Bangkok’s Fashion RevolutionWritten by Jane Littlefair
Veteran Thai designer Linda Charoenlab is revolutionising Thailand’s fashion industry by spearheading the green movement with her fashion label; Lalalove.
Bangkok is a fast paced city in most areas – including fashion. Better known for big name brands and mass manufacturing than it is for sustainable labels, there is, however a change afoot. One such marker can be found in Lalalove, a Thai fashion brand with a global standing and a message of responsibility at its core. Founded in 2009 by Thai designer, Linda Charoenlab, Lalalove hopes to positively impact local communities whilst empowering her street savvy consumers to think in a sustainable way for generations to come. That it’s doing so with its own popular brand of funky designs that have been sold all over the world, certainly helps.
Born and raised in Bangkok, Linda Charoenlab learnt her first commercial ropes designing t-shirts at Portobello Market and Old Spitalfields Market in London during her weekends. “I went in as an emerging designer so I had to present my product and ideas. Yes, it was a flea market, but it was very competitive and they had a whole section for designers,” she says of the experience. After a few months showcasing her talents to the public, Linda was approached by some Japanese buyers who wanted to distribute her t-shirts to Villa Cheta in Milan, Italy. And from this starting point, the emerging designer launched own brand, Lalalove. 10 years on, Lalalove is still a going concern, and one that has been stocked around the world from Bangkok to Topshop in the heart of Londond’s Oxford Circus.
Linda explains of her label’s popularity, “Lalalove is a positive brand. If something is black, then it is black with some vivid. We don’t like dark humour.” Currently featuring both luxury items and everyday wear such as bras, trousers, and shorts, it has evolved into a label with consistency and significance as well as a core fanbase of young consumers. However, as Lalalove developed and matured throughout the years, Linda also grew as an artist, broadening her aims and ambitions. No longer content to focus solely on the style elements of her business, she started looking to make a difference to her industry and her culture.
In 2017, she found what she was seeking when she was approached by the government enterprise, Pracha Rath Rak Samakki Company Limited, with the idea of creating clothing from the traditional Thai fabric ‘Pa Kao Ma’. A fabric woven by traditional communities for over 500 years, Pa Kao Ma started life as a loincloth for men who would wear the distinctive chequered and colourful designs around their waists. Before long, it became a part of local life, used for everything from clothing children to bath linens, hammocks to weapon wraps. Now, Linda was charged with spinning a new history for this material. “This was a great opportunity for me to design clothes that convey a message to the community,” she says “I quickly told the enterprise that I did not want this to be a small project, I wanted to create a collection that gives back to Thailand. This became my most important mission over anything else I have ever done.”
For two months, Linda visited villages across the north of Thailand and small communities in the south to research the process and history behind Pa Kao Ma. “After years of being a designer, this was the first time that I made a personal connection with the people making the fabrics,” says the creator. And what she found was a fabric rich in colour being handwoven in exactly the same way it had for centuries, just waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation.
Linda is adamant that this is about a lot more than one collection. “We should all be concerned about the environment no matter what we are doing – think before you use and see before you eat. At the moment, the world needs us. We should do whatever we can to help, even 0.01% is help.” For her part, along with her traditional prints and edgy designs, Lalalove will continue to sit between a mix of contemporary designs and traditional patterns whilst creating solutions to combat the issues of waste within the industry. “I would love Lalalove to keep up the positive energy and strong passion. With anything I do, I want to be able to look back and know that my materials are not harmful to the environment in any way. That is my true passion.”