Having earned her stripes in Paris working for Givenchy, Chloé and Ralph Lauren, Thai fashion designer Pipatchara Kaeojinda has brought her skills home to revive a local clothing brand.
Whilst, on the face of it, Pipatchara Kaeojinda’s career looks littered with big names and large opportunities, earning her stripes in the fashion world wasn’t always easy for the 27-year-old fashion designer. Having graduated from the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco, followed by a stint at the School of Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne in Paris, she had to apply for over 30 jobs before a last minute phone call from Givenchy came in to kick start her professional life.
Today, Pipatchara is a fashion designer and influencer for Jaspal, a prominent Thai clothing brand. At the helm of their successful collections, she heads up creative for the label, one with a rich heritage she is trying to reinterpret for a new age. Here, she talks to us about what it took to get to where she is today and how competition and heroes all play their part in motivating her to do more.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about your education background?
I was raised in Bangkok and studied Fashion Design at Chulalongkorn University for a year before moving to study at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco, which really opened up my sense of perspective of the fashion industry. After 4 years there, I received a scholarship to go study in Paris at the School of Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Parisienne. However, living in Paris was not easy at all. I wasn’t local and I didn’t speak the language.
What sparked your interest in fashion? Was there a specific moment that made you realize this was the industry you wanted to be in?
I have always loved to dress up. My mum is an artist so I grew up in a house with drawings and paintings everywhere; I think she knew that I was going to be involved in the creative industry.
How was your experience at the Academy of Arts University, San Francisco?
The funny thing is that I never planned to go to the Academy of Arts University, and yet it changed everything. One day, my mum asked if I wanted to go and visit a school in San Francisco, so I said, “Why not? We’re just going to take a look.” The first day we went, it was just crazy. And, even though I wasn’t sure at that time if I wanted to get into fashion, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of the that University.
Looking back, it was the best decision I have ever made. It honestly made me who I am today. From that very first day, they encouraged me to put myself out there. They learn about who you are, where you are from and what you can do, and they pull it all out of you and support you in every single way.
What brings you back to Bangkok?
I came back to Bangkok because I got an opportunity at Jaspal. It’s a local company with over 50 years of history. Even though it is not as high-end as my former companies, I am learning here. The Thai fashion industry is a big market and I want to learn more about how that market works with lower price points. I have worked with huge fashion houses and it has always been difficult to answer the question – who is my customer? With large names, people usually just buy clothing because of the brand. So I wanted to know who my customers would be if I produced something in Thailand.
Your Native American graduate collection gained a lot of attention and won you your scholarship for one of the most prestigious fashion schools in Paris. Can you tell us more about it?
I collaborated with the knitwear designer, Emma Yang, who was one year ahead of me on my graduate show. Before we started, I came back to Thailand to buy local Thai fabrics from Muang Thong Thani which inspired me to create a collection that told a story in a native and truthful way, but I knew I also had to go further and not only focus on Thai culture. That’s when we discovered our interest in Native American designs and started experimenting with leather. I love the feeling of the material, even though it’s very difficult to sew and did not make our lives easy. Preparing the collection took a whole year, but at the end of it all, it was worth it for every single tear shed. After all, this was the show that led to my scholarship.
How would you describe your fashion style?
Handcrafted and more hands-on – printed and romantic. I don’t really go for luxury brands like Chanel. If going to buy a bag, I never buy it because of the name; I buy it because it suits me.
Where do you shop?
I shop mostly vintage. I love to go to Again and Again at Thonglor Market Place and Treasures, Thorglor’s hip new community mall. Their vintage clothes and accessories are very well made and unique. Hua Moom market at Kasetnawamin road and Rod Fai market are also cool places to go and hunt for clothes.
Who are some of your favourite local designers in Thailand?
Kem Issara is a designer I really rate. She creates a very interesting and unique style that never changes. Thai Thai in Chitlom is also a great area to go and check out all sorts of homegrown labels. It is the place I always recommend to friends who want to see how talented local Thai designers are.
What has been the most challenging part of your designing career?
Finding a job was not easy. I was in Paris for 6 months with no job and I must have applied to over 30. However, 2 weeks before I was about to leave Paris, I received a phone call from Givenchy for an interview – miracles do happen.
Can you tell us more about working with Givenchy, Chloé, Vanessa Bruno, and Ralph Lauren?
Every day was different. I gathered so much knowledge from all these famous fashion brands. Specifically, I learned about different styles, types of print and artworks. I was also able to work in different departments including the printing department and the concept-designing department. All these different experiences really helped me think things through and organise the process of designing in my head.
From a designer’s perspective, is Bangkok a good place to be based?
In Thailand there are a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs, and it is a good place if you have the patience and passion. If you have your own style, know what you want to do, know who you want to sell to and study really hard you can definitely make it. It is also a very good country to start in because you have easy access to people who can help you. There are so many places to find fabrics and people to do your sewing for you. This is definitely not something you can easily find in many other places.
Can you describe the 3 collections you have created for Jaspal?
Before I started to work for Jaspal, I told my boss that I wanted to do print. So the first collection featured animal print and flowers with a dark jungle theme.
My second collection was inspired by Paris. I just love the way everyone dresses there, and this collection marked the first time was really able to do my own thing and everything was 100% my decision. Before, when I worked at big fashion houses, that was never the case. The latest collection is more romantic because it is inspired by Thailand’s Wonderfruit Festival. I wanted to create something that you can wear to the festival – boots and a natural look.
What is it like being in this competitive industry? How do you keep up with trends?
I actually gain motivation from my competitors and I learn how to be better from them. To be in this industry, you have to be a fighter. But having competition is good, it inspires you to keep going. And I’m happy to be running with everyone else. Sometimes I win and sometimes they win. The reality is that you can’t always be in front. Otherwise, you can’t continue learning.
Which designers inspire you and why?
Definitely Stella McCartney. I love her style and how she built her brand. Her fashion is not only fashion. For me, she is an artist more than a fashionista- a person who wants to make a change. Phoebe Philo has her own unique style that everyone in the world recognises instantly. When I look at her creations, I feel like I am going to a library. And, finally, my Boss at Givenchy Courtney McWilliam is a huge source of inspiration. She is the director of the print design department and her eyes can see everything. What she taught me gave me complete freedom. She took the time to learn about me, learn my strengths and weaknesses as a person and as a designer. She made me become who I am today.