Tagged "cambodia"

Cambodia - A Week With the Artisans

Three years have passed since our last trip to Cambodia to visit the two small projects we work together with. After a flight of over twelve hours we reach Phnom Penh. It is about 7:30pm local time. The heat and humidity await us at the exit of the airport. We grab one of the remorque, what everyone calls tuk tuk. A two-wheeled carriage pulled behind a motorbike and a really fun way to go around Phnom Penh. 
We glimpse at the still busy streets on our way to the hotel. The city is still lively, people are eating outside at stalls sitting on small chairs. There is a gentle breeze and the ride is smooth. After little less than half an hour we reach our destination. We decide to go to bed, get some rest and be ready for the day after.

It always proves really hard to sleep on the first few days trying to adjust to the jet lag. So we are awake pretty early and after breakfast we decide to get around the city. Today we get to relax and recover after the journey and, despite temperatures are over 35C, we gladly head to visit the National Museum as we didn't get the chance to see it the previous time. The outside is remarkable, it's a terracotta structure of traditional design, almost in contrast with the inside which is very humble with its old and not really looked after display cases. The pieces shown are beautiful though, old Khmer artefacts, sculptures, statues and pottery. There is even a lunar fragment donate by US President Richard Nixon in 1973 as wishes for goodwill among "all mankind in the future."

After the museum we head back to the hotel to rest for a while and in the evening we go back to watch a show of Khmer dance organised by Cambodian Living Arts, an organisation that supports the art sector and creates uplifting employment for artists. The show is beautiful and the costumes magnificent. Exhausted, but nourished in our spirit, we decide to call it a day and go back to rest for, hopefully, a full night sleep.
Today we are meeting Chamroeun (below) founder of Smart Crafts, the small producer group that makes all our recycled wallets and bags. He comes and picks us up on a tuk tuk and together we head to the workshop where the artisans are preparing our recycled from cement bags and motorcycle seats backpacks.

There are four artisans working and with Chamroeun, who helps us as translator, we have a nice chat and discuss adjustments and future designs. 

Prom Raiy (above) is the oldest. He was a former hair dresser, but it wasn't an enough remunerative job for him. Now he is passing on his skills by teaching the others in here how to sew.  


Ming Sall (above) comes from outside Phnom Penh and she was a former garment factory worker making dresses. She has no family and she says that she is now happy being here and work in a better environment and earning more. 
We also meet a new little friend who really likes being photographed and to discover the magics of a camera. 


After few hours we need to leave and get back to our tuk tuk to visit another group of artisans based just outside Phnom Penh. They are the ones making all of the recycled tyre wallets and women bags. Before leaving we manage to get a group photo where everybody actually looks at the camera!

The journey to get to the other artisans is almost an hour so we decide to stop for a brief lunch for which we are also joined by our fun tuk tuk driver. 


Rice is not missing as you can see!

We arrive at Sokha and Korng's house which is where they work. Korng is the main artisan and he taught his wife Sokha to sew and work with the tyres. She was previously working at a souvenir shop in Phnom Penh and that is where she learnt english. Korng doesn't speak english and he seems to enjoy his wife conversations with us by smiling from time to time. They show us our new designs that are now almost ready. We discuss some more details and then we just keep talking with Sokha whose stories and smiles makes us feel welcome and home away from home. But it comes the time to leave, it is another hour to drive back to Phnom Penh. Tomorrow we'll be meeting Chamroeun again. 

(Alessia looking at the new bags)

(Sokha & Korng)


Our morning is free today before Chamroeun comes to pick us up in the early afternoon to go and choose some new fabrics for the bags. 

We take it easy and go for lunch at Romdeng which serves local dishes, including the tarantula (well..subject to availability!). The most important thing about Romden is that it belongs to the Tree Alliance which is a social business with the ultimate goal of providing young people, many of them former street youth, with the skills they need to become employable in the thriving hospitality industry. So after a restoring lunch is time to go. Chamroeun brings us to a market where there are different shops selling fabrics. We settle for some new colours which will be also used for some of the wallets. We are not going to disclose here what colours would those be, but you can look at Marvi trying to choose carefully!

We say Chamroeun goodbye and thank him for being such a wonderful host in those two days. 

Another day is gone, tomorrow we are meeting with the other producers group, Craftworks Cambodia, the one that makes our recycled bullet cases jewellery.


