From Love and Bonding
“Hug” is a northern Thai word meaning love, so for this reason Pooncharat “Fluk” Salee created Hug Craft because her work begins and ends with her love for everything that is handmade.
“I have been close to handicrafts since childhood and have always felt attached to them,” said Fluk. “During my Fine Arts study program, I had opportunities to work on sites, do research and work with former students who were owners of big brands and help them with designs. As I was learning so much, my love for handicrafts kept growing. After I graduated, I entered competitions and did a start up in the North which was sponsored by STEP — Science and Technology Park, Chiang Mai University — that won first prize. Then came my true start with Hug Craft.”
Design with love
Fluk loves researching and designing with communities, such as with the Ban Pong community in Sankamphaeng District, Chiang Mai.
“I knew the theory about dyeing, but I wasn’t very good when I practiced it. The women in the community were so much better at it, so I started to learn from them by doing it with them. I used cultural themes from whatever was around me to create life-style products like clothes, hats and bags that suited the tastes of younger people,” Fluk said.
Fluk’s creations reflect her love for handicrafts; the embroidery work is intricate and refined, which together with the hand-dyeing makes each of her pieces unique.
“The fabric chooses its owner,” said Fluk. “If customers like our products, they may have to wait until we have completed all the steps of the production process. We don’t mass produce things. Most of our products, especially clothes and bags, are dyed with natural colors, which itself takes a few days to finish. Also, customers must understand that it is nature of colors created with natural dyes to fade, depending on use and environment.”
Awards that come with love
Apart from products made under the Hug Craft brand, Fluk has won awards for research projects focusing on design for research and the development of innovation, wisdom and the environment that does not sacrifice cultural identity.
“I won a SACIT Award 2021 with my “Thai Fabric for Every Generation” concept. For Generation B, we based our design on the Yin-Yang motif with a design featuring a pair of fish. The inspiration for that came from traditional design on old ceramics from Sankamphaeng. For generation Y, my inspiration came from Lao Tungdam tattoos. I got the first prize from the Science and Technology Park, Chiang Mai University (STEP) for that. I had the chance to design the costume for Miss Grand Chiang Mai, for which I won first prize for Young Designer 2019. I also received an award for community Travel Promotion from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Most of my awards are related to local identity, which has always been my strength.”
Love…without being toxic to the environment
Fluk is a good designer who cares for the environment. “I got this idea from India. Although my background is in art, I’ve also been aware of environmental issues in my community. One thing we do is collect the marigold flowers discarded after religious ceremonies around Chiang Mai, and then up-cycle them based on the zero-waste concept. Marigolds contain formaldehyde, which affects people in Chiang Mai. We make fabric dye from the flower and send the waste fiber to Ban Tonpao, Sankamphaeng, where it is used to make paper or can be used to make incense sticks–another useful product,” she said.
Designing work for the community
Fluk’s research is practical and can be applied in real life situations. Many communities have followed her guidelines on decreasing raw material costs, reducing pollution and managing waste, all of which benefit the communities Fluk selects. Her choice of communities depends on how well she can work with them and how well they fit her needs.
“I choose a community by the skills of its people and readiness for work. For example, for summer season products, the yellow from marigold dye is suitable, so I choose Ban Papong in Sankamphaeng. For winter season products I choose a hill community, such as Ban Khun Changkhian on Doi Pui. The communities I work with are all from the North. I like to see people from different villages exchanging ideas and skills as each community has its own expertise. For example, I have organized the villagers of Khun Changkhian who do embroidery to learn about dyeing fabric from Ban Papong villagers, Sankamphaeng.”
Keeping it natural and doing business
“Ideally, I only want to use natural materials, but there are always limitations. I may have to cut down on certain things to make sure the business side of things works out. Sometimes I must use machine-made yarn instead of handspun, which, though softer, is more complex and takes much longer to produce, making it more expensive. Before starting work, I must differentiate between products made from natural or factory-made fabric to calculate production cost and suitable prices. Cost and price must work both for us and our customers.”
Researching community potential
Apart from designing for Hug Craft, Fluk does research work for universities and other organizations to promote community potential. She trains people in design and technique, starting with existing local products so that people in the community can create souvenirs that carry their cultural identity. She also creates events where people from different communities exchange their knowledge and skills.
“I focus on the goals of whoever has hired me to do the research. It begins by selecting the right communities that are ready to work. Right now, we are working on clothes designs with six communities, among which are the Mong people of Ban Khun Changkian I mentioned before. All our work is based on the zero-waste concept. At the Phrathat Doi Kham community, for example, we recycle jasmine flowers and create products such as incense stick powder. At the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep community, we create incense sticks from marigold. We also hire older people in the area to make frankincense, helping them earn money from our project and giving them products of their own to sell.”
Brightening the world with easy-going style
Given people in rural communities mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, they can only work on Hug’s products when they are free from farm work. Fluk must plan accordingly.
“In my opinion, this is a limitation on handicrafts,” said Fluk. “Making products by hand uses more time and requires management flexibility. I am trying to make things better for myself and the people I work with, as well as improve the products themselves. In future, I hope our network will grow and enable us to learn from other communities. We always welcome designers who want to learn more about Hug Craft’s communities and exchange ideas with people in them, meanwhile. Hug Craft is happy to connect other designers to communities, who together can then generate creative ideas for making beautiful handmade products that help make the world a joyful place, a world filled with hug.*”
*Hug can also be transliterated as “hak” with the ‘a’ sounding like a short u as in hug.