May Myat Waso, lauded designer behind Happy Heart fashion company, is the shining Myanmar jewel in the crown of the international fashion industry.
From a humble clothes design workshop in Thuwunna, Yangon to the glitzy catwalks of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta, May Myat Waso does Myanmar proud with her quality, fresh designs of traditional Myanmar outfits.
The daughter of author Nwe Kya Thaing, her fashion fairytale started out back in 2005 when she decided to take her passion more seriously and enrolled in a fashion design course. May Myat Waso was a quick learner and was able to open her own fashion design business just two years later in 2007. It was an immediate success and she gained enough reputation by 2010 that she could open a training element to compliment her business.
“Now my designs have been featured at over fifty fashion shows here in Myanmar as well as international fashion shows in Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia.”
While her day-to-day customers may request both modern and traditional outfits and bridal wear, May Myat Waso usually showcases traditional Myanmar designs with a modern flair when exhibiting abroad.
Photos she shows me from the Hong Kong Fashion Week catwalk show her models sporting sophisticated, rich black fabric with intricate hand-stitched gold and silver patterns. The outfits are in the traditional Myanmar style but they ooze modernity and grace with some off-the-shoulder styles and some trailing skirts. Her signature accessory is a striking modern take on the traditional Burmese umbrellas — square, black hand-painted parasols which result in striking model profiles unlike any of her contenders.
“I am particularly proud of the hand-stitched embroidery element in the skirt of these outfits,” said May Myat Waso referring to the outfits she exhibited at Hong Kong Fashion Week.
The work she is alludes to are ornate sketches of Burmese women which May Myat Waso has stitched with incredible detail and delicacy onto the skirts of her traditional designs. The task must have taken hours of painstaking patience for each and every outfit.
“I knew it would be popular with Myanmar people but I was surprised when I took the concept abroad and found an overwhelmingly positive response to it from the international community,” said May Myat Waso.
Though trends come and go and the idea of the beautiful is ever morphing, demand for her traditional Burmese designs has never waned since starting out in the fashion industry in 2005. There have been changes, of course, with the opening up of the country over the last decade. The most notable changes May Myat Waso has witnessed is the greater ease of access to international products, accessories and fabrics and the influence of this on design trends.
“It used to be difficult to get some of the more rare items, accessories and fabrics that I wanted to include in my designs.”
When she’s not flying abroad for an international fashion week, May Myat Waso teaches fashion design here in her workshop in Thuwunna to local women. She often has students coming from the rural parts of Myanmar who have seen her designs and are seeking a higher class and quality of clothes design than they have access to in their hometowns. In her classes she teaches everything from cutting to design to tailoring.
Away from the glamour and glory of the catwalk, a major part of her job that truly brings her joy is watching her students who have learned so much from her going out on their own and opening their own successful fashion design businesses.
“I also feel very proud when my design goes from an idea to a real product and I see a bride wearing it and hear other people complimenting it.”
There is no rest for a lady so successful in her field — as well as taking regular orders for bridal outfits and special occasion wear, she exhibits her designs at a fashion shows on most weekends. She is currently preparing for a wedding wear show at Sky Star Hotel which will take place this weekend.
“Even though this job is difficult and sometimes very tiring, I take pride in my work because it brings joy to other people. They see the good in it.”