Fashion for export: Thai-made Muslim costumes go international

Fashion for export: Thai-made Muslim costumes go international

Muslim Fashion Project: Flickr.com

How could a decent economy bring stability to local residents in Thailand’s far South when the ongoing southern insurgency continues? The violence that erupted in early 2004 and has continued since has left thousands of people dead in its wake and has severely affected daily life of many of the locals who see their incomes sharply depleted.

Muslim apparel and costume accessories made by villagers in the southern border provinces are one of the incentives that government-related agencies have been trying to push forward to compete in international markets so as to improve the quality of life of local residents.

Members of local dressmaking groups have been trained to improve their skills in designing, tailoring, lacing and embroidering Muslim clothing, thanks to the Industrial Promotion Department’s Industrial Development Project for Muslim Costume Products in Thailand’s Five Southernmost Provinces.

The business is expected to generate revenues of around Bt1 billion a year in the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Songkhla, and Satun, where the goal of promoting and developing local craftsmanship, creating new design concepts and upgrading local skills and finally having a local brand for Thai-made Muslim costume is a must.

As said by the director of the Industrial Promotion Centre Region 11, Thawee Kaewmanee, the fine quality of the patterns and the tailoring on the fabric has been made well by the southern locals.

But the opportunity to promote and sell their goods is relatively small, for villagers usually take tailor-made orders from foreign agents or middlemen. According to Veerapol Srilert, director of the Bureau of Industrial Sectors Development, local villagers in the five southern border provinces produce Islamic costume of the value of over Bt126 million yearly.

However, 80 per cent of the production is sent to Malaysia where branding and placing logos on the clothing takes place. The final value-added clothing will then be exported to customers in other Southeast Asian countries.

“We’ve just lost heart, you know. The fine craftsmanship is ours but it’s taken and claimed as if it’s done by our neighbouring country. So if government agencies can help us, we’d love to have our own brand and a logo of our products,” said Saipin Samau, a member of the Ban Khai Muslim Dressmaking Group.

After having been trained under the Industrial Development Project for Muslim Costume Products in Thailand’s Five Southern Border Provinces, local dressmaking group members can now make different styles of Muslim attire. If the Muslim clothing made in the southern region is properly value-added and more market-oriented, the locals will certainly earn more money, which would also bring about their improved quality of life.

“Since we’ve been trained, we have better skills at making Muslim clothing. We also have more income and customers,” said Wae-Patima Muna, another member of the Ban Khai Muslim Dressmaking Group.

According to the executive director of the Thailand Textile Institute, Virat Tandaechanurat, Thailand exported over Bt1 billion of Muslim attire from the southern border provinces last year, but he said the market share as indicated the income was considered very low if compared to the market value of the Muslim clothing goods worldwide.

Marketing channels for the southern locals, however, will be more lucrative if the Muslim clothing industry is promoted in the southern region in terms of using local materials, and local branding as well as providing the entire dressmaking process. In doing so, production costs will be reduced and the goods can better compete on the international level.

The Muslim population worldwide is around 1.66 billion, according to the Muslim Population Worldwide website. It’s a big market with much potential.

“A clear study on marketing at the next level is now a must,” according to Virat. “We must provide a database and information from the study to local operators or villagers so that each of their products can satisfy direct consumers, which is to pave the way to overseas markets.”

The Textile Institute’s executive director said that currently, there are over 200 Muslim dressmaking groups with more than 100,000 members in the five southern border provinces, including batik dressmakers, and those who make ‘Kaffiyeh’ or masculine Arab headdress, and ‘hijab’, the head scarves for women.

The ‘Muslim Fashion Project’ was recently launched to promote Thailand’s Muslim costumes. The project is considered as complying with one of the government’s incentives to promote a creative economy. (TNA)

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