Thailand Textile Institute THTIâ€™s director of technology promotion Chanchai Sirikasemlert, all set to displays 50 new developed silk products at the Premiere Vision 2014 to be held in Paris later this month. The 50 silk fabrics to be showcased will attempt to alter consumers' perceptions. With little resemblance to traditional Thai silk, these fabrics are 20-30% lighter, with prices 25-30% higher than traditional silk.
Thais under 50 who wear silk clothes are often called old-fashioned, and a woman's silk suit can set her back at least 4,000 baht. The survey conducted also found around half of the respondents wear silk clothing only for important occasions such as weddings, funerals, seminars and religious ceremonies, and 14% said they have never worn silk clothing before.
The new generation sees it as something their parents or teachers would wear or often see silk as something for village heads or directors-general of public offices to wear. They want to change that image, said Chanchai Sirikasemlert, THTI's director of technology promotion.
The THTI market research pointed to design flaws as producers were not ready to innovate or look at colour trends. The outcome was a design booklet and 50 pilot products by 13 companies based on world design trends for 2015.
White, for instance, can be used by designers for printing and embroidery, said Mr Chanchai.
The project, aiming to modernise Thai silk and make it more wearable, comes at a time when local products are finding it increasingly hard to compete due to high raw material costs. Some 90% of Thai silk is used locally, especially in provincial areas.
THTI statistics show silk imports for the first eleven months of last year totalled US$26.45 million, a 13.73% increase over the same period of 2012. Of the total, $6.7 million was silk apparel.
Exports were down by 4.8% year-on-year during the period to copy6.5 million. Of the total, $8.7 million was silk fabric, mainly shipped to the US, UK and France, while $4.6 million were exports of silk apparel to the US, Japan and Pakistan.
Saruda Shinawatra, president of the Thai Silk Association, said that domestic use will likely remain flat this year, but exports are projected to drop by over 10% due to higher silk yarn prices.
Local industrial silk is quoted at around 2,600 baht per kilogramme, up from 2,200 baht early last year. Lower supply from China, the world's largest silk producer, also contributed to the price hike, although the price of $58 per kg in China is much lower than in Thailand.
Silk prices are determined by the country's largest silk-reeling factory, Chul Thai Silk, which has been in the market for 46 years. The company has contract farming arrangements with 2,600 silk farmers, and production for this year is set to increase by 15%, driven by attractive prices, said manager Radachaya Navanimitkul.
The development of silk to suit the needs of the modern market will lead to high value-added products, which will benefit the whole silk production supply chain. But changing people's perceptions is not easy, as the majority see silk as expensive and hard to maintain.
A common misconception is that silk requires dry cleaning, which costs around 200 baht each time. But silk clothing can be hand-washed, and since silk is made of natural protein fibres, Mr Chanchai advises. the use of hair shampoo instead of laundry detergent.
With the help of two Italian textile consultants, THTI's designer handbook includes four qualities that make Thai silk unique Â— lustre, uneven texture, fluidity and pattern. In other words, you need to make a piece of fabric that has a gentle shine, a bit of drapery and is richly decorated.
While China and India remain the two most well-known silk-producing countries, THTI hopes Thailand's 50 pilot silk products will draw the attention of global brands at the fabric show in Paris.
By focusing on the premium market and modern target groups, the project wants to use silk in both local and international brands.
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