Cambodia has been the subject of a lot of negative press lately regarding working standards, particularly in textile production. Many high street fashion brands have their production based in Cambodia, making the garment industry the country's biggest export. Despite its importance to the economy, there have been countless strikes and protests staged by Cambodian factory workers to fight for fair wages and a safe working environment that have at times ended in brutal police retaliation.
Being aware of this difficult situation, when we traveled to Cambodia it was our goal to find people that shared our ideas about sustainable business relationships that are mutually beneficial. Luckily we had the opportunity to meet Vanntha and her family in Phnom Pen one hot afternoon. During our first meeting Vanntha told me how she decided to start the social business Color Silk in 2009. She said that when she finished university many of her friends decided to work for big banks or international cooperations in order to secure healthy wages for themselves. But Vanntha decided to take a different path, and try to tackle the issues of work and wages on the ground level by coming up with a business model that had the potential to change the lives of many people for the better.
Today, Color Silk provides more than 400 silk weavers in Takeo Province with a steady income. But a fair wage was not the only thing Vanntha want to provide her female workers. It is one of the main goals - and an intrinsic part of the original business design - to help the weavers develop and improve their skills so they have the option to look to the future and build their own businesses. This is why it was such an important step for the business last year when they set up a fully equipped workshop to make garments out of the beautiful hand-woven silk they were already producing.
Since we were planning our new garment collection, the timing couldn't have been more perfect so we decided to have two of our favourite pieces developed and produced by Vanntha and her team. Not only are we delighted to add the beautiful Nary Kimono and the Vanntha dress - both made out of the finest Cambodia hand-woven silk - to our SS2015 collection, but we are also proud to support a strong and brave Cambodian woman and her business that really makes a difference.
Pictures and Text by Lisa Jaspers and Heidi Winge Strom