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Thailand: Innovative Craft and Design #1

Thailand: Innovative Craft and Design #1 © British Council

© British Council

26 August 2014
by João Guarantani

Carol Sinclair, from Cultural Enterprise Office, reports on her recent visit to Thailand working on a British Council programme to support local craft and design practitioners developing their businesses.

I have just returned from delivering the first part of a two-part training course
in Thailand, working with craftspeople and designers seeking to develop their
businesses and expand their markets. As a business adviser and trainer for Cultural Enterprise Office, based in Glasgow, I work with creative practitioners across Scotland to help them kick start or develop their ideas and businesses. Together with my colleague Fiona Pilgrim, Professional Development Manager, I have been working with the British Council to develop our methods of delivering business support to Thai creative businesses, and our recent trip to Bangkok was the first chance to see if our methods would transfer into a different business culture. I am delighted to report that the programme was a great success.

The Thai partner for this project is SACICT (Support Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand), who gave us a very warm welcome with a grand opening ceremony, complete with speeches and the Thai press. Pimpapan Chanslip, Director of SACICT and Chris Taylor Gibson, Director of British Council Thailand, talked with great enthusiasm about the project.

Twenty craft and design businesses from all over Thailand were selected to take
part in this project after an open call which attracted over 60 applications. Participants were selected on the basis of the quality of their products and high levels of craftsmanship, as well as the scope for them to share their learning with their communities. One of our participants is the representative of a community of 840 weavers spread across a number of villages, and many Thai craftspeople are part of much bigger networks of specialist production. Craft is an integral and important aspect of Thai culture and our aim in this project is to support sustainability in both urban and rural communities of practice.

In developing the training and support for the participants we were keen to apply an enabling approach, offering tools and models to give a new perspective on their individual business and circumstance. We also wanted to encourage participants to share their knowledge and considerable experience with one another, thus giving the training a local context and relevance. This was a new way of learning for the participants and the first exercise, when we asked everyone to draw their customers, was initially met with surprise and even shock. But our participants were very open-minded, trusted us to support and help them and fully immersed themselves in these new ways of working. In fact, they had an enormous amount of fun - we all did - and it is really important to acknowledge the energy and commitment that every single participant gave to the workshops.

The week-long workshop, which took place in Bangkok in August, is the first part of the three stage support programme. The first workshop introduced tools and exercises to the participants and gave them time to try them out and share their immediate responses and insights. 

Included in the training programme were a number of Thai experts who brought their own individual experience and knowledge to the discussions on marketing, especially through telling an engaging story about the work and its origins. Artist Charinee Artachinda shared examples of her own highly effective story telling and offered the participants practical tips, and then she and design critic Wuttinun Jinsirivanich gave the participants feedback on how they tell their own stories. Boonchai Sukuriyayothin of Creative Agency Choojai talked about the practicalities of building a brand, while
Nadhawan Tanyongmas, Deputy Head of The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, generously shared her approach to product development as a curator and buyer for the museum shop. Many thanks to all of our speakers whose expertise added depth, colour and context to our programme.

The second workshop will take place in September in Chiang Mai and in preparation participants have been asked to research the new markets they hope to cultivate. They have been asked to apply the new tools and processes to their market research and when we meet again we will share their experiences in order to identify how this new thinking might be fully embedded into their business practice. We will also explore how the participants will themselves become trainers, as they share the new methods with their communities. The third part of the programme will be a six-month mentoring programme that will give individual participants the tailored support they need to keep up the momentum of their business development.

There is a lot of interesting and varied work still to be done within this programme and with the first stage being so well received we are really looking forward to getting back to Thailand and meeting up with the participants again. Especially to find out what the impact has been on their product development and readiness for new markets.

British Council Project