Thailand may still be catching up with the rest of the world in certain aspects, but when it comes to the advancement of women entrepreneurs in society, the country has proven itself to be a leader in Asia. Three years ago, a HSBC study revealed that up to 40 per cent of the leading entrepreneurs in Asia were women, many of them from Thailand. In fact, the country’s effort to support women and promote equality really kicked into high gear when it ratified the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985. (By comparison, Switzerland’s ratification of the convention took place 12 years later). Ranked 93 on the UNDP’s human development in gender equality index, in 1932 Thailand became one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote (again, Switzerland only did so in 1971).
In light of the surge in female-owned businesses and women CEOs in Thailand—and in celebration of International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8—we speak to four prominent Thai lady entrepreneurs about their experiences and accomplishments. Patcharapimol Youngprapakorn, Wasna Lathouras, Somruedee Chaimongkol and Khunying Natthika Angubolkul are all flag-bearers for aspiring businesswomen across the country.
It comes as no surprise that the world of fashion is filled with women. That said, success isn’t always guaranteed, particularly for those starting their own brand from scratch. One lady who knows all about these challenges is Patcharapimol Youngprapakorn, founder of S’uvimol bags, synonymous with Thailand’s premium leather goods. The daughter of Uthai Youngprapakorn, owner of the Samut Prakan crocodile farm and zoo, Patcharapimol saw an opportunity to create something she could call her own. “Our family has been exporting quality crocodile skin to numerous internationally renowned high-end brands for decades,” she says. “About seven years ago, I had the idea to create my own bags and combine my keen interest in fashion and our pre-existing expertise in exotic leather,” she says.
Without any prior experience in bag design and production, Patcharapimol admits the S’uvimol journey was initially paved with bumps. “Of course we made mistakes in the beginning but we also learned from them. My main focus was on procuring quality craftsmen and on creating appealing designs. It took a lot of trial and error to find the right people to ensure quality. But then I wanted to get it right. When I do something, it has to be done well. My goal was always to produce pieces that were the equal of anything made by the big European fashion houses.”
Relying on her understanding of exotic leather, Patcharapimol was able to create a luxury brand that is today known for its unique fine craftsmanship. The company also prides itself on offering products made not only of crocodile skin but also python, ostrich and rabbit. While globally there has been a significant rise in the no-exotic-leather movement, the Middle East and China continue to be lucrative markets for such artisanal products.
Today the S’uvimol brand, which also produces items for men and has a new clothing line, boasts five outlets in Thailand and four overseas—in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. “Qatar has recently approached us about opening a store there too,” says the entrepreneur, who has her finger on the pulse when it comes to the expansion of the brand, financial planning, design and production. What her experience has taught her is that woman or man, perseverance is key to success and one’s gender shouldn’t prevent one from achieving it. “Dream big and go for it,” she says. “Follow your heart and don’t stop until you reach your goal.”
Continue reading: She Runs The Board (Part 2): Wasna Lathouras, CEO of Naraya