Adapting the family tradition
Petcharat “Jeab” Chinyee tried running an internet café and several other businesses after she graduated, but she had grown up in a family of craftspeople and her love of craftwork kept drawing her back to it. Her mother, who had inherited her know-how from her grandparents, ran a teak furniture business in Ban Tawai. However, Petcharat did not want to follow her mother making big items like furniture, so she and her artist partner Sujit “Tee” Chinyee decided to set up their own business, naming it Putawan after their child.
“Wood is difficult to source and is subject to complex regulations and restrictions, and trees take a very long time to grow and have immense value,” said Petcharat. “We decided to make small things like vases, jewelry boxes, napkin holders and candlesticks using scrap wood from furniture production. There are so many handicraft products in Ban Tawai, so we try and differentiate Putawan by emphasizing our eco-friendly credentials as a brand mindful in how we source our materials.”
Early on in Putawan’s development, for example, Petcharat mentioned how she had seen a dyeing technique using lotus leaves on TV and how she tried applying it to their products, but inconsistency in leaf quality kept causing problems. Yet they kept on experimenting and developing a way to resolve the issue.
“It took quite a bit of time and experimentation. We must have used tens of thousands of lotus leaves until we got to a point when we were okay with the quality. We’ve been using lotus leaves in the dyeing process for more than 18 years, now,” Petcharat said.
Customers and quality
“We have grown Putawan in both the domestic and international markets, developing a wider customer base as time went on. Sometimes it is our customers who give us suggestions or advice that help spark new ideas. Wall Art, one of our flagship products, originated from a customer suggestion. It has become a popular product that attracts customers including hotels, spas and resorts,” she said.
Quality control is essential for Putawan. With the tag “Made in Chiang Mai” and “Made in Thailand” labeled on their products, Petcharat feels a responsibility towards maintaining the standard of quality associated with Thai products in general. She never shies away from getting personally involved with the production process despite having an allergy that demands careful choice of things like paint, which must be thinner free and safe.
As for Wall Art, which was mainly exported to the US, certification was later required for the plywood in the product, but their supplier could not provide it. Putawan consequently modified the product by using a canvas print and recycled frame. The new version of Wall Art follows Putawan’s concept for making eco-friendly products.
Maintaining eco-friendly consistency into the future
“Putawan’s current project is called ‘Product & Natural 4 R’ or ‘PANZ4R,’ said Petcharat. “This is based on the redesign, reuse, reduce and recycle concept using lotus, teak and banana leaves to make stationery and bags. We make another bag from teak leaves and tires, and we are collaborating with a cacao farm in Chiang Mai, using cacao leaves. We are always looking for new natural materials that can bolster both environmental and economic sustainability in the local community.”
“Our craftwork will withstand the test of time provided we constantly adapt to modern ways. We encourage our son to express his generation’s opinion of what we are making and take this into consideration when developing new products. I want my son to be involved and understand the business so he can take it over if he wants to, but he is free to choose what he wants to do,” said Petcharat.
Putawan runs workshops for those seeking inspiration in craftwork. Those who are interested can use the contact details below.