Seeker x Retriever: Honouring the handcrafts of Thailand
Staying connected to her homeland, Nan Tohch started her label with the desire to maintain a local legacy.
When I first came across label Seeker x Retriever I was instantly taken by their classic, gender-neutral tailoring and considered design. I asked some questions of Nan Tohch, Co-Founder and Creative Director, to find out more.
How did the idea for Seeker x Retriever come about?
We started the brand because we felt like there was a gap in the market for classic silhouettes that are also consciously crafted. Working in fashion journalism in Thailand for a while, I began to grow tired of seeing so many fast-fashion brands and short-lived trends, I just wanted to take control and change the pace by having my own brand.
Why was Thailand the best choice to produce Seeker x Retriever? Can you tell us about the artisans you work with and how you came into contact?
My mother is from Northern Thailand, and before she passed away I never actually paid attention to how many beautiful things are made in that region. I wanted to produce here to support my mother’s local community and in a sense, continue her legacy.
You have selected to work with natural dyes and hand-loomed cotton. Can you tell us about these techniques and why these materials are the best to work with?
We believe that handwoven cotton is the most versatile of fabric—it will stand the test of time and last. That in itself reduces waste, which makes up part of our approach to sustainability. The natural plant dyes we use are only what’s available in the season, so the artisans never have to go out of their way to grow anything else. We also work in small batch production, which is the best way to ensure we never waste materials and have left over stock.
Since your designs are gender neutral and season-less, what is your design process like? What are some of the challenges you face?
Before we design anything, we like to collaborate with our artisans first. The artisans are a small weaving collective living in small villages in Northern Thailand, where each member of the group can specialise in a unique technique. The group we work with I found during a visit to the region after my mother had passed away, and I was intrigued by their technique of using the natural hot spring there as a finishing touch to the process. This unique technique made the fabric softer and the colour to come out richer. We now have a working relationship with them where we show them our design ideas and what we’re trying to do, and in turn they share with us what they’re currently working on at the moment at their headquarters.
We don’t make impossible demands for difficult colours or order in large quantities that would go to waste. The fabric gets made one small batch at a time (no more than 30 meters) and shipped to Bangkok to our tailor who makes the patterns, cuts and also customises orders when necessary.
As for the process of designing itself, we take inspirations from classic pieces—let’s say a classic white shirt—and add a certain function that we think might be useful for modern creative minds, such as oversized pockets or a hidden chest pocket for a passport. As for being focused on genderless garments, I think it has grown to become more of wanting to produce a line of basic building blocks that gives people choice, so they can really create the best version of themselves no matter what age or sexual orientation they might be.
What is your approach to ethical and sustainable practice, and how do you manage to keep this consistent within your business?
It is important to us to run our business ethically and sustainably because it is the right thing to do. Fashion is a hugely polluting industry and we feel that as designers we should contribute to the right practice. For example, producing clothes in Thailand factories generally means production quantities are huge and workers get treated poorly—they are only getting paid for how many pieces they make in a day (usually less than AU$2!). At Seeker x Retriever, we don’t produce our items in factories nor do we under pay our tailor. We pay our tailor in Bangkok more than a minimum wage per day and on top of that a price per piece as well. We’d like to think of the relationship as on going partnership more than anything.
Our materials also play a big part, as all our fabrics are handwoven in small batches at a time. The colours are all from plant based dyes such as indigo and native Takian leaves, and for our latest collection, mango leaves, which we’re super excited about.
Where do you go, look, or turn to for inspiration?
I studied film in college, so of course a lot of classics and experimental film inspire me. We’re also really big in taking inspiration from interior design and architecture. Anything art really can become a great source of inspiration!
What is your hope for the future of fashion?
That there will be more opportunities for sustainable fashion in the mainstream media, and that everyone will appreciate slow, handcrafted items again.
What’s next for Seeker x Retriever?
We are hoping to expand our line into lifestyle products. Toward the end of the year, we plan to add summer essential items and things such as beach towels, handwoven slides made from Thai’s water hyacinth, or even perfume oil to Seeker’s range!