 Vichet is the manager of Craftworks Cambodia, we meet him at their showroom 20 minutes further south of the Russian Market, the most famous and touristic market in Phnom Penh. We arrive there in the early afternoon. Vichet greets us with a big smile and after a brief chat we all head to visit Chenla the artisan that together with his wife produces our jewellery. 

 (Craftworks Cambodia showroom)

Chenla leaves outside Phnom Penh, it is over an hour by tuk tuk and this time it feels like a really long drive. He also works from home where he has a little workshop. He and his wife greet us and invite us in. Chenla tells us a bit of his story. How he learnt to make jewellery thanks to an NGO that trained him when he was younger and gave him the skills to provide for himself and for his family. Chenla is 39 years old now and he has two daughters. He is Christian and the only one of his faith leaving in his area. Every Sunday he and his wife prepare lunch for the kids that live in their neighbourhood. His dream, he tells us, is to earn more money so that he can build a bigger workshop and teach his skills to others and give them a better future, like the NGO has done for him before. 

Chenla is a very smiley and positive person with a strong can do attitude. Alessia shows him the new designs she has in mind, while outside a chickens fight takes place.

It's late in the afternoon now and we need to head back. We are very grateful to Chenla and his wife for their kind hospitality and the much appreciated bottles of water they gave us for our journey back.

We jump again on our tuk tuk while waving goodbye.

(From left to right: Vichet, well you know..Marvi, Chenla and his wife)

On our way back, we get stuck in traffic. We pass in front of the garment factories and the shifts are finishing. It is peak time. There are loads of trucks carrying the workers. Their salary improved slightly since the last time we came, but there is still a lot of work to do. They travel up to three hours everyday each way to go and come back from the factories and most of them work seven days out of seven to make enough money to survive. We are told that they also pay for the trucks to bring them to and from work around $40, a third of their monthly salary.

(A shot of one of the trucks passing by our tuk tuk)


It is our last day here in Phnom Penh and before we leave we decide to visit another project that employs artisans with disabilities. It is a local social enterprise that is called Watthan and is by the temple that goes by the same name. Watthan was set up in 2004 and managed to train and provide work to many, including Chamroeun who was once working for them and now is collaborating with them. 

We get to see the workshop and look at the wonderful textile that is handwoven in the Takeo Province, south of Cambodia, with which they produce bags and accessories. 

This is all very inspiring and what made us fall in love with Cambodia. People's resilience, their will to build a better future for them and for others. It is all a life lesson for us.


(Watthan Artisans Cambodia workshop)

After our visit, we get back to the hotel to prepare our suitcases. It is time to leave Cambodia until next time. We had a wonderful time, we have learnt more about the people that make our products and we hope that with us you did too.



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Meet the Maker: Lav Chamroeun

For this year Fashion Revolution Week we interviewed Mr Chamroeun the man behind our upcycled from tyre wallets.


Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Lav Chamroeun and I am 38 years old. I was born in KomPong Cham Province, Cambodia. I am the fourth in my family and I have two brothers and three sisters. When I was a child I suffered from Polio and my right hand was affected leaving me with a disability. 

When did you start Smart Craft?

I have started in 2012. I have been working for few organisations and NGOs in the handicrafts sector, first as a volunteer and then as a production manager. After four years I gained the necessary skills to start Smart Craft, a small producers group.

What motivated you?

I have always wanted to help people with disabilities and vulnerable people in general to create their own future by producing good quality recycled products and that is why I have started Smart Craft.

What do you like about your job?

I like that I have the possibility to help and I love to research and design new products using raw materials. I love nature and especially the sea and upcycling it is a way for me to help reduce pollution and clean the environment.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope I can find more partners so that I can employ more artisans and by doing so supporting more families and their children. 




We'd like to thank Mr Chamroeun for the time it took to do this interview and for the amazing work he does. 

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A.N.D. Some Exciting News to Announce

We’ve brewed up a brand new partnership - along with a fresh batch of beautiful artisanal wares - just for you.


On our last trip to Cambodia we had the good fortune of meeting Alan Flux, one of the co-founders of A.N.D ArtisanandDesigner (a Cambodian fair trade brand that blends elevated design with traditional textile processing practices). An English designer with a profound passion for fashion, he’s living his dream working with local producers to create stunning, one-of-a-kind handmade clothes, accessories and home décor. With the goal of revitalizing the local artisanal sector, which is currently under threat.


