Ethical Fashion doesn't have to be boring

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What's In A Name

What's In A Name

We have been working on our new children’s line of clothing and footwear for many months. There can be a lot of bumps in the road when you are making a brand new line of products. We finally have enough little shoes and boots, dresses and pants to go ahead and present our ideas to the world. Wait, we need a name for all this adorable little stuff. We thought about using something like "Boho Babies", no we are not really making baby things and a 5 year old might just not be happy being called a baby. "Tribal Tots", hmmm, but we go up to larger sizes that are no longer tots.

DekDoi, as soon as the words came out of Amy’s mouth we both knew this was it.

When we travel to the villages in the mountains often we are there in the afternoons. This is the time the children come out to play. It is such a pleasure to watch these children and their simple methods of play. No electronics, no fancy toys or computers to occupy their time. They run, rocks and pebbles turn into games in the dirt. It’s simple, they are breathless with joy as they speed up and down the hills. Mothers chatting close by with friends while working on their latest embroidery, babies, lots of babies. It’s simple, it’s natural, it’s slow and it is pure joy to watch. Dek Doi means mountain child, it was perfect. Young, wild, free.
So we gathered up some friends, several cameras, a few small children with parents
 in tow and headed out to the country. Thank you Charlotte for living in paradise. An old teak-wood house, mountains, a lake and lots of room for kids to run. 

The children played and the photographers shot as they… well did what children do. 

A blanket, some bubbles, a guitar played by our dear friend Thon and a great day was had by all.

Introducing DekDoi
(Mountain Child)
 by Siamese Dream Design

A friendly neighbor even stopped by to see what we were up to.

A giant thank you to all of our friends who helped make this day possible. We truly love you.

Visit the Children's Shop on Siamese Dream Design to see all of the new children's styles.
 Ethnic fashion for the smaller set. 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

History In A Pair Of Boots

Vintage Hmong patchwork womens boots

History In A Pair Of Boots

All those little squares of Hmong embroidery, batik and appliqué, each with a unique story. A tale of the Hmong woman who created it long ago. Batik and embroidery skills are passed down from mother to daughter. In Hmong history most girls sewed their own clothes. The girls first learn to embroider, followed by appliqué and then batik.


Some women start with the cotton fiber grown in their own fields, spin the fiber, and weave the cloth, sometimes in intricate patterns. This is just the beginning. Natural indigo and other dye plants are grown, gathered, and prepared. The cotton is dyed in the indigo vat numerous times to create a deep, almost black, color. 

For the Hmong New Year’s celebration they still dress up in their best embroidered clothes to be seen in public with friends, and enjoy courtship games of ball tossing with boys. On New Year’s Day, a Hmong family wears their new clothes to celebrate the festivities. This is believed to bring good luck, health and prosperity.

Great time and love goes into making baby carriers and hats that act as talismans to protect the child. Embroidered symbols chosen for good health and fortune, while bells and pom-poms ward off evil. 
The Butterfly Mother is important in the creation mythology of the Hmong (Miao), so the butterfly symbols used on baby carriers hold specific importance. The legend tells that the gods created the earth and planted many maple trees. A butterfly flew from one maple tree and laid 12 eggs. One of the eggs hatched and gave birth to Jian-ian, who gave humans the ability to procreate. The butterfly is therefore the creator of all living beings bringing children good luck and health, while granting women the power of fertility.

So when I look at our Hmong patchwork boots, I will think of the women’s stories behind every one of those pieces of textile art.  


Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Genuine Hill Tribe Experience In Thailand

We are getting ready to welcome my younger sister and her daughter to Thailand for the first time. Needless to say we are excited. The planning of activities has taken me to consider my past 13 years in this beautiful, chaotic and richly diverse country. One of the things that is top of my list to show her is a real hill tribe village with real hill tribe people. Not the tourist trap make believe places that most visitors go to see with imported Chinese trinkets on sale. Not the villages showing old style life on the surface and hiding the more modern elements of their life from the tourists. A real village, one that is modernizing and still preserving their old cultural ways. A village that is learning to balance the old and the new.
There is a Hmong village high in the mountains here that grows and weaves organic hemp the old way while running an organic coffee plantation. It is located well past where most tourists venture and life there is much the same as it has been for the Hmong for decades. Yet they are running a coffee plantation and soon to open an Eco Lodge.
Mountains of northern Thailand

Hmong woman weaving

Grinding corn the traditional way
Young Hmong boy with his crossbow
Young Hmong boy with his crossbow

Putting the kettle on in the Hmong village
Putting the kettle on in the Hmong village
Growing indigo for natural dye
Growing indigo for natural dye

Young Hmong women with their embroidery
Young Hmong women with their embroidery

We should definitely take her to see the proud Akha headwoman we know. Disheartened by the scattering of her people who have moved near the city to earn money, she is creating a new village just outside the city of Chiang Mai where they can once again come together. A place for the women to sit, sew and talk like in the old days. At the same time she is creating a gathering place for their beautiful textiles old and new. A museum of sorts as well as a place for new pieces to be distributed and sold creating income while preserving these age old skills. She is the one who taught us about the old Akha symbols in their appliqué and needlework. 

