A man poses on a ledge in a bright orange trench coat and wide slacks with clashing plaid prints. He wears a casquette hat with knee-length dreadlocs spilling out of it. This is an editorial shot for Wondercapetown Man, a brand focusing on oversized, custom wax fabric clothing. None of it really seems Thai, but it was indeed born and bred right here in Bangkok.
“Not too many Thai people buy my brand,” laughs founder Sittichai Kitayayuga. “My style is very unique, so we have a niche market. It’s for the man who knows his own ways.” He says most of his clients come from places like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. But they discover him here, at his booth in Siam Center.
The brand is pluralistic at its heart anyway, revolving around a fabric usually associated with Africa, often employing Chinese and Americana imagery. He frequently features elderly models as well, including his mother. “My mom was the one who inspired me to get into fashion. When we were kids, she had so much style. I’d watch her choosing her outfits and it was inspiring.” In fact, their motto is “Youth has no age.”
Kitayayuga got his start with fashion in the magazine world, doing photography and styling for publications like Elle. When the industry started to downsize and shift online he moved into clothing design, starting Wondercapetown six years ago with his girlfriend Pattra Plaravut. “She was the one who discovered wax fabrics,” he says. They started with women’s clothes at first and then launched the men’s line about three years later.
Wax fabric prints are widely associated with African culture. Their bright prints and energetic designs are instantly recognized across the globe as “African.” But they have a long and complicated history, which begins in Indonesia. They were originally based on Javanese patters called batik, an ancient design process that’s still practiced to this day. Dutch colonists started reproducing them on an industrial scale in the mid-1800s with the goal of selling them back to the locals, but they weren’t having it. So the colonists set their sights elsewhere, namely West Africa. They found a willing customer base there and wax fabrics were adopted as their own. Many Africans still purchase fabric rolls from Indonesia, although there’s now a strong local production base and China is also muscling its way into the market.
“We gave it the name Wondercapetown as an homage to Africa, but at the time we didn’t know much about the continent,” Kitayayuga explains. Cape Town is actually in South Africa, where wax fabrics didn’t really take root. “But we decided to keep the name, it has a history to it.”
Wondercapetown produces very limited runs, only one or two pieces for each design. His clients either request designs or he starts them from scratch. “My style meets their style, there isn’t much room in between.” Most of their fabrics are manufactured overseas, and they have a buyer who gives them options. “The materials are always the same, so I can choose prints from photographs. I buy patterns that I would personally wear.” Everything is created in his Bangkok studio and he has his own team of full-time tailors.
Kitayayuga uses all the scraps that are left over, creating upcycled pieces on the side as a hobby for himself, combining them with old clothes and other used fabrics. He stitches on new layers and adds textures with bleach and stencils. He also uses sachiko stitching techniques, an ancient Japanese method of covering the fabric with different patterns. “I’m very inspired by Japanese brands,” he says. “I want my brand to have that unique and handmade quality. I want to make clothes that are not the cheapest but the best.”