Deep in the remote villages of Sakon Nakhon in north east Thailand, various groups of local "grandmas" and "aunties" gather to harvest and make the indigo dye for the fashion label Philip Huang. For the last five years, the founders — Philip Huang and Chomwan Weeraworawit— have been working with the region's craftspeople to develop hand-made textiles using old-world techniques and organic fibers.
The couple is based between Bangkok and their HQ in Bushwick, a fitting setup that reflects their brand's contemporary-meets-rural ethos. For their Spring 2021 collection, they teamed up with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (known for his work on Call Me By Your Name) to create a short film called Finding Oasis that puts a spotlight on the artisans and dyeing process.
The project came about after COVID-19 put a halt to their original plans, which was to host a big Isan north eastern Thai dinner in Paris during Fashion Week. "When we couldn't do anything physical, we immediately had to address making a video," Weeraworawit tells PAPER. The resulting 12-minute video, which she describes as a visual essay, documents the brand's journey through Huang's eyes while also offering a glimpse of their collaborators and their journey.
"They live in the countryside, but that's a choice, they don't have to," she says. "I think the idea of choice, expression, the freedom to do what you want to do, or find something that you want to make, really comes through [in the film]."
Despite the pandemic's unprecedented effects, Huang says the way they approached the Spring collection didn't feel any different from how they've worked in the past, since they've always considered their interactions with the villagers a very human process.
"Essentially, when we're going to work in Isan, we're actually invited to go into their homes, and that's why we've chosen to open up a showroom and an office here," he says. "Then, when they come to Bangkok, we can invite them into our home and continue this exchange of knowledge and perceptions since we're from different worlds. We all share a commonplace, in a way."
Finding Oasis acts as a window into a world not many people are familiar with, particularly when it comes to the indigo dye process. With this film, the pair hope to shed light not only on the community aspect of Isan's dyers, but the benefits of natural dyes in your everyday wardrobe.
"We work with natural dyes, artisans, craftsmen and craftswomen, which should be very expensive, but our whole thing was never about that," Weeraworawit says. "It's about access. If more people dye with natural dyes and more people are aware of what this is, it no longer becomes a niche. I think it enables change. You know, we're not going to get rid of everything else, but at least the alternative will be more prominent and hopefully that becomes more of a thing."
Click through the gallery, below, to see the full Philip Huang Spring 2021 collection and watch the short film "Finding Oasis" above.