Initiative aims to reward the most ‘precious’ worker, as well as develop local design talent and build confidence in the domestic garment industry
Photo by: NATHAN GREEN
Sem Sokny with her winning design in 2007’s inaugural I am Precious competition.
Made in cambodia ... well, almost
The Made in Cambodia T-shirts created for the launch of the garment sector’s I Am Precious competition came with one slight snag. They were made in Thailand. Tep Mona, the director of the Garment Industry Productivity Centre, acknowledged the mistake, but said the T-shirts came from the ILO’s storeroom and were just a stop-gap measure to ensure they were ready for the launch. “It was done at the last minute,” she said.
Organisers planned to produce additional T-shirts to promote the initiative, this time in a Cambodian garment factory, she said. Plans had not been finalised, but any proceeds from the sale of T-shirts would likely go towards training courses for the finalists, she said. Well, you can’t have everything; at least the shirts were designed in Cambodia.
Garment sector stakeholders launched a competition for workers Wednesday to promote the Made in Cambodia brand and highlight the importance of home-grown designs for the future of the country's largest export sector.
The second "I Am Precious" T-shirt and dress design competition was opened to the Kingdom's 300,000-plus garment workers as well as workers that have recently been laid off as a result of falling export orders in the wake of the global economic meltdown.
Launching the competition, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training Secretary of State Prak Chantha said it was a special occasion for garment sector workers, especially women.
"This campaign will help workers be more self-confident, creative, skilled and knowledgeable," she said. "It's a good opportunity for garment factory workers to expose their skills and talents."
The garment sector was facing troubled times, she said. "We need to work together here in order to help Cambodia, Cambodian people and Cambodian society in this time of global economic crisis. This campaign is a mechanism to build trust and confidence in the quality of Cambodian garments during this time of economic crisis. If we can show people that Made in Cambodia garments are good quality, then money will flow into the country."
The ministry was teaming up with the International Labour Organisation's Better Factories Cambodia initiative, the Ministry of Women's Affairs, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), the Garment Industry Productivity Centre (GIPC), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), union groups and Precious Girl magazine to organise the competition.
Around 100,000 entry forms were being distributed to workers through Precious Girl magazine, and GIPC Director Tep Mona said she was expecting more entries than the 460 received in the inaugural 2007 competition, won by Maxlin factory worker Sem Sokny.
Sem Sokny said her employer, the Maxlin factory in Phnom Penh, had given her its full support and provided paid leave while she took part in the competition. "They were proud that one of their workers could win such a contest," she said.
In a video made during the inaugural competition, Sem Sokny jokingly suggested the outcome was never in doubt. "I deserved first place," she said. "My design is by far the best."
The competition is the central part of a wider campaign that will also provide information about career opportunities in the fashion industry, raise awareness about the wider garment sector supply chain, feature stories about successful young workers and managers, and provide a forum for discussion about the industry's future prospects.
UNDP Assistant Country Director Hin Wisal said the global financial crisis had led to a much more competitive global market and had had a severe impact on Cambodia's garment sector. "It's a long way from Wall Street to the main streets of Cambodia," he said. "But as Cambodia has become more integrated into the global economy, Cambodia has become more exposed."
He said the country must learn to compete by boosting productivity and lowering unit costs through better technology and training and by expanding the value chain. "For Cambodia, this means developing design capacity so that the country can export garments based on its own designs," he said. "We have to see this campaign as a mechanism to promote the industry and bring the attention of international buyers and the government."
GMAC external affairs manager Kaing Monika said the inaugural competition was aimed simply to promote the value of workers, but it was now seen as part of a larger effort to grow the Cambodian part of the value chain beyond cut, make, trim.
"If Cambodia is able to design things our own way, we can go out and find buyers rather than wait for them to come to us," he said.
He also hoped it would boost the "self image" of workers and by increasing awareness of their work, abilities and skills and encouraging them to realise their potential.
If Cambodia is able to design things our own way we can go out and find buyers.
"Employment opportunities in the garment industry are not limited to cutting and sewing," he said. This is an industry with a very complex supply chain where many challenging positions are available, and we are confident that Cambodian workers can ... propel this industry to the next level."
For the dress design portion of the competition, entrants must submit a design for a dress to be worn at a traditional Cambodian occasion or any special event by September 14. The 10 best designs will be made into dresses and presented at a runway fashion show in November, from which three winners will be selected by representatives of garment sector stakeholders.
Three winners will also be selected from 10 finalists for the T-shirt design portion of the competition, and it was hoped the winning designs could later be produced and sold in the stores of the collaborating brand.
Catherine Vaillancourt-Laflamme, training specialist and officer in charge of the Better Factories initiative, said the prizes were geared towards long-term self improvement. Finalists and their families would receive insurance coverage from GRET, access to WING's mobile banking system, plus credit, and take part in pattern making courses offered by the GIPC.
"The whole purpose of this campaign is to give hope and tell people that the garment sector in Cambodia will flourish again in the future," she said. "Prizes will promote hope, empowerment and the development of skills for the finalists and winners," she said.
GIPC Director Tep Mona said the prizes will be meaningful to the winners. "They are not just prizes, they are something they can bring along with them to empower themselves for the future."