Originally, when we were dreaming of how this project would play out, I had thought we would meet people along the way doing incredible ethical fashiony work and that they would introduce us to more people and we’d just end up with a whole lot of wonderful stories. And we’d all hold hands and skip merrily through the rice fields.
Reality is a little different and we’ve come up against a few roadblocks. For one, we had underestimated how much of a barrier language would be in finding stories.
In Ho Chi Minh we got in touch with quite a few exceptional businesses (please refer to our exceptional videos), all with different yet equally effective solutions to the ethical fashion conundrum. However, all of these people were expats. Other than a visit to one of the artisan workshops that works with Efaisto, we didn’t interview any Vietnamese business owners. I have no doubt they’re out there. We just don’t speak Vietnamese.
Foreign investment in Southeast Asia is huge. There are a lot of expats that have set up businesses and social enterprises with the intention of providing jobs or improving the lives of locals. Which is great. We love hearing these stories. But we also really wanted to hear from and connect with the Cambodians and Vietnamese themselves.
In Cambodia we had a little more luck because so many people speak English. We’d thought we’d highlight a few of these Cambodian legends because what they are doing is bloody amazing.
When Kunthear met her business partner Hanna, she was looking for a job. She had a sewing machine at home and was ready to make cushion covers, curtains or whatever needed to be done. Fast forward 8 years and she is a formidable boss lady at Dorsu, a fashion brand based in Kampot, Cambodia making beautiful clothes in all the right ways.
Kunthear has successfully mastered so many parts of the business, from accounting to pattern making and sewing, but she’s not satisfied and wants to build on her skills in design.
When we spoke to her she really emphasised how proud she was that she was able to support her community. Dorsu provides jobs for locals living in Kampot and donates a portion of the profits to Chumkriel Language School, a Cambodian organisation that offers all sorts of education support services to the local Kampot community. Kunthear has big plans to expand the business so that they can grow their impact.
Learn more about Kunthear and how she met her business partner and friend Hanna Guy in the video below.
Vannary San is a wonder woman. She is the founder of Lotus Silk, a business creating fashion ethically and working to preserve traditional Cambodian silk and weaving techniques. When we met Vannary and heard her story, we were in awe.
Growing up in rural Cambodia, she fought hard to go to university in Phnom Penh, despite her parents’ concerns that it was too dangerous and expensive. Vannary worked hard and studied harder, completing her studies in Business Management and English.
She founded Lotus Silk in 2003 with one machine and one employee and the business now provides income for approximately ?? people including sewers, weavers, farmers and more. Vannary has even worked with a community near Kampot to set up a silk farm that makes golden silk, a type of silk that is unique to Cambodia.
But that’s not all folks. She is currently building an interactive museum, yes a museum, that will showcase how Cambodian silk is created and allow people to try their hand at weaving. She’s building a museum guys. Video coming soonish.
This last legend isn’t involved in the fashion industry but he’s doing great things nonetheless. I met Steven at a coffee shop in Siem Reap. I told him about Walk Sew Good and what we were trying to do and he very kindly invited us to stay at his hostel, Oasis Capsules Hostel. I highly recommend staying there as the staff are so friendly and if you like privacy, the capsule idea is genius. We had a bit of fun filming a short video.
Steven, Cambodian name Phich Sokda, started Oasis Capsule because he wanted to provide jobs for locals. He was really adamant about this. If you’re looking for accommodation in Siem Reap, support locals and visit his hostel.
These are just a few of the Cambodian legends we met on our trip through the country. Luckily we filmed interviews with a whole lot more and we’re working hard to get the videos to a screen near you soon.