It is my pleasure to introduce you to our family of talented shoemakers: Somjai, Suphon, and their son Fluke!
Suphon got into shoemaking almost by accident when he volunteered to assist a shoemaker relative as a young man. He started with the most basic tasks and slowly learned the ropes without ever having any formal training. Suphon realised he had a natural talent and passion for the craft and soon started working full time in the shoe manufacturing industry.
He was especially attracted to a "higher end" shoe production that required a more advanced skill level and also found himself specialising in the most technical of shoemaking roles: shoe construction, or assembling the "upper" with the last, soles, and attaching the outsole and heels.
Over 30 years ago, at an industrial shoe factory in Bangkok he fell for a young upper sewer with a charming smile and a huge heart from Buriram, the northeast of Thailand. Somjai didn't actually know much about shoemaking at that point and was responsible only for sewing basic parts of the shoe "upper," but she was impressed by Suphon's skill and kind nature.
They soon started a relationship and eventually got married.
I met them when their son Fluke was already a young boy, often running around in the background of the factory where I first met the family. I was designing and managing productions for international brands back then and was already impressed by both. Somjai has proven herself as not just a skilled sewer but she also taught herself pattern-making and size grading!
Over the years, the duo managed to grow their livelihoods from low paid factory workers to launching their own atelier, focusing on higher end women's shoes, in the outskirts of Bangkok. However they usually had to work long hours and weekends as the wages in Thailand remained unspeakably low. "Unfortunately pay rates for shoemaking in Thailand hasn't changed much in 30 years," Suphon said.
As someone who has some experience in international production, I knew that their skills can rival Europe's best and that the quality of their craftsmanship isn't any less than that of many famous brands.
I made it one of my main missions for Sucette to contribute to showcasing the talent of Thai craftspeople to the world, and hopefully be able to help raise wages here so that our craftsmen and women can have a thriving livelihood...
Due to the pandemic the couple had to give up their atelier and move back to Somjai’s village in Buriram. The timing coincided with my founding of Sucette and we found ourselves having to resort to video calls and sending samples by mail.
However, I also discovered that Somjai’s sister in law and her sister were master silk makers! I decided that this was also an opportunity of another family collaboration: the silk would be made by Aunties Jan and Tuang (will do another blog post dedicated to these amazing ladies!) , the shoes by Suphon and Somjai, and their son Fluke will help me take photos and videos to document the process, as I would not be able to travel due to restrictions.
Fluke has now proven to be a young talent in his own right: he has learned the art of shoemaking from his parents, and is now studying fashion in Bangkok.
Despite the current difficulties of the pandemic, I am very optimistic that this family will persevere and eventually thrive, because they have the talent, skill, and passion.
To all my friends and clients: a sincere thank you for your support of Thai artisans! I hope Sucette will contribute in some small way to our local craftspeople being able to make a better living and to the continued relevance of traditional crafts.