Friday, March 13, 2009

Thinking big - ร้านเสื้อผ้าคุณแฝดน้องเลิ้บของอิชั้น


บางกอกโพสต์สัมภาษณ์ อ่านแล้วก็ปลื้ม ก็หวังแต่ให้ร้านของ หนุ่ยกะตู้ ขายดียิ่งๆ ขึ้นไปนะ


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Thinking big

Onuma Chaisumrej talks about why she opened a high-end boutique catering exclusively for oversized women


Published: 13/03/2009 at 12:00 AM

Newspaper section: Realtime

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She didn't want to chase after a monthly salary, and so Onuma Chaisumrej tried her hand at being an entrepreneur. The ex-secretary and her twin sister encountered problems in shopping for clothes because department stores didn't carry their sizes. Salespeople would always say to them "Mai me" (We don't have). The optimistic Onuma wanted to hear a "me" (have), leading her to establish a high-end boutique for oversized folks.

Besides apparel, the boutique offers hand-made accessories by Onuma.

ME Plus Size boutique opened its doors last December. The name 'ME' also sends a message of positive self-esteem to women that they should be proud of themselves no matter how much they weigh.

The novice entrepreneur runs the business entirely by herself, and does almost every thing from buying fabrics and accounting to customer service and modelling the designs. However, she has a professional designer and a team of dressmakers in the production part of the business.

"It's not a 200 baht mass production garment made by sao rong ngan Chantana (factory workers). We use imported fabrics and the pattern is done here in Bangkok," she says. "The pattern and fabric are then sent to skilful dressmakers, who live in provinces like Lop Buri, Khon Kaen and Maha Sarakham, for machine and hand sewing. They send me back the finished clothing and voila we have a chic collection, specifically designed for fat people."

Interestingly, the dressmakers used to work for famous boutiques in the Sukhumvit area that are now closed down. The thoughtful Onuma doesn't mind the increased transportation costs because she wants to offer quality clothing; and moreover it's an income distribution that helps rural women have a better livelihood.

Why did you become a secretary?

I didn't like school and took vocational training at the Convent of the Infant Jesus to become a secretary. It wasn't about learning by rote and the Convent of the Infant Jesus groomed us on developing a positive attitude, thinking creatively and personality for working life.

I began working at the age of 19 and over the last 20 years, I've been a job-hopper. Without job satisfaction, I moved to another company and altogether I have working experience at 22 organisations.

Perhaps because of my proficiency in the English language and my adaptability, it was easy for me to find a job as a secretary or an office manager. On the contrary, many people with a university degree have difficulty in landing a job.

There is a social value in going to university to get a bachelor's, follow by a master's and if possible a doctorate degree. Education is indeed important but having a high degree may not mean that you're good at work. I've seen young graduates who would only start off their career with the title 'manager' and they are unlikely apply for a lower position, like a clerk.

In the past, people would start from the bottom in order to reap experience and gradually step up to becoming a manager. Even though they don't have a degree from a foreign university, they know what their job is all about.

What was fun about being a secretary?

I have had the opportunity to work with executives of many nationalities: English, Australian, German, American and Thai. I had British bosses, who were very nice because they were such English gentlemen. I had a German boss, who was very strict, and it felt like being in a gas chamber whenever he was around watching over my work. Anyway, I have to thank him for making me more thorough about typing.

‘‘Women should be proud of themselves no matter how much they weigh,’’ says Onuma. Twin sisters, Atiporn and Onuma Chaisumrej modelling the boutique’s first collection. PHOTOS: ANUSORN SAKSEREE

Why did you quit being an office girl?

The life of a white-collar worker became a bore. It took me an hour to get to the office, then I spent 8 hours in front of the computer waiting to go home, which meant enduring another hour of traffic. Altogether, 10 hours of my life were gone each day in order to get a monthly salary.

I often wondered how much street vendors, selling charcoal broiled squid or meatballs, made each day. To my surprise the vendors, whom I have talked to, told me that they can make more money than me and furthermore they have more spare time and a better quality of life.

So I decided to open my own business, which would also allow me to have more time to take care of my mother.

Were you deterred by the economic recession?

Despite the unfavourable economic environment, I firmly believe that there is a potential market for high end 'plus size' apparel. Walking around Siam Paragon, I spotted my future customers. There were so many women of my size and even bigger.

If the boutique gets off the ground, I will continue being an entrepreneur. If it doesn't work out, in my early 40s I can always find a job. If I open a business at 45 and it fails, it would be harder to seek employment in my late 40s.

Do you offer XXL?

At department stores, the biggest size may be 42 but we have 5 sizes, from 42 to 50 (waist in inches). At first, we were not quite sure whether we could sell a size 5 but when we first opened the boutique clothing of size 4 and 5 were sold out before a size 2.

Finding evening gowns is also a big problem for plump people, especially when there's a wedding party coming up, let's say next week. The boutique has ready-to-wear evening gowns as well as accessories to glam up for any event. In addition, we will be working on offering more underwear, which fat people also have a problem in finding in bigger sizes.

How do you come up with the designs?

It's not about expanding the size of clothing for thin women. So we're not doing mini-skirts to show off cellulite or tight tops that would make us look like a khao tom mad (steamed sticky rice with banana wrapped in banana leaf).

The designer is an artist, who knows what women our size want because he weighs 100 kilos. He considers physical build and comfort in designing clothing for fat women who can be fashionistas in their own way. The first collection is a take on a contemporary Victorian style while the next collection will be colourful smart casual summerwear.

What is it like to be a twin?

It's a joy to be a twin because you have a true friend. We went to school together and if I got into a fight, I would always have Too on my side. We even started working in the same place, and Too was a secretary for another department. Our lifestyles are completely the opposite though in that Too is an outgoing person who likes to travel while I prefer to stay at home to pursue hobbies like cooking and handicrafts.

With the different lifestyles, why is it that you're both pretty much the same size?

The youngest of eight siblings, we were formerly nicknamed Nuch and Nid. Two of our sisters were air hostesses, who would always come back home from abroad with two suitcases, one carrying their belongings, the other biscuits, chocolates and sweets for us.

As a result, both of us started putting on weight. Because Nuch and Nid didn't sound right with the ballooning size, we were renamed Mootoo and Nui Nui.

Do you still wish to be a slimmer Nui Nui?

We were the sexy twin sisters, who liked to dress up in colourful tops and mini-skirts. At first, I desperately wanted my slender silhouette back and took slimming drugs. The treatment totally failed and the yo-yo effect had me gaining even more weight and 60 kilos became 80 kilos.

Then came the moment of truth that I couldn't be thin again. Despite the weight problem, I'm fat, healthy and strong with a normal total cholesterol level.

What would you like to do more for oversized people?

There is a trend for clothing and boutiques for fat people. Nevertheless, I still feel that we are being overlooked or considered as unhealthy people.

One day, I would like to organise an event or exhibition for the oversized so that they can network as well as find all the things they're looking for to make their lives easier.

ME Plus Size Boutique is located on the third floor, Duchess Plaza, Sukhumvit Soi 55. For more information, call 087-598-0005.


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