Yaujarej Somana has been attracted to handicrafts all her life, especially those that are linked to arts, culture and local traditions. Growing up in a city with a rich handicraft heritage like Chiang Mai, and with support from her family, she chose to study Thai art at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Chiang Mai University.
After graduation, Yaujarej began working with craft communities, especially those located in remote areas where people were skilled but had difficulty making ends meet. She saw how the potential of their skills was being held back by their inability to communicate the value of their crafts; she felt she could help. Using her designer’s mindset and knowledge in marketing available resources, she became inspired to tell their story.
In 2016, Yaujarej established Craft de Quarr. The word “quarr” is a homophone to the word “คัว” (kua), which in the northern dialect means stuff, which was a reference to the fact that most handicraft products are ordinary things for daily use. Craft de Quarr was the beginning of many things for Yaujarej, who learned about local culture, built up a network and worked to redirect traditional crafts making them appropriate for modern living.
It was initially challenging for Yaujarej; she learned that mutual understanding and having the same goals are key to working with communities. Craft de Quarr began working with 20 communities to develop their products, which they sold to tourists at a showroom on Thaphae Road. Their products included hand-woven fabrics, clothing, handbags and home décor.
Craft de Quarr emphasizes storytelling to bring meaning to their products. Their work attracts public and private organizations who want to start corporate social responsibility initiatives encouraging sustainable community development. Ample support from organizations and groups led to Craft de Quarr’s rapid growth as associated communities quickly increased to 120. Craft de Quarr also began helping communities gain recognition by steering tourism to them, such as to the Pha Mhee community in Chiang Rai or the Rai Kong Khing and Baan Mae Tom communities in Chiang Mai.
Preserving local traditions and culture is a core value for Craft de Quarr, who successfully present the identities of communities they work with. This has led to the De Quarr Crafting Community, a network of more than 230 craft communities throughout the country whose mission is to generate income for local communities by raising awareness and communicating the value of local traditions. They encourage auspicious ceremonies that involve craftwork, thereby helping preserve knowledge and local wisdom while inspiring upcoming generations.
“We’re not just providing opportunities; these remote peoples are the guardians of our headwaters and forests, so we believe that what we do is reciprocal. When they have more income and can improve their quality of life, they can live more happily in their communities and not feel they must migrate to the city. And then there will be a better chance that the next generation will also inherit their valuable traditions,” said Yaujarej.