Clothes to Coffee, via the TropicsWritten by Chanya P
Determined to drive her fashion brand forward and bring back traditional Thai desserts, Thongyoy Phaesuwan has created a cafe that brings together all her favourite influences.
Having more than one career can be a scary prospect for some entrepreneurs, but for 32-year-old Thai fashion designer and influencer Thongyoy Phaesuwan, the daring decision to branch out has allowed her to build her brand forward in a different industry. Here, she tells us how she approached the transition with a positive attitude, and why a tropical, Thai style cafe is just what her neighbourhood needed.
After nine years in the fashion industry running her well-established clothing brand alongside operating three photography studios, Thongyoy Phaesuwan felt the need for a change. “My fashion business was doing great and I was happy, but it was time to step out of my comfort zone and do something new that I was passionate about.” Initially, Thongyoy cafe was meant to be a small corner cafe situated in her fourth clothing showroom and based in her hometown of Bangkok. But it soon took on a life of its own. “Over time, everything kind of got out of hand,” she explains. “I wanted it all to be perfect, so I invested a lot.”
Joined by her sister and a friend, Thongyoy transformed her clothing showroom into a cafe that fuses her passion for fashion, her admiration of Thai culture and her dream vacation in Madagascar in an uncommon blend of traditional Thai fare, modern accents and a fun, tropical vibe. Its decor is inspired by her clothing brand, “the flowers on the walls reflect my own brand’s prints. Plus, the character of my label is very casual, hence the cafe is designed as if you are on holiday. I always wanted to go to either Mexico or Madagascar, and I am sure you can sense that as soon as you walk through the doors.”
The Thai piece of the puzzle stems from her lifelong passion for local treats. “Thai desserts, in my opinion, are undervalued because they are cheap. But specialty cafes across Thailand should not become something of a rarity.” With this mindset, Thongyoy bucks Bangkok’s trend of Western-style coffee shops in favour of one where Thai traditional desserts are the highlight. “I did my research,” she says. “I’ve literally searched everywhere in Bangkok and tasted all kinds of Thai desserts. I then selected the best of the best, and brought the most local and authentic tastes to Thongyoy cafe for my customers. Many of the desserts here have recipes that have been passed down over generations.”
It’s been just two months since it opened, and it seems like the plan is working as Thongyoy cafe continues to attract quite the crowd. Not only is its offering unique, but there is a democratic heart that beats strongly at its centre, and it is this, too, that Thongyoy’s customers are responding to. The small, open air hub was built to make sure that it was accessible to everyone including pedestrians, motorbike taxis, taxi drivers and street vendors. Its menu is also fairly priced, running from 75 THB – 150 THB, making it as affordable as possible for her varied crowd. “Every product and service has been developed to appeal to everyone in the same way that my clothing brand produces clothes for every gender and every age. 50 – 60 year olds rock my clothes!” Thongyoy explains of her motivation.
Thongyoy’s cafe is another new face in Ari’s recent cultural shift. The whole district is enjoying something of a moment, as boutiques and restaurants pop up to cater to its increasingly cool and creative community. “I was born and raised here. It’s great to see how the area has developed and become more lively. It definitely brings people out of their shell and encourages them to become more creative,” she says of the buzz happening on her doorstep. She plans to take that buzz further afield, setting her sights on other cities in Thailand as well as Qatar, Oman and Dubai, all places that already stock her fashion brand. Given her unique blend of influences, it’s sure they won’t have seen anything like Thongyoy Cafe before, and therein probably lies her best chance of success.