ISAN anymore because everyone is self-sufficient. Isan is prosperous and strong in every aspect. No need to come together to create opportunities anymore. Even if there is no us one day, we will be proud because we have done every task to the best. We think this is a similar beginning and ending dream (smile).”

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Additional: www.bwildisan.com
Photo: Jinnatri Thanakritta

Special thanks for the article from https://hhcthailand.com/kanchana-shnatepaporn/