Over the past few years, the growth of Instagram shops and independent designers, business owners and creatives have grown tenfold in Thailand and beyond. The meteoric rise of social media has given way to a new wave of entrepreneurs, coupled with a new generational mindset that fulfilling work doesn’t necessarily come from climbing the corporate ladder.
We sat down with Laleewan ‘Kwan’ Komolsut, founder of Bangkok based BEACHDAZE Bag to talk about her accidental entrepreneur journey, and how local hand woven crafts can be modified to appeal to today’s globe trotting urbanites.
“BEACHDAZE is a collection of handwoven, handcrafted straw bags, sourced and produced locally here in Thailand. The bags are a modern interpretation of traditional Thai materials and handcrafts,” says Kwan.
BEACHDAZE currently has over 10 different styles, all handcrafted from female weaver communities in the North of Thailand. The bags are made from water hyacinth, a form of aquatic plant
“The benefits of water hyacinth is that it can be woven into bags, or turned into soil for animals. We wanted to be very mindful about sustainability, and the material provides both environmental and design benefits.”
“The sourcing of the material begins in Phayao province in upper Northern Thailand. I discovered a community of weavers in a village there, and they specialize in handcrafts and handwoven straw designs. Since our products are made by hand, there can be slight differences between each bag, which make these bags one-of-a-kind. says Kwan.
Whilst the handicrafts are completed in Phayao, the designs and finishings have to be done in Bangkok. After receiving the bags, the next step is to work with the designer in coming up with different fabrics and designs, as well as placing the customized names on the bags.
“Everything from leather handles to fabrics, is done in Bangkok then shipped out to customers.”
There is a significant focus on sustainability for the BEACHDAZE brand.
“For me, sustainability is really important and it goes beyond a buzzword. From the materials I source to creating sustainable income for the women who craft the bags, to being conscious of not doing 500 bulk orders of bags and just wasting it.”
These days, brands’ core values have to be at the forefront of their mission and design, this is something that customers resonate with and hold them accountable for.
The Accidental Entrepreneur
“I would call myself an accidental entrepreneur,” says Kwan. “I started the brand when I was still working full time as a Communications Manager at Ogilvy.”
More often than not, entrepreneurs never set out to be as such. Most of the time, they stumble onto an idea that works or are able to turn their interests into a business.
“The idea of selling the bags began when I had samples of what I designed delivered to my office. My boss noticed it and said, “why don’t you try selling this on Instagram?”
Not too long after, BEACHDAZE became a full time job.
“After many years working for both brands and agencies, I decided it was the right time to take the plunge.”
The gamble paid off, and BEACHDAZE managed to gain fast exposure from Instagram, with high profile celebrity customers who shared snaps of their beach holidays with the bag, and as you can imagine, it went from there.
“I could have never gotten the business off the ground without social media,” says Kwan. “Because of my PR background, promoting the product and designing the brand from the ground up was something I felt comfortable doing.”
“With social media being as important to brands as it is, competition is also very high,” says Kwan.
What social media gives, it can also take away, essentially.
We discover new brands daily, if not hourly, on the competitive platform. With Thais being so accustomed to chat and shop, it makes the discovery and commerce process all the more easier.
“You have to always be thinking on your feet,” says Kwan. “People can replicate you easily, or simply pop up as a competitor. The landscape is filled with designers and accessible shops and brands, the best thing to do is carve our your speciality and listen to customer feedback.”
Kwan herself has incorporated different feedback from customers into BEACHDAZE’s designs, from sizes to product variations. The real time, constant feedback loop is especially relevant today.
The Pandemic Impact
The ongoing pandemic means that people are less likely to travel across the country and embark on new adventures. For a brand aptly known as BEACHDAZE, with its travel connotations, sales took a hit.
“Our customers associate us with travel and beaches,” says Kwan. “When the third wave hit, people immediately stopped travelling and that impacted our domestic sales.
The brand is now pivoting to more international sales, with customers scattered across the likes of Dubai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the US.
“Now, I would say international shoppers make up 80% of total sales. Before Covid, it used to be 30%.”
International customers discovered the brand through instagram ads and word of mouth, merging the best out of both worlds.
“We actually received a lot of referrals from customers in India. One time, a customer bought our bags as gifts for a wedding, and it went on from there,” said Kwan.
The pandemic also gave Kwan an extra drive to continue to push and grow the brand.
“The landscape is very competitive, and things are put into perspective during these times. There are people who depend on BEACHDAZE for income, such as my suppliers or the community in Payao.”
Now, BEACHDAZE is in the middle of crafting new designs that may be more suited to the city.
“It’s a lot to do with communication and branding. Our name and Instagram feed represents getaways, but many of our designs can be used for grocery trips, quick coffee runs and just for exploring the neighborhood in Bangkok,” says Kwan. “It’s all about communicating with your customers.”
The Designer Landscape
“I have recently been accepted into the Designers Room program hosted by the Department of International Trade Promotion (DIPT), an incubation program where you’ll have opportunities to network, leverage international trade shows and exhibition contacts, listen to speakers and participate in workshops,” says Kwan. “After the pandemic happened, it was clear that I wanted to push myself and further grow BEACHDAZE.”
We ask Kwan about her views on Thailand’s designer landscape, and whether enough infrastructure support is given to foster fresh talent.
“For me, infrastructure support for Thai designers and creatives has not been big enough, or at least not conveyed in the right way. There is a lack of efficient programs, incubators and resources to help aspiring creatives, you have to pretty much rely on yourself,”
Despite this, Kwan remains hopeful for change.
“Personally, I feel that the next generation of Thais are very hopeful and self sufficient. In the future, there should be positive growth across different sectors, as well as for Thai fashion brands. “
What’s next for BEACHDAZE?
BEACHDAZE wants to continue doing well by doing good, essentially. The goal for BEACHDAZE is to continue making and selling sustainable bags, with a continued focus on promoting local crafts and materials.
We asked Kwan to share any advice or takeaway for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“These days, it’s important for brands to be accountable. We want BEACHDAZE to be part of a larger conversation about how to build a business. It may sound cliche, but be the small change you want to see. If you’d like to see a safer planet, then source eco-friendly materials and look for suppliers who reflect that.”
“Even international designers, such as Stella McCartney are thinking more about social impact and sustainability, it goes together with your core brand values now,” says Kwan.
We like this. Afterall, there’s not a lot you can control with how the world is run, but your brand is completely within your realm.