How Thailand’s Tailoring Industry Contributes to the Tourism Industry


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How Thailand’s Tailoring Industry Contributes to the Tourism Industry

By Raja Gulati

Thailand has a vibrant tailored clothing industry. It originated during the times of the Vietnam War. What happened was, to fight the war, The American GIs set up army camps in Thailand. The Thais with Indian heritage, having fluency with English connected with the GIs to guide them through style, fit, cut, fabric selections, and take the measurements. They then liaison with the Thai craftsmen to produce the clothes. The War got over, the GIs left just as tourism was picking up in Thailand. The industry shift gears and re-aligned itself to cater to tourists and diplomats. That is how the industry began.

Fast forward to today. Not to push it under the rug or give excuses for it, the industry does have some tourist-trap notoriety to it, such as false fabric claims, huge commissions schemes to people who are in direct connection with the tourists, and shoddy craftsmanship tailored by people who barely could distinguish their rear-ends from the hole in the ground. Having said that, the tailoring business in Thailand could be said to be a cut above the rest (pun intended).

This is why it is so; it has a comprehensive cluster industry in which its synergy is unmatched and unrivaled in terms of price, quality, craftsmanship, fabric ranges/selections, tailoring distinctions and timing matrix. And sometimes, due to having to survive life’s livelihood, the players of the industry playing the tourist trap game mentioned above, seems to get their view of the beautiful snow-capped mountain blocked by a single thread of hair of their own making.

Having said that let me explain the nature of this infinite value creation, and comprehensive cluster industry. Let me explain with this scenario. You are attending a black tie event hosted to honor the farewell of the Ambassador of XYZ country and to honor his contributions. It’s in 2 weeks. You have a trapezoidal upper torso with skinny legs (just kidding and not kidding). You want something that would make you look good, accentuate the positive body parts (like your square shoulders for instance), while veiling those that aren’t (like your skinny legs), honor the presence of the people that would attend, fulfill your utmost fashion fantasy and give you a commanding presence all in one. You think you are asking too much? But aren’t you the customer and that’s what tailored made clothes specific to your body, and guided instructions in cut, design and fabric suppose to do, if not why are you taking the effort to get it done in the first place?!!!!

So you go to a friend’s recommended tailor studio here in Bangkok. And with the studio’s owner, guidance and distinctions, here is what you choose:

  • The jacket is made in slight tapered cut to accentuate your shoulders while not giving away your round tummy, 2 ¾” peak lapels, with sheen piping in tuxedo style. Its made of 110 S Vitale Barberis Canonico 100 % wool fabric on the exterior. The material is jet black. You want to be a bit daring so you decide the torso’s interior is made in Jim Thompson 1-ply Thai silk in trumpets pattern of yellow, black and white, in sheen grey base. The sleeves’ interior is done in plain cupra/rayon light smooth fabric in charcoal grey. A fused lining is pressed on to the fabric to give weight and added structure to the torso section, and a frontal horse hair chest structure is layered on that to give presence. Real button holes on the cuffs, the heritage signature of custom made suits. Felted collars, giving a powerful commanding structure. 2 vents on the back sides giving room for sitting, putting your hands in your pockets, and space to pull out your wallet from your back pocket. A beautiful boutonniere to give some added grace. Name inscriptions on the insides, in silver running hand that says “Exclusively Tailor Made for Mr. So&So makes it your very own.
  • Now the trousers. You went for a 1 ¾ black sheen taping on the out-seams, with a light tapered down cut such as not to look too baggy but also to not stick to your shins close enough, that people can figure out your skinny legs. And then when you bring out the reverse side of the pants, what you will see on the waist line is a full waisted rubber grip. This is created with the functionality to hold the shirt tugged in the trousers at all time regardless of how intense your sitting position is. It’s especially useful for people who has stomach or are fat.
  • The next thing to look at is the front panel half lining of the inside of the pants. It’s done in the same matching Jim Thompson Thai Silk as the jacket lining. Now if you look at each pocket that’s inside the trousers, the edges are piped. This is done so, as to prevent pointy objects like key chains to make a hole in the pocket. Next is to look at the crotch part. You would see a triangular shape material made of the Jim Thompson Thai Silk. This triangular shaped fabric is very important, because when you go to get your business done in the bathroom and come out, there could be a left over urine that leaks out and be clearly seen from the outside. This piece of cloth prevents that.
  • After that look at the both sides of the inside trousers, running down the length of the trousers to the cuffs. You would see that, these are also piped. This is created so that there are no material left over, it has a clean look to it, it has room for future alterations, and that there is no thread hanging out, such that because just one single thread could unravel the whole thing. And you thought you have had enough, well let’s look at the ends of the trousers (from the inside). This area is called the cuffs. You could see that the cuffs have the Thai silk layering to it, such that it upholds the structure of the cylindrical nature of the fall of the trousers when you wear it. It looks beautiful instead of billowy. Ok, enough.
  • Just kidding, not quite yet. The shirt is in 100% cotton pure white from Nishinbo company Japan. It has a wing tip collar, round French cuffs, and 6 pleatings on each side of the frontal portion of the shirt. And blah blah blah, you get the point of the level of customizations possible? If I go on we would finish this article tomorrow.

As you are a busy business man, you actually ask the studio to send a style expert to your hotel room for the 2 fittings and to deliver the clothes. You had all this done up to the exact instructions for you in … in …. in.. 1 week. At? At 900 US $. Now try getting that done in say Philadelphia. How long would that take? What would be the price of the clothes? Would it have everything you asked for, be consulted in or the unlimited combinations you want and still look good? Where else in the world is this possible in the same price, quality, craftsmanship, fabric ranges/selections, tailoring distinctions and timing matrix?

The answer is nowhere. Nothing even comes close. It would take another country’s tailor industry at least 3 months, with at least 3 times the price if not more. That’s what I mean by the infinite value creation cluster industry in tailored clothing that Thailand has. And this, I am just mentioning the frontal end. Think about the synergism that needs to take place on the back end amongst the industry players to make that possible on the front end.

Now walk into that room on the event day with this formidable combination. It’s to die for. Its not that you want to wear those clothes anymore, it’s that you want to sleep with them on.

Having said all that, it could be said that as an industry, we have now reached a critical junction, again, just like it did, when the industry re-aligns itself from GIs to tourism. The critical element propelling this re-alignment, in the upcoming near future, is the internet. Just to give you a taste of what is possible, what would it be like if there is an app on your smart-phone that could guide, you through style, fit, color-tone matching, and fabric of the occasion you are wearing the clothes for and run it into an online webstore to match your selection and time line? Would not that rock your world??…



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