This is the second of three dispatches from GGP’s in-house designer, Jenn Wong, who visited our artisan partners in Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year.
In this post, Jenn recounts her visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
After a few days of artisan visits in Northern Thailand, I made my way to Cambodia. A short plane ride from Bangkok and I was in Siem Reap. Located 320 km northwest of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap’s proximity to the remarkable temples in Angkor make it a popular tourist destination. My goal was to visit groups working with the Artisans Association of Cambodia (AAC). I caught up with AAC’s director, Sinoeun, who along with other supporters started AAC to provide a platform and network for artisan groups who share the mission of promoting new approaches to improving socio-economic conditions of Cambodian artisans and their families. AAC today comprises over 45 organizations and social enterprises, and through these groups GGP is able to work with a network of 4,000 artisans. I was excited to meet the artisans who have produced beautiful products for GGP for almost 10 years.
Sinoeun and Jenn’s first stop at an artisan showroom to talk about some of the processes of silk weaving, a specialty of this particular artisan group.
My visit coincided with preparations for a regional artisan fair. It was a busy week for all the AAC groups exhibiting but, fortunately, I was able to sit down with each of them to learn about the techniques they use and the steps – from beginning to end – involved in producing their beautiful handmade items. The Siem Reap fair was the perfect entry point to Cambodian handicraft, as well as a convenient rendezvous for many AAC groups. From silk weavers to dye masters, metalsmiths to designers and tailors, the fair was a great opportunity to see a full array of techniques and products originating in Cambodia.
Example of raw silk thread before and after the dye process.
These pieces are traditional designs woven to make “Sampots,” Cambodian style sarongs or skirts. The threads here are ikat dyed with master precision in order to show the floral, animal and stripe patterns when loomed and hand woven.
More beautiful ikat spotted scarves. Inspiration for Fall ‘16.
This tie-dyed silk product made by a group of artisans with disabilities. The artisan group is led by a female land-mine victim, Chim Kong. Kong employs many land-mine victims who all earn a stable income. To see more of their product please click here.
Shopping for Fall ‘16. Fun upcycled totes handmade by a woman-led group, Lotus Silk. The social enterprise not only offers Cambodians stable jobs, but focuses on the diversifying methods of environmentally sustainable and ethical handicraft.
Shibori is an ancient Japanese tie-dying technique where the fabric is binded, sewn, folded, or twisted in order to achieve its pattern. Today, the technique is practiced around the world, including here in Cambodia. Stay tuned for more Shibori Fall ‘16!
Jenn and Sitha, owner of Craft Village, after a very productive meeting. Sitha and her talented artisans produce GGP’s amazing Featherweight Silk Scarves.
While traveling with Sinoeun around Siem Reap, he talked about his country’s history, the Khmer people, and shared stories of the many families in Cambodia that have endured a harsh and brutal past. In recent history, the Khmer Rouge and the Civil War took more than 2 million Cambodian lives. Today many Cambodians struggle daily, facing poverty and limited access to healthcare, sanitary facilities, and education. Although poverty rates are falling in Cambodia, with 3 million poor people and over 8.1 million near poor Cambodia’s poverty rate has not dropped significantly from 17.7% (2012, worldbank.org).
As I toured the markets of Siem Reap, the high demand for beautiful handmade Cambodian product was evident, with markets tailoring their products to tourists and visitors from abroad. The silks, batiks, and tie-dye are all the end result of technique and skill passed on from generations of artisan families. Artisans young and old continue to rely on craft as a form of income and a mechanism for empowering women and strengthening communities. The potential for growth in the artisan sector in Cambodia is promising, and is exactly the kind of growth the Khmer people need to support job and income stability, as well as poverty reduction.
I left Siem Reap feeling content with the knowledge I gained of Cambodian culture, food, history, and of course handicraft. What a great kickoff to my visit to Cambodia. It’s not over! Stay tuned for Part 3 to learn more about further developments for Fall Winter 2016!
Global Goods Partners continues to be a leader in providing market access for groups in Cambodia and in other parts of the world. Please visit our site to learn more about our Cambodian artisan groups or AAC.