Chanon Showtime is the most successful and creative costume shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Every month the shop supplies hundreds of costumes, some of which are made to order and others rented or sold from the shop’s stock of about 1000 costumes. International orders have come from the Netherlands, China and Australia. But the bulk of the business is in the Northern region of Thailand.
The genius in Chanon Showtime is Chanon “Wi” Sanguan. Wi has two full-time protégés, Night and Nam-chio. They operate out of a storefront on the northwest corner of the old city of Chiang Mai. Wi designs the costumes and buys the raw materials. He then hires dressmakers to produce the finished costumes. He specializes in fantasy costumes with exotic crowns and headdresses which they make in the shop. Some orders keep as many as 20 seamstresses busy for a month. The shop also works with customers who have costume designs in mind for their extravagant productions at conventions, business launches, or school and university events. Sometimes Chanon Showtime produces its own spectacular shows, hiring up to 50 models to march, strut and dance. Chanon Showtime entries are expected for most transgender contests in this part of the country.
Wi says his most exciting times come from supplying outfits for models and media stars’ portfolios. But his greatest challenges come from supplying large orders at short notice. One school orders 500 unique costumes each year for an annual sports festival. They have a month to have the costumes ready for the parade.
Wi is a bit reticent to speculate about the financial aspects of his business, but guesses it has risen from zero in 2010, when the business had its third start-up after 2 failures, to a multi-million baht enterprise today.
There are 4 costume rental shops in Chiang Mai to supply the market for designer costumes. Most of them specialize in more traditional or historical Thai costumes and formal attire. Chanon Showtime is outside the box. Some of Wi’s designs look like they were made for Los Vegas shows or Mardi Gras parades. Other costumes show a flare for irony and cultural cross-over or fusion.
The unique thing about this niche business is that all 4 Chiang Mai stores are gay-owned and operated. “Who else but us would do this?” Wi asked, laughing. I agreed it takes flare and daring. It also takes sustained professionalism to keep up with the flood of imaginative designs that pour into Wi’s notebooks, through the showroom, and onto show-time cat-walks and stages.
[For more about Wi and his business, click on this previous blog: www.kendobson.asia/blog/costumes ]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.