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Nicolas (left) and Desablin founded CULT in June.
Nicolas (left) and Desablin founded CULT in June. Athena Zelandonii

Conscientious shopping: it’s a brand new cult

Over the past few months, a pair of French entrepreneurs have drawn something of a cult following, building on a trend in Phnom Penh: socially responsible shopping.

Their events – dubbed “CULT”, and launched in June – bring ethics-conscious brands from across Cambodia together under one roof. Last night, they hosted their largest event yet.

Katia Nicolas and Ludivine Desablin are business owners themselves. Nicolas has her own ethical fashion label, Good Krama, and Desablin runs the second-hand shop Bee Vintage and Craft, which aims to increase local re-use and up-cycling. The pair met at a pop-up event in March, and decided to start a project together.

They realised they had the opportunity to do more good, bringing the brands to a bigger customer base. Often, small brands don’t even have a brick-and-mortar shop. (Good Krama is one of those that does not.)

“There are all these great brands, spread all over Cambodia, and just a bunch of stores hidden all over the city,” Nicolas says. “People don’t necessarily know where to go or how to buy locally, hand-made things, because it’s hidden everywhere.”

The pair are part of a growing movement that is rethinking the fashion industry – at least locally. Such “slow fashion” brands aim for products that are locally made, sustainable and socially beneficial. Nicolas and Desablin reckon there are hundreds of “ethical” brands in Cambodia.

“We get messages almost every day [from interested brands],” says Nicolas. Of course, an “ethical” label is often self-determined – and in some cases could be misleading. But for their part, Nicolas and Desablin have a strict definition. To participate in CULT, a brand must be an established social enterprise and be environmentally conscious along all parts of its production line.

Last night’s CULT line-up featured 12 brands – and not just clothes – including recently launched fashion line Jungle and Jardin, Amboh espadrilles and Jiva Probiotics.

So far, each CULT event has drawn crowds of more than 200. There are plenty of expats, but Nicolas says the Cambodian contingent is growing.

“There’s a bunch of locals, because a lot of these businesses are social enterprises, and they have their own network,” she says.

Ultimately, CULT might serve as a space for all sorts of do-gooders to come together, as well as a place for ethical brands to explain just what it is that they do.

“They can talk about how they produce, what they produce and what the story is behind their products,” Nicolas says. “That’s what’s important.”

CULT (Cambodia’s Ultimate Lifestyle Trade) runs monthly, with a rotating location and set of brands. Its fourth edition will be held on October 13.

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