“Once it was my cozy little home, but it became this small craft community organically,” said Malai “Goong” Sankai, recalling how Commune Malai evolved.
Originally from Nong Khai in northeastern Thailand, Malai came to Chiang Mai to study and work, starting her career at an environmental NGO working with communities. She also helped at the Honghien Suep San Phum Panya (the Lanna Wisdom Heritage School), where she met people from various backgrounds and occupations. In 2005, she collaborated with the Northern Development Foundation and Chum Chon Kon Rak Pa (people who love the forest) group to establish Communista, a brand that supports the local community by processing local products. When the project ended, Malai decided to keep Communista going since she loves doing social work and craftwork.
When she worked on the Communista project prior to 2007, she used space at her house to stock products and meet customers. This was the genesis of Commune Malai, because when the project officially ended, she used the space to set up a small merchandising outlet in its place. Then, in 2010, she invited a friend to open a coffee shop at a small, newly built wooden house on the land. With the addition of a coffee shop with set opening hours, she began to let friends who had similar visions increasingly share the space; this eventually became the commune.
“The word commune might give the impression that we have a big space, but we don’t. We adjust and make the most of what we have. Houses happened quite naturally, rather like plants sprouting up,” said Malai cheerfully. “The timing was right. I was ready. My friends were ready. The space is good. Everybody here does what they do because they enjoy it. It’s not about money or getting rent. We didn’t start this as a commercial business. It was like we brainstormed to create this space and have come up with this.”
The coziness of Commune Malai helps meld multiple brands together. Products are customer centric; our creators put themselves into their customers’ shoes said Malai. Communista is a fun brand that uses colorful fabric and local textiles to create clothes, bags and home décor. Other brands include Jintana basketry and Hand Room handmade children’s clothes, and there is a small architect studio called Little Hum Studio. And when visitors just want to side back and relax, Paper Spoon provides the coffee and other refreshments.
“We don’t see this as a commercial venture. We only want this community to grow organically through the ideas and actions of people participating in the commune. We want to build a joyful vibe and make the space lively. We do things like hold flea markets, organize craft activities and grow organic vegetables. We’ve had food vendors like Cooper Burger join our activities and we donate profits or save them for coming events,” said Malai.
“Commune Malai may have come about by accident, but we are filled with warmth and friendship. The sense of peace attracts those who are looking to evade the buzz and fuss of city life,” said Malai. “This is where dreamers can gather. It is where friendships begin and grown, and then, by sharing in this space, everyone can play a significant role,” said Malai.