Weaving Local Threads: How A Myanmar Designer Built Her Brand, Art Che Lone

By Lwin Mar Htun 19 March 2020

A young, local Myanmar designer named Hnin Nu Nu Aye, known as Char Tate, has fulfilled her childhood dream of owning her own homegrown, ready-to-wear fashion brand. “Art Che Lone,” meaning “Cotton Spool,” produces trendy and casual women’s clothing made entirely from cotton.

“I’m a big fan of cotton clothing because the weather in our country is always hot and cotton itself is so simple, cool and fashionable. It’s lightweight and most of the clothing is loose-fitting, so it’s good to wear and perfect for the country—that’s why I choose cotton,” explained Char Tate to The Irrawaddy. Char Tate wears her own cotton clothes, with curly hair, brown skin and small tattoos on her hands.

“Most of the cotton clothes in Myanmar are imported from Thailand and China, and most of them are really expensive. Normal people like me can’t afford to wear them,” she added. “But actually, cotton can be sourced from our own country, so why can’t we make our own brands? That’s why I wanted to make fashionable, locally-made cotton clothes at a reasonable price for local women.”

Char Tate founded Art Che Lone at the end of 2018. Before Art Che Lone, she was working as a restaurant manager.

“One day I started thinking about whether being a restaurant manager was my dream job or not. Was I happy? The answer was no. Then I remembered my childhood dream that I told my dad about—that I want to become a fashion designer and own my own brand,” Char Tate recalled.

Drawing has been a hobby of hers since she was young—she used to draw fashion designs for fun.

Art Che Lone, the locally-made, homegrown brand by Char Tate. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

“I went to illustration class first, then I attended the design and sewing class with designer Lazing Gam Htoi. From the beginning, my purpose in attending those classes was so clear—it was to start my own brand,” she said.

Char Tate has her own meaning behind the name Art Che Lone.

“Before the clothes—blouse, dress, skirt or any type of clothes—they’re just a cotton spool [art che lone, in Burmese]. My brand wants to be dedicated to more local customers, so I wanted to give it a Myanmar name which is meaningful and easy to remember as a brand. I chose Art Che Lone [cotton spool],” said Char Tate.

She first started Art Che Lone as a custom-made brand, advertised only online through its Facebook page.

“Actually, my goal was to open a ready-to-wear clothing shop but I didn’t have enough money to start, so I started with custom-made clothes and saved the money,” she said.

During that first stage, Art Che Lone’s customers consisted of Char Tate’s friends, relatives and friends of friends.

“When I got a little money, I ordered some cotton and released one ready-to-wear design, announced on the Facebook page,” she said. “I started my business slowly and step-by-step.”

When she released the first design, customers could order by size—small, medium, large, extra-large—but her stock was limited. If a customer asked for a size that was out of stock, they could still order it and wait for a couple days.

Women’s blouses, casual dresses and skirts hanging at Art Che Lone. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

At first, Art Che Lone was operating out of Char Tate’s apartment, with a few employees in a single room. Now, after over a year, Art Che Lone has developed a base of regular customers and opened a storefront, at No. 145, 1st Floor, upper Bogalay Zay Road in Yangon.

Many of Art Che Lone’s ready-to-wear clothes are trendy, but not sexy—they’re colorful and simple. Some designs are suited for office wear and some are casual, and Art Che Lone is popular among young women.

“I can’t put much creativity into the design because it’s supposed to be ready-to-wear. I need to study the trends and what’s popular among girls,” said Char Tate. “But I’m so happy that my small brand is growing slowly and I’m happy to see when girls wear my designs. It makes me stronger and builds motivation to keep going.”

Working with cotton can be challenging and has some risks

“I can get cotton supplies from China or Thailand, but I don’t want to invest my money outside the country. I work with local suppliers but the problem is that stocks are limited. Another problem is that cotton naturally shrinks after washing and the colors will eventually fade. But my customers understand that this is natural and the price is very reasonable, so I’m lucky,” she said.

Char Tate says she will always stick to cotton, ordering from cotton local weavers around Inle Lake.

Art Che Lone is mainly focused on women’s clothing, but Char Tate doesn’t want to waste the scrap cuttings that are left after making clothes, so she makes handkerchiefs and bags in order to reduce waste and help the environment.

“Actually, it’s not easy—it’s more detailed and some sewers don’t want to work on those products. At first, I was just making those items for myself, to use in my home, but some friends and customers like those bags and other people like them too,” Char Tate said.

Items like bags and accessories by other locally-made brands are also sold at Art Che Lone. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

Many other small, designer-owned brands are emerging day by day and business is competitive, but Char Tate said she will continue to focus on her work.

“[The trend] is good, because customers can choose between many items and local cotton weavers can get more income, but I’m always careful about the designs, to make sure they aren’t too similar to other brands,” she said.

Art Che Lone has blouses, casual dresses, skirts and bags, with prices starting from 7,000 kyats (US$4.90) and accepts orders through Facebook. The Art Che Lone shop also carries products from other local small business, like recycled bags, handmade accessories and natural soap. With the summer starting, Art Che Lone has a lot of loose-fitting and lightweight cotton designs for the summer—check their shop and Facebook page for more.

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