For over 10 years, Chheang Puthea has made an art of etching words or flowers into soap bars with a sharp knife.
The unique designs, which he sells exclusively via his Facebook page, have allowed the young artisan to make a living and support his family.
“I learned to carve soap in 1994 while I was in grade 11 at Toul Tampoung High School,” said the 27-year-old while wrapping his products in plastic packets.
Even though it is a craft that is traditionally reserved for women, Chheang Puthea said he loved doing it because he enjoyed putting his talent to use.
“Once I saw that my friend’s father had some carved soaps made by orphans. So, I had an idea and tried to create my own style,” said Chheang Puthea.
Because he had experience in fruit carving, Puthea found it easy to etch into soaps.
He sells the soaps to friends, and to interested strangers through Facebook.
Business is doing very well.
“I think that there I don’t have many competitors because not many people are learning how to do it. Mostly they like to carve fruit and candles,” he said.
According to the young entrepreneur, most of his products are ordered as gifts for various celebrations, such as birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s Day.
Through these sales, Chheang Puthea is able to complement the US$71 monthly salary he earns as an intern with the NGO World Vision.
The youngest child of 6 boys, he finds it important to help share his parents’ burden and support his family.
The soap carving business also helps him support his studies as a marketing major at Human Resources University.
“I am a scholarship student for two years at HRU, and for the other two years I have to support myself,” he said. “Sometimes, I spent my nights taking care of patients at one hospital in order to get 500 riels [US$0.12] per night.”
Soap carving takes patience and time, so Chheang Puthea can generally make only two soaps a day, while in his free time he can make up to three or five soaps.
A bar of carved soap costs $5. Chheang Puthea can be contacted for orders at 089 51 61 71, or under his Facebook name: Puthiya Chi.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhim Srey Neang at [email protected]