Traditional hand-made woven Khmer silk products are struggling to survive since they have to compete with import from neighbouring countries. Chen Sopheap, who has been working for international NGOs for over a decade decided to join the weaving crafts sector, as she sees the potential and wants it to survive .
The Post reporter Hin Pisei sat down with Sopheap, who is now the founder and managing director of Keiy Tambanh Khmer to discuss the future of the sector.
Why did you decide to enter this sector?
I guess it is my favourite job; I like to use hand-made Khmer products such as Seung and Krama. In the last few years, it has been really hard to find such products in the market. They seem to have been abandoned, but the truth is that the same products are being imported from Thailand and Myanmar.
I wondered why the Khmers, who have had a long history of manufacturing and using these products started opting for imported ones, while many manufacturing facilities in the Kingdom have been left unused.
After studying the market, I found that Khmer textile products (Khmer Seung) weren’t exposed sufficiently because the designs failed to be updated in terms of fashion and quality, in line with market demands.
When did you start your business and where do you source your products from?
After interviewing local weavers, I decided to establish Keiy Tambang Khmer (KTK) crafts in mid-2015 to showcase Khmer handicraft products of good quality, in different styles and colour choices.
All my products are made from high-quality raw material and are produced in close cooperation with the weavers. When KTK was established in 2015, we had only 10 family members working for us. But now, this has increased to more than 200 families based in Koh Dach, Kandal Province.
How is the current market for traditional Khmer textile product?
Well, the demand for traditional Khmer textile products is steadily increasing for our two branches [in Phnom Penh]. This is because we update the styles and quality and offer them at affordable prices.
I also got an order from outside the country, but so far we have not agreed on the terms as yet because we haven’t been able to meet even the local demand.
How do you promote the use of your products?
We always want to gain exposure through events that showcase local products, such as the Buy Khmer Products Campaign, the River festival or the Sea festival.
We always bring our products to seminars and other meetings of various institutions and associations as well.
You have won many awards in competitions. How can they help to promote your products?
I recently won a 2018 Leadership Ambassador award, which is among the three major awards I have won so far. In September, I was invited to the US as the founder of KTK to attend a study tour conducted by the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP). I was one of nine women entrepreneurs and two ministries that represented Cambodia.
Khmer-styled garments made from Seung, Phamoung, and Cotton Scarfs are beautiful and exemplify our national identity. They are traditional clothing, but nowadays, you can also wear them to various event. I think the demand will continue increasing.
However, producers must also strive to produce high quality and beauty and they must be loyal to customers.
I believe Cambodians want to see Khmer products in all areas. Not only in handicraft, but also in the industrial sector as well. Khmer products will flourish through mutual support.
I wish to see Cambodia having the world’s most prestigious brands. My goal is to realise my dreams.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.