In a city filled with copycat businesses and lookalike storefronts, the Ebony Apsara Café near the corner of Street 178 and Norodom Boulevard stands out. The café has an impressive selection of food and drinks, but the restaurant is only half of the establishment. A year ago, owner Rina Touch decided to start a designer clothing line and now sells her unique threads out of the same spot. Dividing the restaurant from the fashion shop, there is a tree with jewellery hanging from the branches, the kind of innovative design that made Rina Touch’s clothing designs an instant success.
It has been a long road for Rina Touch on the way to starting her own business, but at each stop she has picked up valuable experience that has made her entrepreneurial success possible. The 25-year-old grew up in a pagoda near Sihanoukville after her father died and her mother decided she was unable to take care of her.
At the age of 12 she moved in with a family who had three daughters and helped to raise the younger girls while she went to school. Two years later she moved in with her aunt and her French husband, who owned tourist bungalows on the coast. While working there she studied English and French, and learned to cook a variety of cuisines. After graduating from high school, she moved to Phnom Penh to study at university.
Rina Touch found herself alone in Phnom Penh with no money and no way to pay for school. While she soon realised her hopes of going to university would have to wait, she did not stop learning. Instead she went to work in garment factories, where she developed her skills as a seamstress by day and taught herself English at at night.
While reading a newspaper, she saw an ad for a cleaner at the British International School of Phnom Penh. She answered the ad, hoping to improve her English skills if nothing else, and after two weeks she was asked to become a teaching assistantas she was skilled in working with kids. After a year and a half teaching, she moved on to work with PLAN international, where she worked with poor families to help send their kids to school.
After her year-long contract with PLAN ran out, Rina Touch returned to Phnom Penh where she worked as an Apsara dancing teacher, dental assistant, manager of Gasolina bar and a cook. She saved up some of her earnings and, along with some friends she made along the way, opened Ebony Apsara. She says the business has not been highly profitable but can sustain itself, and it gives her the opportunity to support less fortunate people. She has helped to train 40 staff members over the past 3 years and gives most of the profit from the shop to the Apsara orphanage outside of Phnom Penh. “My dream is to eventually start an orphanage of my own,” Rina Touch says with a smile. LIFT