Sanitpim Ekachai Makes A Return To Fashion Design With 'Sontalay'
Sanitpim Ekachai’s journey in the world of fashion is well documented. She began professional life as an air stewardess flying with Thai Airways but maintained a passion for couture and managed to find the time between flights to establish her own label, Gina. By the time she was 35 she had quit the airline to dedicate time to her children and her brand. By 40 she switched focus to designing tailored uniforms and set up PR agency Pimplus, for which is better known. Now 60, Sanitpim, or Gina, is making a return to fashion with the debut of her line of luxury leisure apparel.
“We launched a few months back and really Professor Covid was the catalyst,” she says with a wry grin. The lockdown and work-from-home conditions, plus the tribulations of main customer Thai Airways have hit her uniform business particularly hard. “Life everywhere has become suddenly tough with people losing their jobs, their sources of income. My own team of tailors had no work so I knew I had to find a way to help them. I went looking in our warehouse and discovered all these bolts and rolls of cloth I’d bought during my flight crew days and for years afterwards. We would eventually use these to create a new line.”
Getting the brand—called Sontalay—to take off mirrored her experience with the Gina label while working at Thai Airways, when during lay-overs around the world she would indulge her passion for fashion. “I would visit clothing stores, fabric shops and bazaars and buy bolts of fabric to bring back home. Some I used for Gina collections but most were still stored in the warehouse.”
She says she was initially unsure if she could do anything with the fabrics and so decided to design a piece for herself to wear first. “It was a hit and people were asking me where I’d bought it and once they knew they wanted me to design more. It developed very much like the earlier label had,” Gina laughs. Once again the inspiration for Sontalay’s designs came from the themes she loved while travelling. But how did she arrive at the name Sontalay? “It derives from my mother, a well-known journalist. Her pen name was Sontalay. Son stands for pine and talay is the sea or beach. Eighty years ago she planted a pine tree at our beach house. It has grown so big and is still standing tall and proud and beautiful. It just seemed a fitting name for the brand.”
In the few short months since the launch of Sontalay, Gina has accomplished what she originally set out to do. She says, “First priority was to help my employees get through tough times. When we started we all worked from home but we are slowly returning to the office again and there is a buzz about the place. I’m so pleased that a team that has been together for 30 years is still together and doing good work.” She also acknowledges from experience that the hard work has only just begun. While Sontalay’s inaugural collection doesn’t have a name, it is themed on nature with fauna and flora motifs and Gina is already busy designing the next set of apparel. “We’re thinking big and we want to take Sontalay global. Online first, aiming at China and then the rest of the world,” she grins. “Like that pine tree, I’ll work until I’m 80 to make sure it happens.”
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