From transgender designer Mogok Pauk Pauk’s who brought an international standard to Myanmar fashion after studying in Milan, Italy to Pyae Soe Aung, who blends traditional dresses with Western styles, the country’s fashion scene is at once becoming more global and locally-sourced.
Take Mandalay born, Hnit Oo May for example. Unlike her contemporaries, the 31-year-old never formally studied fashion but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the country’s most popular designers of cotton blended longyis.
Over the years Hnit Oo May has taught herself everything she needs to know about designing, from where to source her materials to what the latest trends are in Myanmar fashion.
“I love Myanmar style dresses,” she said. “I am absolutely struck when I see women on the street wearing a Myanmar short blouse and longyi.
“I used to wear Myanmar cotton cloths as they are very comfortable,” she recalled.
Prior to starting the successful made-to-order longyi Facebook page, in February 2017, Hnit Oo May worked for three years as an editor for the Mandalay fashion magazine, In Style.
She never expected to become a designer herself but in the three months since she’s opened her online business, “Hnit Oo May Burmese Attire” has amassed over 1,000 followers.
Hnit Oo May’s designs emphasise a simple design and packaging as well as premium cotton quality to beat the heat during hot season.
Though cotton is a more comfortable and breathable material, many people prefer other coarser fabrics, wary of colours bleeding through in the wash. Coarse cotton, in particular, she found, generally produces a greater variety of designs, patterns and colours.
While Hnit Oo May knows the drawbacks of using a either cotton types, she is careful to order only the best quality cottons and coarser ones from upper Myanmar as they are more durable and rarely seen in other markets.
Most of the coarse cottons come from the Magwe, Sagaing and Mandalay cities of Pakokku, Monywa and Myingyan.
The light cotton fabrics come from a range of cities in Shan State.
“People from upper Myanmar usually wear coarse clothes because it’s good for both summer and winter,” she said. “Most women there weave their own clothes while they rest after the harvest. They dye their clothes and use natural colours.”
Hnit Oo May’s own mother is from upper Myanmar and her fashion line has been inspired by the fabrics she saw and sampled while visiting the region.
Now Hnit Oo May orders her fabrics exclusively from the region, both to pay homage to her mother’s hometown and preserve traditional cloth-making techniques.
“At first, I ordered fabrics from them and turned them into Myanmar style dresses with the help of my designer. Then I put the designs on Facebook,” she said. “Many people liked my tailor made dresses and I began accepting orders from all around. That’s how I started out.”
Recently, Hnit Oo May has been experimenting with mixing light and coarse cottons together for a new blended feel as clients have noted discomfort with coarse cotton.
“At first I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the coarse cotton fabric,” she said. “Some people are allergic to the fabric and most market bought fabrics are resistant to a heavy wash. Some fabrics shrink, or get stretched out or bled.
“I have to control the dyeing process. This is why I make a limited number of dresses, in order to maintain the quality,” she added.
For women, she now offers four blouse styles and two longyis to match. Dresses including a blouse and longyi range from K30000 to K40000. Blouses alone start from K10000.
For men, a long sleeve skirt starts at K19000 while a short sleeve one fetches K17000.
Hnit Oo May has also just begun tailoring services for couples for special occasions.
Dresses take two to three weeks from the order date.
Though Hnit Oo May now faces a sea of competitors with the increase of international brands entering Myanmar markets, she still is confident in her traditional designs.
“I will continue my business for the people like me who want to wear and celebrate Myanmar tradition and clothing,” she said. “It’s our traditional way and our duty.”
“Hnit Oo May’s Burmese Attire” is now accepting orders via Facebook.