On a 420sqm plot of land on Oum Khun St to the west of Shinta Mani Angkor in Siem Reap sits the authentic and green Made in Cambodia Market (MCM), which offers a shopping experience that is both friendly to the customers and to the environment with 20 stalls carrying high-quality goods set up near each other to create a new community market experience.
It brings together some of the most exciting examples of artisan craftsmanship in Cambodia today to provide a “next level” shopping experience to tourists who are after authentic cultural items or souvenirs for friends and family while helping local people earn a living and taking care of the environment.
Internationally recognised artisans, designers and producers are participating in the market, including Ammo, Saomao, Sombai Liqueur, SUENG Khmer, Khmer Independent Life Team, Can’Art, Sister Creation, Small Art School, Crafting a Future, Angkor Silk and Loom, I Dig Herb and more.
A wide range of artisanal and unique Cambodia-crafted cultural items can be found on display, including scarves, clothing and jewellery of all types; decorative items carved from wood, copper and silver; leather goods; ceramics; gems and pearls from Pailin; foods like Kampot pepper and palm-sugar ice cream; and even recycled items made from buffalo horns and rubber tires.
“I used to work with my partner as the curator of art exhibitions. We used to organise gatherings of artworks but my partner had a different idea and thought of gathering together people to create a small and simple market,” Oun Savann, MCM co-founder, tells The Post.
The MCM was originally founded in 2013 by Savann and Aebe Christian De Boer. The market has just reopened as of February, 7, 2022 after their move to a new location on Oum Khun St near Angkor Hospital for Children.
“Back then, we thought about it and decided that we’ve seen a lot of markets that sell a mix of items from everywhere, so we thought it would be awesome to have a market that specifically focuses only on selling local products made in Cambodia,” he says.
MCM’s co-founder and organizer Savann says that the story behind how they evolved and ended up at their current location is a long one but the short and sweet version is that they started out in front of Shinta Mani Angkor doing a Made in Cambodia fair once per month for the first year, twice a month in the second year and then in the third year they became an every-weekend market.
Then in 2016 they moved to King’s Road Angkor and were open daily. Now, they’ve changed locations again to Oum Khun St to the west of Shinta Mani Angkor where they originally began.
When they first established a fixed location in 2018 they started out using a tent that needed to pitched each time and then folded up and hauled away again. This proved too difficult and time consuming so they decided to switch over to using mobile stalls – like cafe carts – where vendors can quickly move in and get set-up without waiting for the tent to be raised.
MCM has been helping their vendors earn a living, of course, but they’ve also been contributing to the arts community via hosting performances by Phare Circus, traditional Khmer performers and Tali Tno Association.
They’ve also hosted shows by Khmer musical acts like Brak Sophanna – a disabled singer/songwriter who performs his own original songs and also works as a music teacher – as well as the Little Squirrel Band formed by three young Khmer girls.
Savann says that in the future MCM would love to have more entertainment and host Khmer artists like Bokator, Shadow Theatre or even the famed Master Kong Nay, but the entertainment activities have been paused due to Covid, though Savann says it’s likely they will begin again in the near future.
“Visitors attending the market have the opportunity to purchase fine quality artisan products and luxury goods that redefine what is meant by ‘made in Cambodia’. The greatest beneficiaries of the Made in Cambodia Market are Cambodians, including many who are in financial need. The market provides both direct income and skills development,” Savann, 37 says.
Savann says that all of the vendors are given a set of rules before joining the market that they must abide by and they live as a community and as a big family that respects one another. The rules also benefit the tourists who shop at the MCM because they include restrictions on vendor behaviours like calling out to the guests loudly or being pushy towards shoppers about buying things.
And the curated nature of the market means that the products are all different from one store to another and all of them are sold at fair prices or price ranges pre-approved by the market’s managers.
“I don’t want a bunch of the same products in our place, because for one thing our market is quite small. We want many different Cambodian-made products and we don’t want the vendors to directly compete with one another selling the same things,” he says.
Savann says another initiative for the MCM that he’s proud of is their move towards environmentally sound practices by banning all plastic packaging and only using recycled paper and canvas.
“People won’t change their ways unless we change the rules for them. We encourage people to bring drinking bottles from home for their water and to use our bags made of organic materials,” Savann says.
Having set out with a long term go0al of creating sustainable jobs for artsisans, Savann says he’s happy that Made in Cambodia Market has managed to stick around for eight years because it has created a lot of jobs and income for Khmer people in the process, created a marketplace for local artisans to sell their goods and became a place where producers could be dealers, shop employees could become shop owners and shop owners could become designers, with everyone learning from everyone else and growing in their businesses and their skills.
The challenge during the pandemic has been, of course, the lack of tourists given that the MCM is usually primarily supported by international tourists and Savann says it would be wonderful if more local people could step-up and visit the market and help out by buying some things.
“Overall, it’s not that we don’t have anyone in the market, but it’s very few and actually quite serene – but it’s the busy markets that make money, not the serene ones.
“We really wish to bring back the artists and all the activities to the park and attract more people to come,” he says.
He says it’s been a great journey regardless of what the future might hold. They have served Cambodian products to countless happy shoppers from abroad, helped hundreds of Cambodians earn a living and showcased Cambodian artists at the same time and they’ve even gotten attention from international publications like National Geographic Magazine over the years.
“The success of the MCM isn’t due to my efforts, principally, it’s really because of our great vendors with their friendly attitudes, honesty and kindness towards tourists. No tricks, no deception. No cheap goods, just high quality.
“If all Cambodians earning a living by selling things to foreigners understood the amount of positive attention and the big boost to sales that these practices can bring to their businesses, nobody would ever dream of overcharging a tourist in Cambodia for anything ever again,” Savann says with a laugh.
Made in Cambodia Market is open every day from 12pm-6pm. For more information visit their Facebook page: @MadeinCambodiaMarket