Vintage Akha headman embroidered and appliqued jacket
Vintage Akha headman embroidered and appliqued jacket
Old Akha bone necklace to ward off bad spirits
Old Akha bone necklace to ward off bad spirits

Akha tribal opium knife symbols on ivory cushions / pillows
Akha tribal opium knife symbols on ivory cushions / pillows

Already on the agenda are a couple days in the mountains with our Karen friends. About a three hour journey from modern Chiang Mai we will do a little bamboo rafting, a visit with the elephants and then on to their Karen village. 
Bamboo rafting in northern Thailand
Bamboo rafting in northern Thailand

If you plan to visit elephants while you are in Thailand, please choose a responsible location that is kind to these beautiful creatures. May we suggest 


We are excited to see and talk with the Karen sisters and aunties to show my sister their traditional weaving. Our latest batch of Karen shirts has us very excited so we will be more than happy to have the opportunity to acquire more of these colorful pieces.

So we will attempt to show her a small glimpse of the eclectic sights and genuine experiences we have had the unique opportunity to experience.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Songkran Daze in Chiang Mai

Happy Songkran Everyone

It has begun. The biggest water fight in the world and we are in the center of it here in Chiang Mai, the capital of Songkran. It’s a wild festival and really needs to be seen to be believed. Massive water fights break out all across the country and it makes you feel like a kid again.

It is the Thai New Year. It’s a time for cleansing and a time for renewal. The water washes away all the bad so you can start the year fresh, clean from all that is wrong in the world. 
It’s a happy time of the year where complete strangers can dump water over each others heads and smile about it. It’s an amazing experience and the rest of the world could learn a lot from it. It’s not uncommon for people to throw water at the Police and the Police take it with a smile.  

It’s a Buddhist festival. People bring sand to the temples  in order to replace the dirt that they have carried out with feet  in the past year.The sand is shaped into little stupas— miniature sand-sculptures  which  you can view at temples during  the Songkran festival. Buddha statues are paraded through the streets in order for people to pour water over them, respectfully
 “bathing” the holy images. 

Throughout the festival, a strong emphasis is placed on renewing traditional family values by showing respect and deference to elders. This is where the practice of throwing water comes from; it began by pouring scented water on the hands of elders to show respect and ask for blessings for the new year. 

For the next 5 or 6 days Thailand will stop to play, to wash away their troubles and worries. In Chiang Mai traffic will not move, trucks will be decked out with colorful powders and paint, giant tubs and trash cans will be filled with water and blocks of ice, if you go out you will get wet. People will play like children, they will laugh and dance, there will be parades, concerts and respectful temple ceremonies, food, family, friends and Thailand will smile. 

Amy and her crew are ready to go.

Did I mention the average daily temperature right now is 107/42

Happy New Year everyone. Sawadee Bee Mai. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Karen People – pronunciation:kuh-ren

The Karen People

Mountains to the Karen are a very important part of their lives and of their history. Northern Thailand is a mountainous region inhabited by the foothills of the Himalayans, home to the largest mountain in the world, Mount Everest. The Karen people have always been closely connected to this beautiful mountainous land which sustains them.

The Karen have always been environmentally aware and because of this they have avoided farming methods which involved cutting down trees. It is said they feared the spirits so they didn't cut down the trees. This connection with nature is part of what it means to be Karen.

For many generations, the Karen people have lived in harmony with the forest. Only if teak trees reached a certain size could they be harvested. They were replanted and the logs were transported by elephants and river rafts. Forest-dwelling Karens build their houses of bamboo with some wood, perched on stilts with thatched roofs.
Many Karen who migrate to more urban areas choose career paths that involve the forest, such as trekking guides or building from bamboo. Our friend Sombat has lived in Chiang Mai for nearly 15 years and still chooses to run treks for tourists all the way back to his Karen village in the mountains. He is at home in the forest.
There are about 5 million Karen tribal members living in Myanmar (Burma). Another 300,000 Karen people are in Thailand, and thousands of others live there as refugees having fled the conflict with the Burmese military. They are said to have migrated from Yunnan China into Burma in the 8th century where they settled and continue to live in the low mountains along the Burma - Thailand border.

