New heights of handmade heritage

Thae Thiri Kyaw
Contestants inthe 2014 Miss Golden Land Myanmar pageant sport showcase the subtlety of handmade dresses. (Photo – EMG)

Handcrafted products from cheap knick-knacks to couture evening gownsare back in vogue these days. The craze has lately given rise to a new breed of entrepreneurs: DIY designers.

Unlike self-taught traditional craftsmen, these designers are taking the Myanmar craft world by storm thanks to their profound skills they’ve learned from crafts workshops, vocational schools or simply how-to books. Nothing beats collections of evening gowns created by top designers for celebrities out and about at red carpet events.  

“At Dozo Fashion Design Technical School, we teach the art of crafting as a special course. Handmade is a buzz word these days. Rather than creating just simple clothing, people are interested in creating flowers and bows on their clothes. Anything handmade is time-consuming,” said designer Thet Hnin Ayebased at Dozo Fashion Design Technical School.

Handmade products have become big business too, thriving mainly on cheap raw materials costing between Ks 200 to hundreds of thousands of kyats (between US$0.20 to hundreds of dollars) and appealing to all ages and visitors, local and foreign.

“Based on materials used in creating them, prices vary. Now people of all social groups have becomemore interested in handmade accessories than beforebecause there’s a range of designs to choose from. And they can buy the ones they can afford. Most costumers are young people. They like to sport handmade bracelets and necklaces to complement their Myanmar clothing,” said Khin Mar, owner of ashop selling handmade products at Bogyoke Market.

Celebs lead the way in handmade fashion. 

“We’ve been designing dresses for Myanmar beauty queens competing in international [beauty pageants]. These frocks need to look unique while reflecting the country’s identity.Foreigners love these products. Creating them is a time-consumingprocess. Sourcing the required raw materials is sometimes difficult because they are not readily available here. It’s well worth the effort after all when I know people like my work,” said designer Ma Pont.

These days even young ladies especially university students need to consult fashion designers about what to wear with their traditional clothes. Men are slowly embracing handmade adornmentsto make a fashion statement.

“As I’m an actor, I have been consulting with [fashion] designers to design clothes for me besides wearing ready-made clothing. Sometimes the designer will create a handmade design of his or her choice [when designing clothes] for ceremonial occasions and sometimes I will consult with them and tell them what kind of design I want to wear. Handmade creations are necessary for my fashion,” said actor Nay Toe.

It doesn’t take a professional designer to create handmade accessories. Anyone can create them using materials like paper and plastic straws or even recyclable items like wine bottles, soda cans, and fish gills.