AND … there’s more. A.N.D. employs (and consequently empower) disadvantaged people, and only uses reclaimed fabric and wood that would otherwise be discarded.


Cambodia is currently one of the largest cheap labor garment manufacturing zones. More and more young Cambodians are resorting to working in factories where human rights - and certainly creativity and authenticity! – is too often overlooked. All so that big corporate brands can keep up with the insatiable demand that “fast fashion” creates.


We’re thrilled to be able to support A.N.D. in revitalising the local artisanal sector, which is currently under threat. And in preserving long-standing traditions and safeguarding a sliver of Cambodia’s beauty and authenticity. Join us in welcoming them to the Lost in Samsara family. And if you can, help us raise them up by sharing this article online and shopping their collection.


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Cambodia: A day with the artisans


We started Lost in Samsara, first and foremost, to reestablish our lost connection with the makers of our products. To go all the way with this, we regularly visit the artisans who work with our partner projects. Our destination this time: Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Many of the items they make are crafted from upcycled cement bags. After spending a few days there, we realized what a great project this is because the bags are literally scattered all over the city, at various construction sites and beyond.

The city is still recovering from the scars of a brutal civil war that lasted until the 1990s. A stroll through the streets paints a clear picture of the long term damage those dark years have done. Cambodia has many landmine victims ... and to this day, has one of the highest landmine casualty rates in the world. It's nothing short of heartbreaking to see the number of amputees, some using only their arms to move on the pavement without the help of a wheelchair. 

We spent two days getting to know Phnom Penh and its history. During that time we visited Tuol Sleng, a former high school used during the Pol Pot regime as a security prison and execution center and now functioning as a museum.

While trying to wrap our heads around it all, we started preparing to meet Vichet, the representative of the organization we collaborate with. During the ride on the local motor-remork, he told us more about life in Cambodia and his project. Since 2008, they've been training and creating opportunities for 49 mainly disabled people. They're able to work from their homes, in their own environment and at their own pace.

We went to visit two such artisans, who lived in a big block of flats not too far from the center of Phnom Penh. Seeing where they live and listening to their stories was emotional. We all know what fair trade is but witnessing it firsthand, in real life, is surreal.

Srey (Mrs. in Khmer) Mach, one of the artisans who lives on her own, greeted us with a big smile. She seemed excited to meet us and with the help of Vichet, she told us her story. She stepped on a mine when she was only 21. The accident left her without a leg. Now she works for two different organizations that provide her with enough work to sustain herself.  She tells us while it took a while to adjust to her "new normal," she's happy now and really enjoys working from home. The conditions and the pay are drastically better than what people who work for garment factories receive.  She seems shy, blushing from time to time while talking to us, so we break the ice by cracking a few jokes. She asks for a picture with us as a memento of the day. 

The other artisans live on another floor in the same building. They also greet us with big smiles and show us what they're working on.  Three of them are deaf and working on some paper crafts. Vichet explains how he provides them with the orders, the materials and machinery when necessary. And that the artisans are self-employed, paid a livable wage and offered constant training. 

Next we go visit Mr. Chantha, a jewellery maker. He shows us his workshop located in one of the poorest areas on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. He tells us that he lost both his parents when he was little. His father was killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was only 8.  With the help of an international NGO he received the training necessary to become a jewellery maker. For the past twenty years he has been doing what he loves and he now has enough work to reinvest in his workshop and buy the machines and the tools he needs to create his beautiful handicrafts. Mr. Chantha's work is special in many ways. He uses bullet cases and bomb shells to in his designs. It's incredible to see how  symbols of destruction and so much suffering can be transformed into something beautiful; how the bullets that destroyed his family are now giving him the chance to sustain his new one.

Mr. Chantha shows us how he melts the bullets. He's a very joyful man and his English is very good. He also teaches, training young people how to make jewellery. He's extremely proud of his work and is continually smiling while telling us about it. His son Moss runs around while he explains how hard it is to sustain all of his family. But says he's determined to give his two children a better future.

On the way back to the hotel, we silently contemplate their resilience and unbroken spirits. It's something we’ll never forget.

Cambodia is a beautiful country geographically. But to us, the people are what make it most beautiful. Despite the struggles they face daily - the past that still has such an impact on their  present, the rampant poverty and a government that too often overlooks their wellbeing - even the most disadvantaged Cambodians graced us with their big, beautiful smiles. Ones that have left an everlasting imprint on souls.


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