#5: Happy In: visiting Panmai Group

When we visit Panmai Group, we get a bit farther off the track; their office is located so it's convenient for their members rather than their customers. From Bangkok it's a train, then a bus and finally a songtheow to get there. [A songteow is a pickup truck fitted with 2 bench seats and a roof. It serves as a shared taxi and usually has an established route in areas too marginal to have bus routes.] This year we shared the songteow with 30 other passengers, mostly young teenagers travelling back to their villages on a Friday late afternoon.

The weather was fine and the roads were paved so it was all good, if a little crowded. At our destination, we checked into "The Happy In" (sic): a 'no-tell mo-tel' where clients' vehicles are discreetly parked behind hot pink curtains, rooms are equipped with large horizontal mirrors and condoms are free. We're told that it's also the only accommodation in town that has hot water showers and air conditioners. We appreciate the hot water and laugh about the rest, as do the locals when they ask us where we're staying.

The best part of the story, however, is the fact that Panmai seems to be doing better every time we visit them. Or perhaps the best part is the incredible colours that the group's members are able to achieve when they dye their village-raised, organic silk with local barks and other plant stuffs.

Regardless, the 2 days we spent with their 3 staff women were very productive. We chose more than 100 beautiful silk scarves in nature's rich shades of magenta and burnt orange, cedar and salmon, indigo and ebony. We also created and assembled 3 palettes of our popular silk squares (275 pieces!) including 2 new mudmee patterns -- one in a frosted cherry and one in a spray of spring leaves. (You'll have to wait to see these new palettes in person, but we'll have them on our website in April.)

We also discussed world economic trends with the office staff; all of us strategizing about sustaining our businesses in this time of economic downturns. They told us how important their export customers are for them and explained their new pricing structure that discounts domestic sales to remain competitive. We assured them that we were OK with the price differential that results in approximately 15% higher prices for their foreign customers, pricing more in line with what the weavers think they really should be receiving for their work.

We, in turn, explained that we could choose slightly narrower and/or shorter scarves, sizes which are actually well suited to our customers' tastes, and thereby maintain a lower price per item despite the double whammy of the Canadian's dollar's decline and the economic downturn.

By the end of the 2nd day, after much sticky rice and really spicy papaya salad, and after much translating, laughing and productive labour, we saw our box of treasures go off to the post office, said our goodbyes andf got onto the next bus, headed east-southeast to Ubon.

We left with the good feeling that TAMMACHAT, along with Panmai, will likely find a way through these economic troubles: not by squeezing our suppliers but by finding fair ways to keep prices in line with our customers' means.

Pop gan mai (Until next time),

Pii Plaa (aka Alleson)