Hanging on for better times in Bangkok's Klong Toey slum

Hanging on for better times in Bangkok's Klong Toey slum

A Swedish expat's idea to keep clothes from slipping off hangers is now helping the city's poor
Hang on Hangers
Hang on Hangers uses a variety of high quality fabrics.

Life in a Bangkok slum is hard enough for most people, but for a single mother with a disabled daughter requiring 24-hour supervision, the struggle is that much tougher.

Wasanna Salimi's responsibilities trebled 12 years ago when she welcomed into the brood the twin boys of her sister, who had been sent to prison.

With little hope of getting a job, Wasanna has struggled to get by on the 40 baht a day she makes doing laundry for her neighbours.

But all that is changing thanks to a little hard work and a lot of coat hangers.  

“My daughter's name is Fon. She is 18 years old. I gave premature birth. She is a special girl. I make hangers and fold paper at home so I can take care of my daughter,” says Wasanna in a video made to promote the project, Hang On Hangers. “Now that I make hangers, our lives are better than before."  

Hang On Hangers is the brainchild of Swedish expat Annika Jonasson, who had been working on projects in Bangkok's slums for nine years before she came up with an idea that could generate some much-needed income for women living in the Klong Toey slum.

'Every baht they can make is a help'

Hang on HangersSome of the Klong Toey residents who make 'Hang on Hangers' proudly display their wares.The Klong Toey slum community is home to about 100,000 people, mostly rural migrants from northern Thailand who have made the trip south in search of work. With no legal rights to occupy the land, residents live in constant fear of eviction, while even the most basic amenities like fresh water and electricity are in short supply.  

“I had been trying to figure out something these women could do," says Jonasson. "Something they could do and earn some money. They are very poor and every baht they can make is a help.

“I got the idea of making hangers one day when I was annoyed at how difficult it was to get my tops and blouses to stay on the hangers –- they always slid off. So then I thought of putting fabric on them so the clothes would stay. I also realized all the nice fabrics we could use."

Jonasson then got to work with the help of her maid and together they crafted the first of many clothes hangers. Initially the idea was to make the hangers look a little “trashy” with threads hanging out, but when the women in the slums started making the hangers, their handiwork was so neat that it left no visible threads and so a tidier model was adopted. 

“I didn’t have any big plans when I started this project, but since I've realized how many people really like these hangers I hope it can grow bigger," says Jonasson. "My wish is that some of these women can continue the project in Thailand while I can help them to grow outside Thailand. It would be great to make children's hangers as well."

Providing opportunities, not handouts 

Hang on HangersKlong Toey resident Khun Suay works on a set of hangers. While a lot women in the Klong Toey slum may want to work, most of them don’t have any education so opportunities for paid work are few and far between. A growing number of young moms and dads end up living with their parents permanently. 

“I wish the government could take more responsibility and help these poor young people so they can get a good education,” adds Jonasson. 

Hang On Hangers is one of several charitable organizations working hard to help people in Bangkok's slums better support their families. 

Helping Hands works with men and women in the community to help them start small businesses. This includes the hugely successful cooking school of Saiyuud Diwong, whose classes are now a top draw for tourists; her cookbook has been selling by the bucketload. 

“In this slum area there are many foundations and organizations and I work together with some of them in some cases," says Jonasson.

"One example is a disabled child who I found and wanted to help to study in a school for children with special needs. When I started to work with him and his mother I did it with sponsors I found in Sweden, but now an Australian organization is more involved than me and he got a scholarship so we don’t pay anymore. His mother is one of the young mothers who make hangers.” 

A set of three hangers costs 450 baht, plus shipping. To order, email Hang On Hangers -- hangonhanger@gmail.com -- or visit their Facebook page.

As a freelance journalist over the past six years Matt has reported from Thailand, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Matt’s stories have been run by AFP, IRIN, Guardian, Reader's Digest and many more.
Read more about Matt Crook