For Prestige’s March 2015 issue, we interviewed cover personality Eric Booth, assistant managing director of famed textile company Jim Thompson. Here are our favourite photos and excerpts.
Jim Thompson introduced the silk handicraft industry to the international arena
“[Jim Thompson] realised that, for business, you have to introduce new technology. What he did that really changed the industry was he introduced modern dyes, importing the very best dyes from Switzerland,” says Eric. Thompson introduced brighter colours, different designs, and a campaign that made bringing back a Jim Thompson silk shawl or tie practically a requirement for having visited Thailand.
At the time of its founding in 1951, originally The Thai Silk Company Ltd., he was essentially a one-man band: he was product developer, quality controller, marketer, manager, owner, and more.
The brand needs to change, says Eric
Eric admits the brand perception is “dated in Thailand”. “We have been designing for an older customer. We have a lot of loyal customers, but they’re not getting any younger. What we need to do is to become relevant again to a younger audience, not for teenagers,” he chuckles, “but we have to change the brand perception.”
Indeed, locally, Jim Thompson is regarded somewhat like a favourite, distinguished, dapper uncle – the kind whose foray into fashion-forwardness might include a pair coloured socks. Tourists adore their products, but locals are another matter.
Eric is direct: “You probably wouldn’t buy anything in there, would you?” – a rhetorical question.
They are bringing in fresh talent
“We’re bringing in new people to assist us, with good experience working with other brands and other companies. On the design side, and on the branding side also, we’ve got someone in there. We’re establishing a marketing department. Across the board we’re hiring. It’s been fun. Challenging, even, getting people to gel,” he says. Eric also gives credit to those who have been with the company through the past several decades. “We have a lot of experienced people who have dedicated their lives to this company, they started in their early 20s and are still there… It’s thanks to them that it’s been this successful.”
Thailand’s appeal is irresistible
“When you travel to the Middle East, Russia or China and you say the product is from Thailand, for them, the product is not sexy at all. But in the major cities across the world, in New York, Paris or London, actually, they’re curious, they say ‘You’re from Thailand? Let’s see your products.’ It’s no longer, ‘Products from Asia are low quality, cheap copies, full of defects.’ No, now I think the world is looking at Asia in a different way. And with a very good product, they will buy it,” he explains.
“We hope to be the first luxury Asian lifestyle brand – that is, for Asia outside of Japan,” Eric declares.
There are several challenges: some outside Jim Thompson’s control, such as macro-economic changes that have encouraged competition, but others are within its domain: forging a brand identity that captures businesses’ and designers’ imagination, not just consumer-level tourists; protecting the integrity of its brand; expanding beyond Thailand, and again leveraging its name and reputation to diversify.
“We were probably a little bit too relaxed,” Eric says. “Now we have to up our game!”
“What we have here is very authentic. We have a man who came to Thailand, and fell in love with the culture. He was trying to do something good, and that’s something his nephew, Henry Thompson, when I speak to him, that’s what he’s trying to do… It’s not ‘giving back’ because he never took anything from the Thai people,” says Eric.
Photography: Benya Hegenbarth
Styling: Jantima Smithavej
Assistant Stylist: Chanyanon Pomechat
Makeup: Suriyan Pothong
Hair Stylist: Narongsak Yiamlaengamkool
Production: Kanda Charanawat
Coordination: Krittika Bhamornbutr and Pynnita Komin
Venue: Jim Thompson House