The move from Bangkok to the tranquil mountains of northern Thailand happened four years. But despite having a large garden and orchard to tend, and an English husband as a constant companion, Rakdaow soon found it hard to adjust to the slow pace of full-on retirement.
“It just wasn’t for me,” explained this attractive and bubbly Thai lady. “I just had to get involved in something else.”
That ‘something else’ came along not long after when Rakdaow, during her frequent travel in the North, attended the Akha hilltribe’s famous annual Swing Festival. She was captivated by the unique cultures of the varied ethnic peoples living in Chiang Rai and the extraordinary beauty of their traditional textiles and clothing. The vivid colours and complex designs of garments made by the Akha and other hill tribe people captured her imagination and she realized the commercial potential of their universal appeal. Rakdaow had found a project to keep her busy.
“I have been fortunate to have one Akha woman I first met on that day at the Swing Festival as friend, and now partner, in finding traditional Akha fabrics and clothes and repurposing or repairing these so that they can actually be worn or used. It turns out she is a skilled seamstress with a great sense of design,” she says.
It was time for Rakdaow to launch her project. Setting it up as a small community-based IG (Instagram) business, she called it ‘doihugdao’, combining the northern word for mountain (doi) with her own name as it tends to be said in the northern dialect. Its objectives combine the business of selling Akha and other ethnic groups’ traditional fabrics, clothes and antiques to a worldwide audience with charity, helping villagers involved in the trade and other less fortunate poorer members of villages.
“The aim is to support the unique local cultures of the diverse ethnic peoples living in Chiang Rai province, especially those of the Akha hill tribe and the Thai Lue lowland peoples.
“The Doihugdao IG project was created out of a personal passion for locally crafted traditional ethnic products from Chiang Rai's diverse cultures and a desire to preserve, encourage and promote these to help instill local pride,” explains Rakdaow, a fluent English speaker who holds a Master’s degree in Communications Development from Ohio University.
“We are not pure charity,” she says of her business, adding: “Under a separate umbrella, we undertake projects for needy causes in the North. For example, we have supported remote hill tribe villages by providing lunches for children and donating necessities for the poorest households. This has been particularly important during the Covid-19 period, when schools have been closed and these kids have not been getting their usual free school lunch while their parents go off to the fields, leaving them to fend for themselves.
“Because suffocating smog caused by uncontrolled forest fires also remains a major problem in the north, we have also supported both professional forest fire fighting Rangers and village-based volunteers with essential equipment such as leaf blowers, gloves, fire resistant boots, masks, hammocks and life insurance.”
Since its launch, ‘doihugdao’ and its products have delighted customers across the world with smart clothes and accessories which are as suitable for the office as the mountains of northern Thailand. The site also strives to educate its audience about the culture and practices of the hill tribes and other ethnic groups of Chiang Rai.
“I consider myself a lucky person to have had a great deal of support from my husband and friends such as Fon Windsor Clive whose beautiful photography has done much to accentuate the innate beauty of the products themselves.”