Relocating from her native Thailand in the early 1990s to pursue a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Texas in San Antonio, Titima Chantabhakdi met and married Roy Schwaerzel, a Doctoral Computer Science student from Germany.
The relationship expanded not only her personal life, but her business skills set, as well - from marketing and management to computer programming. With a third business partner, Titima and Roy launched what has grown to be one of San Antonio's most successful web development companies. The three also own and operate a tourism-focused website that helps promote one of the area's most important industries.
With that success firmly in place, Titima set aside her programming responsibilities and set about expanding her entrepreneurial spirit, while strengthening her social services connection to her home country. (The latter had been evident as a teenager, when she spent vacations and breaks traveling as a volunteer to villages to teach the children.) In 2003, Titima and her sister, Grace (who still lives in Thailand) created The Best of Thailand, an export company that focuses on women's accessories made by hand in their native country. Knowing that the economic needs were significant for women in villages who were skilled in beautiful and intricate embroidery, beading, and painting, Titima next created a contemporary clothing line in early 2005. She named it to represent the spirit of these women and the style statement the clothes make: Sassy Thai.
Sassy Thai is best known for jeans outfits with detailed hand craftsmanship and comfortable fits. The resulting lines of fashion have become very popular at resort and elegant venues in the United States, Europe, and South Africa. Sassy Thai is currently retailed at more than 300 upscale boutiques. In its second year of operation, 2006, its sales exceeded $1.6 million.
However, what needs to be noted is that the profit margin of Sassy Thai is very narrow; of every dollar between sixty to seventy cents goes to the individual workers who create the garments. The reason is simple: the goal of the company is to stabilize the economic base for the women of Thailand's villages. The consistent flow of work is a generator for their financial status, as well as for their related physical and mental well-being.
Also, to note, the cost of producing each Sassy Thai garment is four to five times more expensive than it would be if the methods of the huge manufacturing operations in other Asian counties were utilized. Instead of a centralized factory and machine approach, each Sassy Thai garment features a unique combination of handcraftsmanship techniques: beaded appliqués, cutouts, hand-painting, and embroidery. Since a Sassy Thai garment may involve more than one technique, it often travels throughout the Thai countryside for the complete design to be completed: receiving paint from one village, beaded appliqués in another, lacework in a third, then assembly back in a central location in Thailand.
"There are less expensive ways to make clothes - but that's not what my business is all about," said Ms. Schwarzel. "The goal of my business is to bring fair wages and honest and consistent work to people in Thailand's villages by creating beautiful and unique clothing for an exclusive clientele in America and other parts of the world. It's a solid and healthy connection that feeds the spirits of the women who create Sassy Thai clothing - and of the women who proudly wear it."