Years of civil strife have taken their toll on Cambodia’s silk industry.
Three businesses held a ‘Silkworm Social’ on July 17 at the Regents Park Hotel in Phnom Penh to promote silkmaking in Cambodia.
The event – organized by Lotus Pond, Santuk Silks and Beyond Interiors – showcased the processes involved, from silkworms spinning their cocoons to looms weaving fabric.
“Our interest is to help reinvigorate the Khmer golden silk industry,” said Bud Gibbons, who with his wife, Kong Navin, owns Santuk Silk farm in Kampong Thom province. “Khmer silk had a wonderful international reputation in the past. We want to get that back again.”
Cambodian silkworms are known for producing a high quality, naturally yellow-tinted silk.
Gibbons also discussed the relative accessibility of silkmaking as a form of employment. “Silk weaving is an ideal activity for people of all different ages and ability levels because there are so many parts to the whole process.”
Phann Siem, a manager for the Lotus Pond Association, said, “I think Khmer silk is not only popular with many people, the industry also provides a lot of jobs for people. Within my association we can provide work for 150 to 200 people.
“We export about 5,000 to 6,000 silk scarves per year to three countries: the USA, Canada, and Australia,” she said.
“There is a demand for silk within Cambodia. Cambodian people like to use Khmer silk because it is good quality.
“We have to support Khmer domestic industries.”
“Cambodia has many handicraft sectors, such as in brass and silver and woodwork, but silk is another important handicraft, and it is in danger of dying out,” said Sompen Kutranon, a Thai businesswoman who has lived in Phnom Penh for 19 years.
Sompen explained that the silk industry is losing many of its artisans to factory work. “These days, the young people don’t want to work in the village, they want to find a life in the cities. This is why it is important to hold an event like this to show the people who make silk that their work is appreciated.”
“The people present at this event are the team leaders. They will go back with photos from this event to show the silkmakers in their village. It will instill a sense of pride in their work,” she said.
Toun Sophan, 42, belongs to one of about 1,000 families making silk in Takeo province. “I can earn from around $60 to $100 selling silk a month. It helps people in my village to stay home in their families and communities without having to leave home to find another job,” she said.
“If we don’t support our silk we will lose our tradition, and the next generation will never know about Khmer silk.”