From a little moment of naiveness and encouragement in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment to a Thailand-based jewellery brand that is gaining followers all over the world. Pattaraphan encapsulates a unique perception of jewellery, which is the result of combining its founder’s way of thinking and roots together. Being true to the idea that “jewellery should feel good on your skin” and that “it should be a natural extension of yourself”, Pattaraphan Salirathavibhaga creates unisex pieces committed to preserving Thai heritage. 
After overcoming some initial challenges as a new brand, Pattaraphan has consolidated itself as an emerging brand through a working method consisting of handmade pieces, limited quantities and incorporating the experience of Thai handicrafts, which is true to the founder’s responsible and ethical philosophy, something that has allowed the brand to grow. An example of this growth is today’s launch of the Tusk collection, which honours Thailand’s national animal through the simplicity of elephant tusks and which, in addition, contributes to a good cause: the brand donates a percentage of the sales to the Save Elephant Foundation. Today we speak with Pattaraphan about solidarity, Thai culture and making dreams come true.
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Pattaraphan is a Thailand-based jewellery brand that has been committed to preserving Thai heritage through unisex and very contemporary designs. But how did it all start? What goals and motivations did you have in mind when you created the brand?
The idea to build my own brand started in my living room in my Brooklyn apartment. My then-roommate and I were in our senior year of college and we were just discussing our life and future. I told her that it might sound crazy but I feel like I’m ready to turn all of these ideas I have in school into a brand. I remember her response: why not just start? What have you got to lose? You can do it. That tiny moment of naiveness and encouragement really sparked everything. From that moment on, I’ve been putting everything I have into making this dream happen.
Also, I am a very expressive person. Thus, my initial goal for the brand was for it to be an expression of myself, my stories, and my experiences. It was not a grand dream. I just felt like I had something to say and wanted to do it through the medium that I love. Although this dream is still very much alive, as it became the core of the brand, it has evolved into something a bit more. I see how we’re changing the market in Thailand by introducing unseen shapes and producing jewellery that is a cross between fashion, art and fine jewellery. And I’m looking forward to seeing how we can break more boundaries in Thailand, but also, simultaneously, taking this brand that is so unapologetically Thai in its DNA to international markets.
When you decided to undertake a project of this magnitude, did you ever think it was a decision too risky?
When I was starting off, I was quite naive and so it didn’t feel like a risk. Now, it feels riskier putting so much of myself into the brand and also trying to improve and evolve with every collection. I get anxious a lot, but that anxiety gets erased by the excitement I have every day for the brand. There are so many things, so many designs, and so many projects I’d like to achieve. The only way to make them happen is by going after them and completing all the tasks. This mentality really takes up all of my time and it also shuts down a lot of negative energy.
Now that you can see it in perspective, which would you say were the biggest challenges you had to face as a new brand?
As a new brand, I’d say one of the biggest challenges was knowing where to start and what the right next step was. But with time, you learn and pick up the pieces and start being comfortable with uncertainties. Even if now it is riskier each day to experiment as the brand grows, it is still important to leave room to try and accept imperfections and failures. This is because I have learned that failing and solving problems are part of growth.
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Nowadays, you have a very definite working formula: handmade pieces, limited quantities, incorporating the experience of Thai handicrafts… Is this way of working a good reflection of the brand’s values? Can you tell us a little more about Pattaraphan’s philosophy?
I’ve always had conflicting feelings about my name. Since names are given to us by our parents, they often feel like they are not really ours. Yet, they define so much of our identity. I personally hated telling people what my name meant – a girl with beautiful skin. It sounded uncool. Eventually, I became more at peace with my name. Thus, I decided to name the brand and create the brand’s philosophy after my first name. Doing so was also a chance for me to redefine my relationship with it.
Luckily, the meaning of ‘Pattaraphan’ [Pat-ta-ra-pun] does reflect how I perceive and create jewellery. Pattaraphan encapsulates my perception of jewellery, which is that jewellery should feel good on your skin and that it should be a natural extension of yourself. More importantly, putting a traditional Thai name on a contemporary jewellery line contextualizes how deeply rooted the brand is in our Thai heritage – blurring the lines between the old and the new.
Coming from a background of fine arts and jewellery-making, I have a deep respect for the art and the way things are made. Handmade pieces in limited quantities by Thai artisans – I couldn’t imagine my jewellery line being produced any other way. Although I am no longer making my own one-off pieces, I want my jewellery to still have that feeling of the maker’s hands. Working with independent small factories in Thailand, I am able to connect with the factory owners and the makers. We’re in constant communication. We solve production and design issues together. They give me the level of care and craftsmanship that I look for.
In turn, I at least initially give them a few headaches asking them to make jewellery that resembles bones and soda tabs. This concept of making jewellery inspired from such things was difficult for them to grasp but it is now something they embrace and want to experiment with. It is a nice exchange of ideas, and this shared passion for jewellery-making is very important to me. Our process and production really reflect the brand’s values and DNA.
You decided to create gender-neutral pieces, something that, nowadays, a lot of brands are trying to incorporate. From your point of view, is the future of jewellery genderless? How would you like the future of jewellery to look like?
