[BrandBuffet.com Article on VT Thai]
When mentioned modern Thai design handicraft, VT Thai (วิถีไทย) will be one of the first brand name that comes to mind. Seeing the potential in Thai handmade wickerwork and its rapid growth in world market, Jirarot Pojanavaraphan (Wat) CEO of VTThai Group Co.,Ltd, decided to launch an e-commerce platform vtthai.com – an online Thai handicraft marketplace, which aims to become the world’s shopping destination of Thai handmade products.
The Hidden Gem
Wat comes up with the idea of VT Thai when he travels through Thailand for business trips. He starts to notice unique basket and weave furniture locally made in different region around the country. These high quality products were crafted by skillful artisan, but were sold at low prices due to lack of local demand, which is contrary to Western market where handcraft products are appreciated for its beautiful craftsmanship and are sold at a much higher price.
“The growth of handcraft platform in each country is the fact that big player has seen the opportunity of handcraft , handicraft of artisan such as ‘ straw bag, straw bags, seagrass bag , wicker bag , wickerwork , wicker furniture., – a separate platform dedicated for handmade one-of-a-kind product, are good indicators that there is a huge demand for craft items. Despite its ethnic beauty, proper design and branding are two very crucial components that are lacking in Thai local handcraft products. If we could fulfill these two areas we can really take Thai artisan work to another level”. Despite its ethnic beauty, proper design and branding are two very crucial components that are lacking in Thai local handcraft products. If we could fulfill these two areas we can really take Thai artisan work to another level.”
In addition to being an online marketplace for Thai handicraft, VT Thai helps to increase the value of these items by providing a story on how each of the products was made. The website highlighted on local materials such as water hyacinth, bamboo, krajood, vine, sisal, rattan, climbing fern, sedge, flex, palm leaf, palm fiber, vetiver grass, etc. each of which can only be discovered in a particular region of the country. Furthermore, the same species of plant can come in variety of colors and textures depending on the climate in which they were grown. Every village also treated the same material differently using different weaving and crafting technique creating beautiful work with unique pattern and style.
To enhance the beauty of local handicraft, VT Thai has collaborated with Thai designers to refine these local gems into a product that looks modern and stylish. At present, the brand has signed an MOU with the department of design of three universities including, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Thonburi, and Maha Sarakham University and planning to expand the list in the future.
Preserve the Tradition and Pass on the Vision
Apart from being the leading online marketplace for Thai handicraft, VT Thai also has another important mission that needs to be accomplished that is to help preserve the Thai traditional way of living and passing on the local wisdom to the next generation. It is very ironic that the new generation Thai sees these wickerwork and baskets as nothing but an old-fashioned mundane object, while in the eyes of the world they are precious work of art with classic charm.
“These traditional craft are highly valuable knowledge that many villagers across Thailand does as part of everyday living. With a bit of twist in design and the right marketing plan they can literally weave gold out of their own hands. It could be life changing for the villager, by having the world as their customer they could potentially sell an item which worth more than what they used to make in a month”
VT Thai hopes to be one of the business models that help to generate sustainable income for local family in the countryside, so that young people do not always have to find jobs in the city. This helps to preserve the traditional way of living where family members live together and enjoys each other company.
It is a race against time to turn this vision into reality as most handicraft workers are low income retired elderly. Despite its cultural and traditional value, the wickerwork does not yet generate enough income to attract the younger generation to do it. However, it could be game-changing if VT Thai could prove that they can stay home and make enough money doing what their grandparents are doing.
“In the past year, we worked with over a hundred communities in educating and providing information about VT Thai project. Twenty communities were selected as pilot community to set examples on how VT Thai can help to improve the local standard of living. If they become successful, our plan is to expand our network to other communities across the country of which 70% possess the knowledge and skill of basketry.”
The twenty pilot communities include: Klongsan basket weaving community, Udon Thani mat weaving group, Baan Oi hyacinth handicraft group, Ratchaburi Wickerwork Community, Baan Talad Mai Vocational Training Center in Ang Thong province, etc. These pilot communities are divided into two main groups. The first group produces made-to-order basketry and wickerwork and the second group focuses on creating materials and parts, which will be transformed into other product such as handbags, shoes, phone cases, and also home furniture.
Another point that differentiates VT Thai from other e-commerce platform is that it reaches out to local people; creating a win-win situation where local community gets direct benefit from joining the website and the customer is guarantees to get an authentically made handcraft item.
The Target Market
The target customers for VT Thai are foreigners traveling to Thailand especially tourists from Europe, United State, China, and Japan. The brand has recently started focusing on Japanese market, by doing blogger review, online ads through Google AdWords, and launch VT Thai Japan Facebook fanpage. Towards the end of the year, VT Thai is planning on expanding to China Market by promoting the brand via social media platforms such as Weibo, Wechat, and Youku, which are Chinese version of Facebook, Line, and YouTube.
For Europe and US market, VT Thai has promoted the product by doing consignment with different websites as well as promoting the goods through popular social media channel such as Facebook and instagram. Additionally, the brand also co-promotes products with various bloggers and influencers – the customer received 10% discount when buying the product with a promotional code assigned to each blogger, and the blogger receives 15% cut of the purchase. The brand also runs number of promotions with popular hotel, resort, spa, and mobile phone network company as a way to increase the brand awareness to foreign customer.
“VT Thai opens up opportunity for all craftsmen and artisans around Thailand. Community with existing local brand can sign up on the website and receive our assistance in product marketing and logistic service. We take product pictures and write a story on how each item was made, which also get translated in to three different languages. Our brand partner enjoys all these services while paying only 20% operational fee. Additionally, we also have a design team to help community develop stronger handicraft products. We are currently in an experimental phase – looking at product potential as well as doing market research. The ultimate goal is to find the right model that works for us and the local community.”
A Sustainable Future
VT Thai also plan on donating parts of its profit to communities in need by providing them with work tools and essential living equipment such as drying oven and water filter system starting towards the end of this year (2017).
VT Thai is a perfect example of a new generation brand that tries to make Thai tradition and culture becomes renown in the world market. With many opportunities ahead, there are also many obstacles that needed to be overcome. The biggest challenge is to find the right balance that will allow locals to work more effectively to keep up with the market pace, while not disrupting their traditional way of living.