Top contestants gather to exhibit their entries, carefully translated into full-size garments.
I MIGHT ... THINK OF RUNNING MY OWN BUSINESS.
A GROUP of Cambodian garment factory workers had a rare occasion to smile on Sunday after a year that has brought steady decline in the sector.
Far away from the monotony of the factory floor, the girls looked like seasoned performers as they modelled the creative visions of their co-workers.
After a difficult year for the Cambodian garment industry, in which an estimated 38,000 people lost their jobs, the I Am Precious dress and T-shirt design competition brought a ray of hope.
The contest, now in its second year, is open to garment workers across the country. This year, more than 1,000 people submitted designs, which were whittled down to a short list of 20, which were each then lovingly translated into an outfit. The winners were announced late last year.
Minna Maaskola of the International Labour Organisation, who coordinated the campaign along with several trade unions, said the competition had generated an enormous boost to the self-esteem of garment workers across the board. “In this campaign, the contestants have been very happy and glad,” she said. “They didn’t really know how big it was, and I think it has only been positive, and the girls have said that they are now famous in the factory.”
Organisers of the competition say they are aware of the need to create sustainable opportunities for workers and have added a pattern-making course to provide genuine opportunities. “That’s what we wanted to do this year, to improve it a little bit so there’s a continuation, there’s a training course, there’s something extra. It’s not just winning a bicycle,” Minna Maaskola said.
The dress that most dazzled this year’s judges – and the focus of Saturday’s photoshoot – was designed by Khean Vantha, 30, from Kampong Cham province. The stunning floor-length iridescent blue gown resembles a couture nod to the American flag. She said the contest had given her the confidence to consider pursuing a career in fashion design. “After winning the competition, I am being trained in clothes design by the ILO,” she said Sunday. “After the training ends, I might stop working at the factory and think of running my own business at my home in Kampong Cham.”
Sem Sinnun, 23, modelled Khean Vantha’s winning design during Sunday’s photoshoot – part of a forthcoming magazine feature. “Although nowadays I am a simple factory worker, in the future I want to be a clothes designer,” she said. “Even though I normally work every day, I am concerned about my job as a garment worker at Shen Zhou factory because of the global economic crisis and because some factories were closed already in 2009.”