It’s exciting to see how different people wear jewellery now. I believe that the lines definitely will be more blurred and blurred. Even now that I have gender-neutral pieces, I sometimes mistakenly think certain pieces would suit a certain gender – for instance, I thought men wouldn’t gravitate towards a certain piece, but they do. And I love being wrong about who would respond the most to each piece and it inspires me to create pieces that will suit all my consumers no matter the gender. So, I do hope and see that the jewellery industry is evolving with our customers and deliver what they look for.
Pattaraphan has now a very special launch, the Tusk collection, which honours Thailand’s national animal through the simplicity of elephant tusks. How did the idea of this collection emerge?
The Tusk collection developed from one single piece, the Tusk Earring. I designed this piece in 2015 but it wasn’t until 2019 that I produced it. It draws inspiration directly from the elephant tusk and also mimics the shape of the Thai number one (‘๑’). This year, I wanted to develop the same concept further and turn it into a full collection.
Elephants are our national animals, they used to be so essential to our lives – from battles to religious symbols. Their current fate is far from the glorious days in the past. So, I wanted to use my own interpretation of this magnificent animal and create edgy minimalist jewellery as a way to raise awareness about the elephants’ increasingly vulnerability and tragic reality.
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What does it have in common and how it differs from your previous collections?
The collection is different from previous collections because Tusk explores a new concept that is more overtly inspired by Thai culture. Past collections’ designs have been subtler in their connection to Thai cultures. However, Tusk collection is still very much about taking inspiration directly from a not-so-beautiful story into precious objects that are easy to wear.
With this release, the brand donates 10% of sales for the month to the Save Elephant Foundation. Why is that?
Eleven years ago, I first visited the first elephant sanctuary called Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai with my school. The sanctuary’s founder is also a founder of the Save Elephant Foundation. But this wasn’t my first experience with elephants as they used to be allowed to roam the streets of Bangkok to beg for food with their owners when I was young. However, this was the first time I discovered how I could help Thai elephants.
During my visit, I got to learn about the foundation’s projects by spending one day with rescued elephants – in the river and on land. Although it seemed like a normal school trip, its impact lasted until now. Since then, I’ve always wanted to find a way for my brand to contribute. Thus, when I was creating the Tusk collection, this idea was always there. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the forest fires still raging in the north of Thailand, the organization needs our support more than ever. I am really grateful that my personal belief and my new collection found a way to each together.
The Tusk collection is another proof that Pattaraphan is inspired by everything around, relying on intimate personal stories, but how is the process of materializing those stories and ideas into jewellery pieces? What process do you enjoy the most?
I’d have an idea or a form in mind and I’ll just sketch and sketch and sketch until something feels right. Then, I’ll develop it into a more detailed drawing and take it to my vendor. We’ll discuss how we can make it possible and it usually does not work out until we produce the first silver sample. I’ll try all pieces on to make sure that every single one fits correctly. My designs are customized from start to finish, and it takes a lot of time to ensure that a new sample would stay on the body nicely and beautifully.
Sometimes, a design I have in mind will turn into something completely new because of the way the piece sits on the body. I always enjoy letting the actual objects guide the way. The process can be time-consuming, but playing with an actual object and figuring out the best way to make it work on me and my friends’ bodies is my favourite part. These steps are repeated for each design of the collection.
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Thai handicrafts, Save Elephant Foundation, committed to preserving Thai heritage… It looks like you are really committed to Thailand so, to know a little more about the country, what’s your vision of it? How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know it?
There are so many layers to Thailand. We have so much culture, heritage, and openness. A lot of things are changing in Thailand due to globalization, but to me, Thailand means warmth, kindness and gratitude. These things are really reflected in our daily lives. In fact, I always get comments from friends who have visited Thailand that they have met some of the kindest people in their lives here. You will really feel this when you are here.
Beyond this commitment to Thai culture, why do you believe the consumer chooses Pattaraphan? What do you think makes your jewellery unique?
From concept to design and development to production, there is thoughtfulness and sincerity in every stage. But also, what is the most unique about Pattaraphan is how the brand is based on my personal experiences. These experiences lead me to often turn overlooked items or concepts into something beautiful and precious. Even the most classic pieces from our collections are intentional and meaningful to me.
Also, although we try to respond to our customers’ needs and wants for every new jewellery, we never chase trends. We make and create something because we truly believe in the idea and the design. Because ideas behind each piece are authentic to me, I think this authenticity really comes through for my customers and sets our jewellery apart.
From now on – although the Covid-19 situation is not the ideal context to make any plans –, what do you have in mind for your brand? After the launch of Tusk collection, which is the next move?
Like everyone else, I am focusing on carrying the brand through this challenging time. However, we are very fortunate to still be at a place where we can move forward with more projects. We released limited-edition deadstock pearl necklaces that sold out at the beginning of the year, and we have quite a few sold-out designs that I want to continue in different versions. So, in addition to a capsule collection for the end of the year, as soon as I can, I’d like to source more deadstock pearls or other interesting materials to work with.
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