How did Lalalove start? We read on you blog that it all started in London, at the Portobello Road Market.
Do you wanna have the real real story, or made up story to make it sound good?
The real one!
There are two stories – one is the good one and one is the real one. The real one starts from [the moment of my] study at LCF. I was studying styling and photography and actually, I really wanted to be a stylist. At the time I worked in a Thai restaurant. Like everyone in London, you needed to work part-time to pay the rent… or to do whatever.
When I worked in a Thai restaurant, it wasn’t related to what I wanted to do at all, and it wasn’t really bringing me anything. I managed to get a job at Gucci during the period I was studying styling and photography. After that, when I graduated, I worked in Moschino in visual merchandise. I didn’t want to do that, however it was related to my subject, but I thought it was better than doing anything else. I still wanted to be a stylist, so I did lots of test shoots and I worked as an intern at Dazed and Confused. But it was all for free, you didn’t get paid. I did lookbooks for Maria Francesca Pepe, Gareth Pugh…but we never got paid…
Such big people and they don’t have money…
Really big people and they don’t get that I need to work in the shop to earn something. I was like ‘Hey, what I earn is not enough, after I pay the rent, I struggle a lot!’ So I was thinking what can I do to have more time, to do styling, to earn money… I am not a designer, but I thought I could maybe design a t-shirt. I sent a file to Bangkok, so they could do a silk screen print for me on a tshirt, and they sent it back here, to London. That was the beginning of my career as a designer. I didn’t really consider myself a designer, because I felt I was a stylist, but I thought I could do it as a hobby. I tried to get a store in Portobello Market, but it was really difficult to get one because they have a system there, similar to one in the mafia… You need to pay cash to the people; you need to wait in the queue. I pretended to be a really innocent Thai girl…and I got the stall! I started to sell there regularly, but it was so tough! I didn’t sell the t-shirts for cheap. I designed the prints myself so I charged about £20 for a t-shirt. After some time, I also opened a stall in the Spitalfields Market. I worked every Saturday and Sunday and it was really hard. People of the new generation don’t understand how hard it is… They think everything so easy. You don’t have any money, you have two big suitcases you have to get on the bus, then wait in the queue for your stall, and you might get the stall on the day or not…you don’t even know. It just turns out at the spot. You just have to wait for the decision because you are new.
So how did it all evolve into more than selling at the stall?
After some time I had Japanese buyers come to buy in Portobello in wholesale. I didn’t even know what wholesale was. It was a learning process. After a year, a distributor from Italy came across my stall. They wanted to resell my t-shirts. I didn’t know much about it but I was lucky – I was able to turn to my friends. In the end, my t-shirts were selling at a department store in Italy for about €80 each! So I quit Moschino because I had enough money to do styling for free.
So how did that all work out after you quit Moschino?
It was good! I did a lot of styling and eventually I got an offer to be a fashion editor for Wallpaper Magazine, Thai edition. I did that also for Dazed & Confused Japan, everything was going okay.
Then I had a baby, Lulu. After I gave birth, it was difficult because I didn’t have my family to be with me all the time. My husband’s family came to see us
once or twice a week but it was different to the Thai culture – Asian family helps you a lot with taking care of the baby. I couldn’t do styling because I had to take care of Lulu, so my family suggested moving back to Thailand for a while. My family really supports my career and so I decided to move back for a while. It meant I could do collections and hire people to help me so I can also do styling. In the meantime my family helps me with taking care of Lulu whilst my husband, Mark, who is a musician, goes back and forth every 6 weeks between England and Bangkok.
So how did it all move on since you returned to Bangkok?
At the beginning it was just ok. But then lots of things started to happen – working as a stylist, billboards for departments stores, magazines. Then Topshop noticed Lalalove and we were selling in Topshop in London’s Oxford Street for three years. We don’t do it anymore though. It’s too much going on here! I now have a Lalalove store in Siam Paragon Shopping Centre.
So that’s how Lalalove was born! Did you have to change your audience when you moved to Bangkok? In the UK the fashions are different than here.
Actually, I never compromise with my style at all. In Siam Center, mainly tourists buy my things, Chinese or European. But actually I don’t care. If Thai people don’t buy it, I don’t give a damn, I’m not going to pretend to sell lace or pastels. I would get so bored.
You don’t need to compromise! It seems like there is a whole new audience for you now! What are you inspirations? Lalalove looks so colourful, and full of life.
I really love positive things. Actually I love nature and I love animals. I love flowers. I Really want to be positive and colourful because at the moment the world is stressful enough. I don’t want to be bothered with all that shit! I want to be nice and colourful, and make people smile. This is my brand.
Can you tell us about the Pa Kao Ma Collection? I love that it is inspired by the Thai culture. You use original Thai fabrics produced in rural areas. Can you tell us some more about that?
Yes! The government contacted me. They do collaborations with high fashion Thai brands, but usually with the very traditional ones. And they asked me to collaborate with them, I don’t know what on earth they were thinking!
But you agreed, and it all worked out! What was it all about?
