s I mentioned in one of my previous Monday Postcards, I want to give you some behind the scenes insights into Pelagona. It is very important to me to share the stories of the products I choose and how I discovered them.
Last week, I headed to Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, on a scouting trip for potential products to add to the collection. I had planned to go to Chiang Mai for a while. This city is known for coffee, cultural sights, its relaxed vibe. It also has a reputation for being the Asian capital of hipsters and digital nomads. So many people had recommended to go there because Chiang Mai is also known for pottery, furniture, design and shopping in general.
A while ago, I told my friend Ankita about my plan. She immediately suggested turning it in a girls’ trip. I happily agreed to it. Before our trip, I started my research about the usual – flights and hotel. But then I also lined up meetings with ceramic factories and showrooms. As these are located in Lampang, a two-hours-drive from Chiang Mai, I booked us a driver as well. As I am fairly new to Thailand, I was glad to have Ankita with me. Not only could she help with speaking Thai but she was great at managing my expectations and teaching me the do’s and don’ts of Thai business etiquette. Before this trip, I assumed it was similar to China – which it is absolutely not.
On our first day, we explored the old city. This part of Chiang Mai is inside the remains of the former city wall. As experienced coffee snobs, our first stop was a café. Followed by a local lunch at a really small place in a side lane. We had Kao Soi – one of my favourite Thai dishes. It is a kind of curry with boiled and fried noodles. We then explored what we called the “Hipster Area” – around Nimmanahaeminda Road. I managed to find some lovely small boutiques, for examples one which sells sustainable soy candles.
Our second day was probably the most adventurous one. Our driver picked us up at 8 am to go to Lampang. My first lesson of my crash course in Thai business etiquette started immediately. “I called the first place on your list to reconfirm but they don’t know anything about you.”, he said laughing. Really? I had booked the appointment two weeks before, then reconfirmed on the Friday before our trip. I got annoyed – about the fact that nobody seemed to know about the meeting but also that he was making fun of me. But Ankita reassured that this is quite normal. It is better to call up multiple times and remind them about your appointment. I called up the company and reconfirmed the meeting – again.
We drove for about two hours. Once we left Chiang Mai all I could see was fields, the mountains and the odd sign indicating that elephants may cross the road. It reminded me of rural China – the tropical version of it.
We reached the first factory but our meeting was over after 10 minutes. This factory only worked with big partners and brands and did not produce the unique products I was looking for. I was disappointed. But the owner gave us the names of two other places, smaller studios which may be a better fit. Second lesson: Things may not work out but try to get additional information and make the most out of it.
The recommended studio turned out to be just what I was looking for. They had beautiful pottery products and a really cute showroom. Unfortunately, the sales agent had just left for Bangkok. I got the contact details and talked to her on the phone. The challenge ahead is lesson 3: catching up via email or phone is much harder than discussing things in person.
We quickly stopped by another factory which was not a good match either. But again, we managed to get details for another showroom. Our driver – by then making fun of us about our meetings for some reason – got slightly annoyed when we told him about another change in our itinerary. The place we now wanted to go was near the very first place we visited. “You could have told me in the morning that you wanted to go there.” Well, we did not know. Lesson 4: changes to a programme or routine are not well received.
Our highlight was the lunch at the local mall. We had some Pad Thai and as the only foreigners, we turned into the main attraction of the place. The lady at the food stall did not expect us to speak Thai and asked a woman in front of us to help with English. She was really surprised when she realised that we could order our food in Thai. Lesson 5: Even if people may not speak English, they really try to help you out. Just be friendly and open and you will make it work somehow.
We headed back towards Chiangmai and visited three more places. The last one turned out to probably be the best fit. I was feeling really exhausted, dirty and sweaty from walking around the showrooms. Before the trip, I was a bit nervous. I did not know what to expect. In China I would have been more confident because I know the country and ways of business very well. This was a new experience and pushed me out of my comfort zone. But I am glad I did it. We treated ourselves with a very nice dinner at David’s Kitchen in Chiang Mai. The owner greets and talks to every guest in person, the food was delicious and it reminded Ankita and me of our childhood dinners or lunches for special celebrations.
I enjoyed our last day most – we scouted for small shops again across the city, enjoyed the coffee and food and also managed to squeeze in some temple hopping. I managed to find some really cool products to add to Pelagona, the gold earrings in the picture above, are from a small atelier and will most probably become part of the collection. We also visited an initiative empowering women of the hill tribes in Northern Thailand. This initiative aims to preserve the local art of weaving which also is the only source of income for the women. I am currently trying to establish a partnership with this organisation – I think you would really like their products and they come with the benefit of supporting female artisans in the region.
I hope you enjoyed to read more about what is going on behind the scenes. Stay tuned for all the new products and have a lovely week ahead!
All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.