The Arts

Jakkai’s Jackets

Animal embroidery keeps communities afloat

Making good use of his COVID-19 downtime is prominent contemporary textile artist Jakkai Siributr. For Jakkai, there has never been any question what he would do with his life, since his fascination for textiles and embroidery has been evident since childhood.  He is known for his meticulous handmade tapestries that are commentaries on religious, social and political issues of the times.

Most recently he has been creating bespoke embroidered jackets for his friends in a project he named “Phayao-a-Porter” to benefit the artisans of Phayao province. The jackets are intricately embroidered, mostly with images of the client’s beloved pets on the back. They are definitely one-of-a-kind statement pieces that are considered wearable art. 

More importantly, they also benefit artisans who have suffered economically during the pandemic by giving them some temporary employment for their craft. Jakkai donates 30% from the sales of each jacket back to the community as scholarships, welfare and emergency funds. After creating 11 bespoke jackets, he has been able to raise just over 50,700 baht, with 5,000 baht going to 10 most deserving families. And with still no end to the pandemic in sight, Jakkai plans to keep the project going for a while.

We asked Jakkai about this project.

How did the idea for this project come about? And what is the objective?

I have been buying second-hand jackets (Japanese denim, French workwear and military jackets from different sources on Instagram for a while and started to upcycle them by putting my own designs - embroidery and beading. I received a lot of positive feedback from family and friends asking if I could make some for them too.

So when I had an opportunity to visit a former student who now runs a social enterprise clothing business in Phayao two years ago, I was hoping to find someone to produce these jackets through her network of craftswomen but just never round got to it because of commitments with my regular studio work. 

Then COVID hit and her business was greatly affected and many of her artisans became temporarily unemployed. The same situation also happened with my full time assistants because many of the exhibitions we were preparing for either got postponed or canceled. So came the idea for the Phayao-a-Porter project in which I could find something for my studio assistants to do and also help out the skilled women of Phayao by giving them temporary employment, and giving 30% from the sales of each jacket back to the community as scholarships, healthcare and emergency funds. The project was launched in January this year.

How do you come up with the designs for each jacket? 

I wanted this project to be a personal project on many levels that’s why each jacket is personalized according to the client’s wishes. At least the first 10 pieces that we’ve created so far carried the theme of remembrance for their beloved pets (based on my own jackets that memorialized my beloved dogs). I discuss with the client what kind of technique, materials and designs they would like on their jackets. Most importantly I emphasize that they should upcycle an old forgotten jacket instead of buying new pieces specifically for the project. 

How long does it take to create each jacket? 

Usually no more than one month but it depends mostly on the details and difficulty of the designs.

What materials are used?

Glass beads, plastic beads and threads.

How much is each jacket? And can you do other clothing items too?

I want to keep the price affordable so that the money can go to the community quicker. So far we’ve only worked on jackets. But other clothing items are possible if the materials are suitable. 

Not long ago you were invited by the Thai Embassy in Mozambique to be its artist in residence, working with ethnic communities to create art works. What did you gain from this? Do you have any plans for more international collaboration? 

A community project like this just gives me joy.  It’s more fulfilling than anything I’ve ever done when I see everyone involved - the makers, the client and the community happy. I feel fortunate that I am able to use my art practice to contribute to society in my own personal way.

What art project are you working on now? 

Apart from the Phayao-a-Porter project, I am currently working on a project called “There’s No Place...” - a long-term participatory, call and response, project exploring identity, belonging and “home” through embroidery to raise awareness of the protracted refugee situations in Thailand such as the Shan refugees of the Kuong Jor Refugee Camp in Chiang Mai whom I’ve been working closely with for the past two years.

When are you planning your next exhibition and where will it be?

There are a few group exhibitions planned here and there in Australia this year and the US next year.

For inquiries on his jackets, head over to @jakkai on Instagram.