“Hello, my name is Sam Ekmahachai. I’m from Samut Sakhon, one of the central provinces near Bangkok, but I attended high school in Bangkok. In 1981, I began studying at Chiang Mai University's School of Economics. After I graduated, I worked in land development for five years, and then for a big consulting firm in Bangkok for nine years. Then, I quit and came back to Chiang Mai to help my wife Kai Kittima (who is also a Novica artisan) with her business. I have never left Chiang Mai since then.
“I always take things apart and build new creations with the pieces. I’ve been interested in handicrafts ever since I was young. I love collecting glassware and had been thinking about recycling glass bottles for many years, but I couldn’t find a good cutting machine in Thailand and they’re too expensive to import. Even if I worked with a local factory to create the cutting machine, it wouldn’t meet my expectations. I learned about a prototype machine from the United States, and consulted with some American glass experts for ideas about domestic tools I could use. So, I started to build the machine by myself, learning glassblowing, cutting, and polishing through trial and error.
“One day, my close friend, who owns a wine shop, told me about a problem they had with leftover wine bottles. Since wine bottles are produced by different factories with different colors and different types of glass, they will break if we melt them down into new bottles. Some wine companies buy their own wine bottles back and reuse them, but most wine in Thailand is imported from other countries, so there is a large amount of waste that cannot be taken to any dump or recycling facility.
“It took about five or six years to develop wine and liquor bottle decor in the form of trays, lamps, and planters. Now, I’m still trying new ways to develop my designs and incorporate other local materials, such as dry sedge.
“Most Thai people are still not interested in things made from recycled bottles, especially those who like to drink alcohol; they think they can sell a dozen beer bottles and receive 10 baht (30 cents) for them, so they don’t appreciate these as handmade crafts. Conversely, this type of handicraft is well-known to Americans and Europeans, and they don’t think it’s a waste of glass. I want to change my country’s attitude.
“I have a small glassware studio in my house. I hired three craftsmen to help with polishing and finishing. The other parts of the process are dangerous. I have to protect every part of my body while cutting glass. I use protective goggles, a protective suit, gloves, etc.
“In the future, I want to try fusing glass to make plates, bowls, or jewelry from waste bottles in order to expand recycling. I also create glass beads for jewelry, but the cost of imported glass is still very high. I want to find a way to make glass out of sand here in Thailand. I hope that working with Novica will help me introduce Thai decorative glassware to the world while spreading awareness about recycling throughout Thailand. Thank you.”