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See What Goes Into Producing Artisanal Clothing In Thailand, With Seeker X Retriever

by: Rosie Dalton | 3 years ago | Features

Image: the Seeker x Retriever team. From left Nan Tohch, Park Jong, and Carl Dixon.

Seeker x Retriever has come a long way since its origins as a vintage market stall in Bangkok. Fed up with the waste caused by fast fashion’s trend-based culture, Nan Tohch, Carl Dixon and Park Jong decided to create a unisex line of basics that people could live in for years, rather than just weeks. “
In an age where so many people find an item of clothing and wear it less than five times, we want to emphasize the fact that an item doesn’t have to appear dated,” Nan says. And it is for this reason that they like to push the boundaries through design in terms of both gender and age. “I think the gender gap is reducing, which is lessening stereotypes about gender roles,” she continues. “As a woman, I want our clothes to express the multi-faceted nature of femininity.”

Not only is Seeker x Retriever timeless, practical and highly wearable, but everything is also handcrafted by artisans in Northern Thailand, where Nan’s mum was born. “Handcrafted items take on a life of their own,” she explains. “Our artisans weave their many years of knowledge into the fabrics… There is a story behind every fabric, and not one single batch is the same.” Naturally then, we are very drawn to this super charming label and their talented and considerate team — Nan and Carl both serve as creative directors, while Park is head designer. We caught up with the trio to discuss the charm of handcrafted clothing and rejecting the broken system.

Image: Lampang, in Northern Thailand, where Seeker x Retriever's pieces are made by local artisans.

Rosie Dalton: What was it that first made you interested to work in fashion and how was Seeker x Retriever initially born?
Nan: I worked in fashion publications for a couple years before we started the project and was frustrated by how fast trends are moving, and also how hard it is to shop for minimal clothing I would actually wear. When my mum passed away a couple of years ago I had a chance to go back to where she was born and discovered all these great textiles, so that was a big turning point for me.

Park: Seeker x Retriever started off as a passion project, combining minimalist style with our love for handwoven and natural dyed textiles. We tried to create clothes we would actually wear.

Carl: I’ve always had an interest in minimalist, “no logo” menswear; stuff that can be dressed up or down. Seeker actually started out as a market stall, selling vintage clothing in Bangkok. But we were getting fed up with all the fast fashion brands and trends — all the waste, basically — so we decided to develop our own line.

Image: an artisan at work in Lampang, Northern Thailand, where Seeker x Retriever's pieces are made.

Rosie Dalton: A lot of your pieces are incredibly timeless and versatile, is this something you think about much when designing each collection?
Nan: Versatility definitely comes first in our designs.

Carl: Yes, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with drawing on trends, but ultimately we want to create basics that people can really live in, for years not months or weeks.

Park: We want people to be able to mix new items with those from old collections, to create new looks. Our pieces are meant to be worn over and over again.

Image: Nan, one-third of the Seeker x Retriever team.

Rosie Dalton: In many ways, handcrafted clothing is a dying art form. Why do you think it’s so important to continue supporting this kind of production, in the face of cheaply made excess?
Nan: Handcrafted items take on a life of their own. Our artisans weave their many years of knowledge into the fabrics, which then get turned into a collection with the help of our tailor. There is a story behind every fabric, and not one single batch is the same. I think that’s the real charm of handcrafted clothes.

Carl: Just because clothes are cheap doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden costs. We work closely with a small but long-standing weaving collective in Northern Thailand to ensure they are adequately rewarded for their talents and labour. We can trace the whole process and that helps us ensure the best quality clothing possible.

Image: the Convertible Overall Dress in Natural.

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us a bit about the traditional craft techniques that you incorporate as part of Seeker x Retriever today?
Nan: For our two collections so far we’ve worked with a community of weavers in Northern Thailand who take their craft very seriously. Before we design anything, we speak with the artisans about what they have in season. Availability changes throughout the year, so we work with what raw materials we can get our hands on. Lampang province (where they come from), is known for its natural beauty including Chae Son National Park, where the weavers dye their textiles in the hot spring. This method helps the natural dye to last longer, and ensures the fabric becomes softer with every wear.

Park: The artisans use many native plants to dye the textiles; for example, our new grey fabric gets its colour from the leaves of the native Takian tree. Hopefully, with every season, we will be able to introduce new distinctive colours derived from different plants and natural materials.

Image: the Convertible Overall Dress in Indigo.

Rosie Dalton: Why did you decide to produce gender neutral clothing and what do you see as some of the main benefits to this approach?
Nan: I think the gender gap is reducing, which is lessening stereotypes about gender roles. As a woman, I want our clothes to express the multi-faceted nature of femininity: we can be strong as well as gentle. A woman doesn’t have to just wear a mini skirt to feel feminine.

Park: I love the idea of menswear that has fluidity. I think by creating a unisex line we’re opening ourselves to a lot of different type of people who can wear our clothes.

Rosie Dalton: Does it also present any challenges for you as a designer, trying to create clothing that is equally wearable for men and women?
Nan: Balancing our personal favourite elements is definitely difficult sometimes. Occasionally I’ll like more delicate details, while Park and Carl like simplicity. That’s why each season we also have a dress that reflects modern femininity, to go with the rest of the unisex items.

Image: the Two Way Light Coat in Natural.

Rosie Dalton: What do you see as some of the main benefits of working with handwoven cotton, both from a designer’s perspective but also for your customers?
Park: Handwoven cotton is a very versatile fabric, you can wear it in any climate and it just gets softer and softer every time you wear it.

Carl: From a designer’s point of view, the material is so malleable, leaving us a lot of room to play around with.

Rosie Dalton: I love that your designs transcend age, why is this such an important consideration for you as designers?
Nan: In an age where so many people find an item of clothing and wear it less than five times, we want to emphasize the fact that an item doesn’t have to appear dated. Our clothes, especially our unisex line, could be worn by anyone from their early 20s to 60s.

Park: It’s important to us that our items stay with our customers for a long time; that they can return to it whenever they want comfort.

Image: the Signature Shorts in Grey.

Rosie Dalton: I am also really interested in your natural dye techniques — can you elaborate on these a little bit and explain why this approach is so much better for the environment?
Park: We use only natural dyes from seasonal plants that are native to Northern Thailand.

Carl: There’s also no chemicals used in the dyes whatsoever; the dyes are treated with minerals from hot spring water so the colour lasts a long time.

Rosie Dalton:  What are some of your hopes for the future of the fashion industry?
Nan: That there’s more room and support for independent and slow made designers.

Park: I’m hoping that the fashion industry turns more to traditional crafts and looks at ways of modernising them in innovative ways. There are so many great things in the world still to be discovered.

Carl: More diversity and collaboration can only be a good thing. Everyone’s seen those info graphics that show how all of the world’s major brands are owned by such a select few. While globalisation can be blamed for a lot of things though, we can at least be thankful for the way the Internet has connected so many seemingly disparate creative communities.


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