Susan Firestone of Siw Thai Silk, Inc.
Tell us about Siw Thai Silk.
In 2001, I founded Siw Thai Silk, Inc. (pronounced “Sue-Thai-Silk”). Operating under the philosophy of fair trade and eco-friendly manufacturing practices, the company’s mission is to create high design home furnishings and personal accessories using hand-woven silk and other natural fibers.
Siw Thai Silk, Inc. works with village artisans in Thailand to design and manufacture an elegant, eco-friendly line of handcrafted home and personal accessories by blending our modern aesthetic with time-honored weaving techniques, following fair trade practices. The home collection includes pillows, throws, tabletop, and wall hangings, all of which are hand-woven with silk, water hyacinth, and other natural fibers. The personal accessories collection includes hand-woven scarves and shawls.
Siw Thai Silk, Inc. is proud to be part of a global movement committed to environmental sustainability and fair trade practices. Founded on a socially responsible Triple Bottom Line philosophy – Planet, People and Profit – Siw Thai Silk adheres to three basic tenets:
1. Commitment to eco-friendly manufacturing and operations.
2. Respect and fair pay for all persons involved in Siw Thai Silk commerce.
3. Reasonable and fair distribution of the company’s net financial gains.
Siw Thai Silk honors Thailand’s ancient weaving traditions and support the local artisans’ goal to sustain self-sufficiency. With every Siw Thai Silk purchase, you will directly support and help to empower village women and their families in Thailand.
What inspired you to pursue this business?
The idea for Siw Thai Silk came to me while my daughter Rebecca was working in Thailand for the Ford Foundation. Rebecca had met a handsome Thai citizen named Ohng, who gave her some silk fabric woven by his mother in his village. It was love at first sight – not only for Rebecca and Ohng but also for me and Thai silk!
Coincidentally at that time, I was considering a departure from my 20-year career in corporate insurance and finance and wanted to start my own business. Rebecca suggested importing Thai silk. From there, the idea for Siw Thai Silk grew. And as for the relationship that sparked the business venture. Rebecca and Ohng are happily married, with a new baby, and Ohng is a key member of the Siw Thai Silk team, serving as product designer, merchandise coordinator, and in-house translator!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
We pay close attention to design trends in the United States as well as around the world. We like designs inspired by nature and by natural materials. We love patterns, especially Ikat, but find that Americans haven’t yet readily embraced or understood the complexities and aesthetics of this patterned silk. All our designs keep in mind the skills and traditions of the producers, who live in rural villages with little or no access to any technology. We focus primarily on decorative pillows, a great way to easily add a splash of color and design to any room. We started out working only with hand woven Thai silk and have since expanded to other natural fibers, such as water hyacinth, hemp, jute, and cotton. Other products include throws, table runners, and scarves. We make limited edition wall hangings in the United States using Ikat silks.
Tell us about a favorite home decorating or remodeling project.
I run the business out of our house. In 2001, we were remodeling parts of the house, and the architect pointed out that we could have a huge room over the garage. I thought , Aha! A great place for my new business. It’s where we store most of our products and where we work with our fabrics to get inspired.
Susan dishes on her favorite things: These photos show weaving, spinning, and sewing by the groups we work with plus a photo of Silpkorn Univ which shows how the Thais combine traditional and contemporary design and a photo of the temple in Ohng’s village.
What are your five favorite pieces of home décor from your home or elsewhere?
I’m a fickle lover of things, so it keeps changing. Right now I’m loving our new Water Hyacinth Garden Party and Waterfall collections. They’re new, exciting, great colors, nothing like we’ve done before. Besides our products, I love other natural materials, like wood, pottery, anything that’s handmade with care and creativity. One of my favorite pieces in our home is a lamp my niece’s husband Shawn made from a recycled fire extinguisher.
What’s your favorite room at home? Why is it your favorite?
My favorite room is our family room/kitchen where we usually hang out and where most guests end up. It’s brightly colored with beautiful cherry cabinets in the kitchen and, of course, lots of silk pillows on the couch. Anyone who thinks that Thai silk isn’t durable should see how well these pillows have handled cats, dogs, dirty shoes, babies, food, etc!
Who are your favorite designers?
I don’t have any favorite designers. I just love to see what everyone’s doing. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair and Architectural Digest Design Show are always great fun to see what’s new. Newer shows that are focusing on green design and fair trade are also inspirational, like the upcoming Eco Friendly Expo in May in New York. There is so much fabulous design and creativity in the green world right now that it’s almost overwhelming. I also appreciate the design skills of the weavers and artisans I work with in Thailand. Many of them show their creativity in preserving the hand crafted traditions of their region while others take those traditions and experiment with new materials or cross pollinate designs from one tradition with another. They create beautiful products with recycled materials or find ways to turn problems, like the very-invasive water hyacinth plant, into useful and stunning products.
What’s your personal design style? Has it evolved over time?
I’m inspired by the places where I travel, especially Thailand but other countries as well. But I also look to Ohng and Karen, our fabulous creative director, to bring their ideas and inspirations to our design discussions. Siw Thai Silk’s design aesthetic is transitional to contemporary with a very strong focus on natural fibers.
Many of us have a product we bought for our home-that now makes us think-"what was I thinking" - do you have one?
We product designers all tend to make mistakes with a design or color or material that we think at the time is the most fabulous thing since sliced bread but for so many reasons just doesn’t work out. That’s what the sample sales and liquidators are for!
Describe your dream room.
My dream room is my living room. It’s filled with pillows from all over the world, some we designed, some from grannies and aunties in Ohng’s village, some from friends and family who know what a textile nut I am. It also has our wonderful Steinway piano, so it’s a place of peace, beauty, and great music (depending on who’s playing the piano!).
What are your favorite blogs or home design/improvement websites?
I have to confess that I don’t spend enough time checking out blogs and websites. So much to do, so little time!
What are your favorite books, design shows and/or magazines?
I love to read so coming up with a short list is tough.
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
- Naked Olympics and Roman Holiday by Tony Perottet.
- When Everything Changed, the amazing journey of American women from 1960 to the present, by Gail Collins.
Do you have a decorating, design or remodeling tip you’d like to share with The Decorating Diva.com readers?
Pick out something you love, whether it’s already in the room, somewhere else in the house, or something you came across in your travels. Then use that piece to inspire your ideas for the rest of the room. People often tell me they have to pick out the sofa or the rug first. NO, definitely not! I designed our bedroom around a Thai triangle pillow that my daughter brought home. I loved the colors and shapes of the pillow and went from there
- Website: Siw Thai Silk
We sell wholesale to upscale boutiques and to lifestyle web stores. Email us to find local stores in your area or check us out on the following web stores: Upside Living, Kadoma Intl. We will be up on three other sites shortly, so please check Retail Locations on our website Siw Thai Silk. If you are in New York the last week of May, we will be at the Eco Friendly Expo, 7W, 7 West 34th Street, NYC, May 26 and 27.
The Decorating Diva, LLC would like to thank Susan for sharing her fascinating story and her fabulous company- a wonderful company that creates beautiful home decor accessories that are eco friendly and manufactured with Fair Trade Practices.