Karen society is a matriarchal one. Traditionally, either a boy or a girl can propose marriage. The whole village is allowed a say whether their marriage would be appropriate and not offensive to any spirits. Weddings are festive occasions when both the bride's and groom's villages come together. Unmarried girls wear simple, long white dresses called hsay mo htoo in Sgaw Karen. Once married the bride changes from her unmarried woman's long dress to a married woman's two-part outfit.

The Karen women's tunics are often elaborately embroidered with colored thread and seed-beads. The men's tunics are plain, having only fringed hems. Karen women are known for their fine cotton weaving of clothing, blankets, and bags. The weaving is usually done on a small loom set up with a strap that wraps around the waist at one end, but in some areas there are large wooden frame looms as well.

The thread is dyed sometimes with patterns producing a tie-dyed affect. Each of the many sections of this large ethnic group has its own style of dress. Our Karen friends only have to look at a piece of Karen weaving and they immediately identify where it comes from, saying “ Oh that comes from such and such area.”

The Karen also produce gorgeous etched silver jewelry, baskets, and musical instruments.

The Karens have several musical instruments of importance. The Karen drum is a symbol of the culture. It is round and made of cast bronze, often decorated with figures of frogs and elephants. Bronze drums were used among the Karen as a device to assure prosperity by inducing the spirits to bring rain, by taking the spirit of the dead into the after-life and by assembling groups including the ancestor spirits for funerals, marriages and house-entering ceremonies. The drums were used to entice the spirits of the ancestors to attend important occasions and during some rituals the drums were the seat of the spirit.

The Karens play a harp called the t'na ,
which has five or six strings and is tuned
with pegs along the neck of the instrument.
The Karen harp, only played by men,
is traditionally a courting instrument,
the player usually accompanying his singing

Music that uses the repetitive beat of metal gongs accompanies such dances as the rice-planting dance and the bamboo dance, as well as wedding processions. In the bamboo dance, sets of eight to twelve long bamboo poles are placed in a grid. Participants kneel on the ground and bang the poles together in time to the music, while dancers step in and out of the openings in the grid.
The Karens have htas, It is a form of oral poetry which are normally sung on special occasions such as weddings and funerals, the Pwo Karens also developed dong dancing, which is performed with htas set to music. Dong, or dou as it is actually pronounced in Pwo Karen, means to be in unison or in agreement. It comes from the fact that originally the dong master would write a song about someone in the village who had committed some misdeed. Hta singers would describe the person’s immoral behavior while dancers would dance to this song. If the person asked, "Who is saying these things against me?" the dong master would identify himself as the accuser. But the dancers would also join in and say, "We all agree. Given that contemporary Karen written communication only occurred in the 1800s you can see the importance or oral communication to Karen history.

The month of August marks a time of year when the bonds of tradition that bind the Karen people are tied in a symbolic but also quite literal way. In Karen families and communities around the world white threads are tied around wrists in a ceremony known as Lah Ku Kee Su.

Lah Ku means August and Kee Su describes the act of binding the wrist. Traditionally the festival takes place at the time of the August full moon

Karen elders get things going by singing a traditional song and then explaining to the community the ancient meaning of the ceremonies that follow. These ceremonies begin with prayers imploring the spirits—or K’la—to return from wherever they are roaming and to stay in the family and community circle.

The wrist-tying ceremony follows. The Karen elders wind white thread three times around the wrists of seven young unmarried couples, knotting the bracelets and breaking the thread with their fingers. Then the ceremony is repeated with the rest of the community.
The chief purpose of the festival is to reinforce Karen identity and contribute to the continuation of Karen culture.

Siamese Dream Design is repurposing beautiful Karen textiles into colorful home decor. Giant colorful floor pillows is just a start. We'll be traveling soon to some of our friends villages in the mountains for a bit of added inspiration for additional home decor items from this very beautiful Karen woven fabric.

Ethnic Karen large pink floor pillow
Funky purple and yellow ethnic Karen fringed floor pillow

Big, Bright, Fun & Funky Double Sided  
Boho Floor Pillow / Cushion Cover With Tassels.

Ethnic Karen tribal woven cotton in a great super sized floor pillow or cushion. Perfect for throwing your body on to read, watch TV or just relax. Pile them up, mix and match with other colorful pillows for a style that is uniquely yours

                               Purple and yellow Karen floor pillow