Photos by Helen Morgan for Ecouterre
Located in the rural outskirts of central Chiang Mai, Thailand, Studio Naenna work with local female artisans to make some truly beautiful fabrics. As well as offering a socially responsible exchange of labor, the eco textile brand use all natural materials and dyes to make their fabrics, scarves, and garments. Ecouterre was fortunate enough to visit the studio – which in itself is stunning – and watch the women at work using indigo dyes and weaving on looms. What followed was an interesting interview about the background of the brand and Patricia Cheesman, founder of the studio, with her daughter Lamorna Cheesman. Read on for an in-depth look at the work of these incredible artisans and the philosophy behind the brand.
Could you tell us a bit more about the motivations behind Studio Naenna?
Patricia Cheesman is the key motivator behind Studio Naenna. It was her love and passion for textiles that led her into researching the history and connecting with weavers throughout Thailand and Laos. The motivation behind Studio Naenna is having a work arrangement whereby every one involved can have a sustainable income to support themselves and their family while maintaining a low stress level for all. Working together with respect for one another is also a key.
How did the project initially emerge?
Studio Naenna was founded in 1988 by Patricia Cheesman Naenna, a renowned textile expert and author of Lao Tai Textiles: The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan, among others. Through her research Patricia built up relationships with weavers in Thailand and Laos. She was invited to be a lecturer at Chiang Mai University, and she created a base for the textile business in Chiang Mai. Patricia invited weavers to come together and form the weaving group called Weavers for The Environment.
Where are the people who make the textiles from and where do they learn their skill?
The key group of weavers are in Chomtong district, south of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. They’re mainly local people that have been in the area for generations and learned to weave cotton from their mothers and elders in the village.
Viroy Nunthapoom, our master ikat weaver, is from Surin province in northeast Thailand and learned the ikat technique from her older sister and mother when she was a child growing up in her village.
She trained our local weavers the technique of weft ikat, which is a lost technique in northern Thailand. Viroy is a very skilled weaver and helps to manage the WFE production of our textiles in the village.
Why, in your opinion, is it important to incorporate ethical production with natural materials?
Ethical production doesn’t only refer to the way people work together. To us here at Studio Naenna, ethical production also refers to the ethics you have to the environment, hence working with natural materials and having proper waste water management for the dye area.
Ethical production also includes good ethics with the customer and giving the correct information on products. The other key note is that natural materials are most comfortable to wear and are biodegradable.
How have people responded to Studio Naenna’s work? Has this changed over time?
We’ve had a constant positive response to our work and products. The market has changed over the years as fashion does. In the 1980s, bright colors were popular so natural dyes were not in demand. Clothing sets with matching skirts, tops, and jackets were also popular.
In the ’90s, the colors became more conservative and the scarf became a key item in women’s wardrobes. At the turn of the millennium, there was a call for more natural colors, environmental awareness, and now since 2010, the customers have become more conscientious and interested in work ethics and how things are made.
Do you have plans for the future of the studio?
Yes, we do have plans to encourage young people to learn to weave and provide the option of an income that is sustainable for a basic lifestyle here in the north of Thailand.
The key is to find those whom like to weave and are interested in the alternative lifestyle other than working at a desk or a machine. It’s a difficult task to have the patience and skill to weave, as young people are growing up and being stimulated by so many things in modern society.
We’ll also continue to provide information for our customers about our products and strive to provide the best product hand in hand with our ethical production.