Deep in my heart I really like nature, so I want to be sustainable. But this project was supposed to be just for the fashion show. In Thailand we have artists and designers, who collaborate just for the fashion shows and then the projects are over. I really disagree with it, because it’s such a waste of time. When I got the collaboration offer, I started to research why Thai people don’t buy traditional Thai silk anymore. Why does the new generation not wear it? What’s the problem?
The government pays the designers money to do the fashion show and then it’s all in press and that’s it. And then what, they promise to the village to buy Thai silk, they give them money once but do they ever buy more? Do they buy every month? The villagers really hope to improve their situation and if they get paid only once it doesn’t really keep the Thai economy growing.
I expressed my opinion and tried to talk to them, but because it’s their idea I couldn’t say much to change it. We were almost finished with the collection for the fashion show and then the next day the King passed away…I then got a call from the government that the project will be cancelled. I told them ‘why cancel’? They already spent a lot of money and I made the collection.
They said we can’t go on with the fashion show because the King passed away. I tried to prove them that this is not what the King would want. He wouldn’t want them to spend all this money for nothing. I suggested spending the rest of the money not on the fashion show but on doing a look book, PR and spreading the word, because we worked very hard on making this combination of sustainable Thai fabric and quirky street wear… We went to the village by ourselves to talk to the people, who make the fabric, who yarn. They only do it part-time because it doesn’t bring them enough money. So they work as farmers the rest of the time. However, if we ordered every month or two, this could become their full-time career. So I said to the government ‘If you want to cancel, I will still charge you 100%.’
Did the fashion week happen?
No, the fashion week didn’t happen but it’s actually good because I could use the money to do a really nice look book and towards the trade show abroad, not just in Thailand. We’re going to Japan for Tokyo Fashion Week.
I think the more Thai people can see our collection showcased abroad, the more they will consider it cool and will go back to support it. If we got Pa Kao Ma to sell in a store abroad, people in Thailand would want to wear it themselves. They would be inspired by the fashion abroad – Paris, London, Berlin, wherever. So getting Pa Kao Ma there would help the young Thai generation to see that this is not fucked up, this is cool and you can wear it!
I am not religious and I don’t go to temples, but this is what I can do for my country. I love my country and this is what I can do, being myself.
Change the world in your own way!
Exactly, in my own way. There are 1000 villages in Thailand, I am the only brand, who started to work with them. I cannot use fabrics from all the 1000 villages but if you’re a new designer, don’t fly to Paris to see ‘the best world’. Go to Chiang Rai first. See what they have. Economy will grow! Thai people need to be together to help each other. Not just think ‘Paris is fucking cool’. No!
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement is happiness. I don’t need lots of money. The happiness comes from people wearing my clothes and using them to express themselves. And another thing is having more time with my daughter.
So when you see someone walking on the street wearing your clothes, what do you do?
I run and hug them, and say: ‘Thank you, thank you! OMG thank you! Can I take a picture with you!’. I am so over the moon. I think I will be like this forever.
What has been the biggest difficulty on your journey?
Dealing with people! Always people!
How do you deal with the people who are on different wavelength than you in the fashion world?
I try to close my eyes. If the money is not good to deal with, I don’t deal with it. No time for drama. It’s good though, because in my industry I have my good friends. We see a lot people, who are really selfish in fashion, and in other fields. They’ve got to survive, but don’t do too much. Everyone wants to be rich and take advantage so much. But you need to be a role model!
What about sustainability? Last time we met, you said you’re working on your collection to be sustainable. Were you always sustainable?
We’re sustainable in like 70%, which is good as this is the first collection. I did my best, but I think we’ll improve with every collection. A couple percent more with each one. In my factory, I check myself what they do. It’s not sweat & tears. That’s why the price is not cheap. It’s not unreachable though. If someone asks me why [something from Lalalove] is not 100 baht…the fabric is 400 baht, plus shipping to Bangkok, plus my work, plus pay for people sewing, plus I need to pay VAT. I can’t say that though…so, I just smile. I say that to myself. On the outside I am smiling, but I’m thinking ‘Just fuck off’.
We found the older generation of Thais to be very traditional and conservative so when we first saw your stuff, we thought ‘Wow, that’s different!’ Where do you think the fashion industry in Thailand is at?
I think Thailand can do very well. I think that Thailand is actually the best of South East Asia already. But the price point is… We are in the middle, which is such a shame. We are between H&M & Zara and Gucci & Louis Vuitton.
People see us because we are doing so much hard work, and they do think it’s good, yet they choose to buy H&M. Or they choose to buy Zara. Let’s say in Zara the dress is about 3000 baht, the dress from a Thai designer is 8000 baht. But, if they are to spend 8000, they prefer to buy something from Paris, which is 16,000 baht. They appreciate the name, or the tag ‘made in Paris’.
What has made you successful? What makes a good designer? Why do you think you are at the point you are at now?
I think because I have my positive attitude and I don’t give up. I keep going and try to find my happiness. I’m not going to do something that makes me unhappy, because I don’t just want a number in the bank. I can go on a cheap holiday! I don’t need to be in luxury all the time…just sometimes I need it, haha!
How do you imagine LaLaLove’s future?
I don’t need to be a too big of a company. I want to know everyone and be close to everyone in my brand. And talk, and drink and have dinner with everyone, who works with me. I want everyone to be happy.
Photography – Hanna Puskarz
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