Spinning silk into gold
Today he’s an award-winning entrepreneur, thanks to his knowledge of machinery, his helpful nature and not least his perseverance. It all started with a request from a group of housewives in his village, Ban Hai Soke, for Mr Chaiporn to invent a filature machine after they lost their jobs when a small silk factory went bankrupt and shut down. “At that time,” he says, “I just thought about helping those housewives have an opportunity to increase their incomes by selling silk thread after the factory closed. Then I finally created a small filature machine to help them spin silk thread from cocoons.” He says the machine helped the housewives generate more income from silkworms, reducing production time for spinning silk content out of the cocoons in the form of silk thread.
One day he was invited to join a mechanical seminar in Bangkok, where he met a man who got on well with him after a few minutes of conversation. The man was interested in the filature machine, which Mr Chaiporn had not expected to attract much interest in the capital city.
As they talked, Mr Chaiporn learned that the man was a professor and a dentist in a mobile volunteer unit under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
The professor mentioned the Princess’s idea of producing dental floss domestically instead of strictly importing it.
Mr Chaiporn was awarded a gold medal for his machine at the Taipei International Invention Show & Technomart in 2013.
Mr Chaiporn was told that Thailand had a lot of high-quality silk that could be used as raw material to make dental floss, thus reducing imports of expensive nylon-based floss. “That inspired me to go back to my filature machine and seek further development to make it a machine that could turn normal silk thread into dental floss,” he says.
“The silk has its own natural quality of being tough and durable. What I needed to do is make it flat so that it could go into every nook and cranny of the teeth.” First, he mashed the silk thread into a smaller and thinner material and coated it with natural wax. “The first version of my silk-based dental floss completely failed,” he says. “The floss was not tough enough and was easily cut by teeth. Moreover, the wax coating on the silk thread was too thick.”
Another stumbling block was that the wax he used for coating the silk floss was natural from beehives, meaning an elaborate production process and high costs. Mpress brand dental floss is made from real Thai silk, as opposed to expensive imported floss made from nylon.
A few years passed and Mr Chaiporn refined his machine to produce a high-quality dental floss that is certified by the dentistry faculties of prominent universities in Thailand. The certification guarantees that the product is safe for the human body and is made of all natural materials with no chemicals.
The product won an innovation award and was sent to compete at the regional level. It ultimately won a gold medal and a special award at the Taipei International Invention Show & Technomart in 2013.
But while Mr Chaiporn had succeeded in producing a quality dental floss from real silk, he struggled on the marketing front without a channel to reach consumers. “What I could do by that time was join the local trade exhibitions,” he recalls. “I did not have any idea about marketing.” Then one day a young lady, a master’s student in marketing, came to an exhibition and met Mr Chaiporn by chance. She said she was interested in the product and asked whether she could use it as part of her master’s thesis. Cocoons, which is spinning into silk thread and covered with natural wax to be a finish product of dental floss.
“I agreed.” Mr Chaiporn says. “The first thing she did was change the name of the product from an old-school Thai word to a modern English name.” With that stroke, Yim Lamai (Beautiful Smile) became Mpress.
The new name helped modernise the product and catch the eye of the public, including a producer of oral care products, Twin Lotus Co. Mr Chaiporn sold the technology he had invented to Twin Lotus on the condition that the product must not be sold in Thailand, where he wanted to sell his own product under his own brand.
His version of the product has captured market share via the 7-Eleven catalogue, with sales of 10,000-20,000 spools a month. “I am about to enhance my marketing channel to access more consumers, and I hope to have it on the shelves in supermarkets in the future,” he says.
Success has not gone to his head, however. Mr Chaiporn is still teaching his favourite science subjects at the same school in his village of Ban Hai Soke.