In Thailand, “souvenir” pants with elephant motifs are fashionable among locals

Known throughout Southeast Asia, these baggy cotton pants, printed with elephant motifs, were once associated with backpackers traveling on a budget.

In search of culture”authentic“, foreigners adopted it when the region opened up to Mass tourismin the 1970s and 1980s, researchers estimate.

“It is no longer just a souvenir that tourists take home, Thais can use it too“, says Dalintan Promphinit, known by the nickname “MoRich” on TikTok. “This piece of clothing is amazing”continues the 19-year-old influencer, followed by more than two million subscribers eager for his fashion advice.

The young man helped make elephant print pants, available in all colors, trendy, as iconic for foreign visitors looking for souvenirs as they are kitsch for others.

Today, fashionable Thais no longer hesitate to combine it with luxury accessories, branded bags or designer glasses. This piece of “soft power”with light fabric adapted to the heat of the day Thailand, is sold for around 150 baht (3 euros) on the market. But limited editions are now sold at higher prices.

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Up to 30%

IN IMAGES, IN PHOTOS Heading to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand

Northern Thailand is home to one of the main factories, where rolls of fabric imported from China are measured, cut and sewn.

“These pants are causing a sensation in Thailand”said Kingkarn Samon, director of the site, near Chiang Mai, which employs about a hundred people and produces between 1,000 and 2,000 items a day.

Orders for elephant prints – including shirts, dresses and even bags – have increased by 30% since the end of the pandemic, with pants accounting for 85% of sales.

However, his company is just a small cog in Thailand’s textile industry, which represents around 3% of GDP.

In the capital’s large Chatuchak market BangkokKnown for its unbeatable prices that attract tourists from all over the world, Onnitsa Kuren, 32, says she already owns three.

“Elephant print pants go with everything. Just pair them with a t-shirt”explains the young woman, looking for a red top.

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“The latest discovery of rich young Thais”

According to Kanjana Thepboriruk, a Thai professor at an American university, pants are not really Thai in the minds of the kingdom’s subjects.

“Elephant pants are the latest discovery for wealthy young Thais and aspiring middle class people to align their identity with that of Westerners”she believes.

High-end retailers quickly realized this.

In a luxury shopping center in the capital, the Bangkok Tales brand offers its version for more than 1,000 baht (25 euros).

“When people think of elephant pants, they think they’re really cheap. I want them to look like Versace clothes.”explains its founder, Rawiwan Worasinsiri.

It initially targeted tourists, but the pandemic changed its business model, with Thais making up the shortfall. “Surprise”she attributes her success to TikTok.

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