BANGKOK — Aside from the public markets, one place I do not fail to visit when I get here is the Jim Thompson shop, not so much to buy but to get inspired, or tantalized, by the real possibilities of how an Asian brand built on Asian resources can succeed on the global front.
Jim Thompson is the upscale brand of Thailand’s local products. Starting with hand-woven silk fabrics, it moved on to bags and clothing, and paper products like cards and books and maps, and now, it has designer teas and nuts, rice crispies and dried fruits. It is one success story for brand marketing, especially for local communities; it should inspire countries and cities about the power of one creative spirit in their communities and how it can become a major marketing plank.
Jim Thompson was an American credited for reviving Thailand’s silk industry. Also called The Silk King, he brought this hand-woven product to the world, building a brand that is thoroughly Thai but decidedly global. Thompson disappeared in the 60s in the jungles of Thailand and his body was never found, a fact that has only added mystery to his story. One legend has it that he must have been devoured by lions.
Aside from the brand, Thompson is “survived” by his mansion which he had painstakingly built from six old Thai house. It is now a museum, attracting a never-ending stream of tourists.
JT clothes have a silken feel to them that is exclusively Thompson and along with its scarves and other clothing, can very well stand along with the world’s expensive brands. The JT Café on the side of its shop serves traditional Thai food tweaked for the global tastes: slightly spicy cashew nuts; Tom Yam flavored peanuts, dried sweet tomatoes, fresh sprouts and edible flowers.
Amid these local products that have been successfully developed for the world comes the inevitable and exciting conclusion: this could very well be done in Negros and Bacolod, what with our fertile field of art and culture.
Of our contemporary artists, right off, I can think of two names whose works and style could very well serve as anchor for what could be a local name brand we can develop for global marketing: Charlie Co and Doods Campos.
Undoubtedly one of the leading lights if not the leading light himself of the art movement in Negros, Co has shown a flexibility that makes his visual visions inspirations for other products. For example, his Chinaman character that is the central image for a series of paintings have already been produced as limited edition toys. The designer Jeannie Goulbourn has also produced an entire line of barong tagalogs inspired by the colors and look of Co’s works.
Campos, on the other hand, is one of the rising stars of the local art scene, having produced an already respectable body of work that, quite not surprisingly, include hand-painted shoes and playfully-irreverent t-shirts “made in Bacolod Shitty” some of which are “Bastos much!” But like Co’s, his distinctive style and colors hold plenty of promise for critical collaboration, like perhaps shawls and scarves, polo shirts and throw pillows.
Don’t laugh but the world’s biggest houseware brands if you examine them closely are backed by the most creative minds. It would do Bacolod well if it produces local brands for the world and the most feasible way to that is through our artists like Co and Campos.
I’m sure Jim Thompson wouldn’t mind the competition.*