Myan­mar de­sign­ers put twist on lo­cal fash­ion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By CAROLINE HEN­SHAW in Yan­gon in­ngyi

With Myan­mar emerg­ing as a man­u­fac­tur­ing hub for mass-pro­duced clothes, a crop of young de­sign­ers are us­ing home-grown fash­ion to pre­serve the coun­try’s sar­to­rial her­itage.

In­side her bou­tique in down­town Yan­gon, Py­one Thet Thet Kyaw crafts her own de­signs us­ing tra­di­tional pat­terns and fab­rics, many from eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups, to make A-line skirts, dresses and tops.

On an­other she adds the high-col­lared neck­line of the

— a tight top usu­ally worn by Myan­mar women along with a fit­ted, sarong-like skirt — to a flirty pleated dress.

“We Burmese re­ally care about our eth­nic and tra­di­tional clothes,” she says in the shop, over the whir of sewing ma­chines.

“When you mod­ern­ize the tra­di­tional pat­terned clothes you have to be care­ful they’re not too flashy — or too mod­ern.”

Myan­mar is fiercely proud of its tra­di­tional clothes, which were largely pro­tected from the in­flux of ho­moge­nous West­ern fash­ion now ubiq­ui­tous across South­east Asia.

De­signer Ma Pont says she was not al­lowed to show even a flash of shoul­der or armpit when she used to make clothes for TV chan­nels in the 1990s.

But while many still pre­fer tra­di­tional clothes, espe­cially the sarong-like longyi worn by both men and women, fash­ions are start­ing to change.

Shop­ping malls aimed at Yan­gon’s grow­ing mid­dle class are sprout­ing up around the city, while on its fringes fac­to­ries are churn­ing out clothes for in­ter­na­tional brands.

It is a flip-side of the in­dus­try which bou­tique de­signer Py­one Thet Thet Kyaw has seen first-hand.

As a teenager she spent months in gar­ment fac­to­ries on the out­skirts of the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal.

The ex­pe­ri­ence made her de­ter­mined to open her own bou­tique and train young women in the art of clothes­mak­ing.

Myan­mar is swiftly be­com­ing a new hub for mas­sive gar­ment fac­to­ries mak­ing cheap clothes for fash­ion gi­ants like H&M and Pri­mark.

Ex­ports more than dou­bled to $1.65 bil­lion last fi­nan­cial year, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, and are ex­pected to surge after the United States lifted its sanctions in Oc­to­ber.

But while the sec­tor is help­ing to drive rapid eco­nomic growth, crit­ics say few ben­e­fits are trick­ling down to work­ers.

Mean­while, other lo­cal de­sign­ers, like Mo Hom, are work­ing to save Myan­mar’s cen­turies-old tra­di­tional fab­ric in­dus­try from the in­flux of cheap im­ported clothes.

Her bou­tique in Yan­gon is filled with color­ful de­signs in cot­ton and silks sourced from Chin and Shan states, where they can take months to weave by hand us­ing tra­di­tional wooden looms.

Many are dyed with nat­u­ral sub­stances such as green tea and straw­ber­ries to give sub­tle col­ors, which she mixes with tra­di­tional eth­nic pat­terns and sil­hou­ettes.

“Lo­cal mills are ac­tu­ally dy­ing be­cause there is no mar­ket de­mand any more,” says Mo Hom, who trained and worked as a de­signer in New York be­fore mov­ing back to Myan­mar in 2012.

“A lot of the mills are ac­tu­ally clos­ing down.”

YE AUNG THU /AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mod­els present tra­di­tion­ally in­spired de­signs at the Myan­mar women’s tra­di­tional cul­ture and dress­ing style show at the Na­tional Theater in Yan­gon.

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