Commerce begins to make its way out of Central Market and onto the streets as the sun begins to set and vendors line up rack after rack of trendy T-shirts for sale on the roads outside.
The nightly ritual, which plays out like clockwork after the market closes every evening, is a reminder of Cambodia’s role in supplying the insatiable global appetite for fashion.
Yet, as vendors set up their wares, apart from the odd elephant design or Cambodia Beer shirt, there isn’t much to be found in terms of contemporary Cambodian clothing.
That’s where Dom Nork comes in. The clothing label is named after consistent drops of water, which over time can fill a jar or cut a stone.
The label is the brainchild of three recent graduates who wanted young Cambodians to wear apparel with a piece of their culture as comfortably as they may wear a football jersey.
Everything offered in the company’s catalogue is designed in-house. The clothing is made by a team of differently-abled women and materials are selected to reduce environmental impact.
Dom Nork co-founder Koem Rathborami, 26, tells The Post that initially the idea was just to make T-shirt designs related to Lkhon Sbek Thom – a uniquely Khmer form of shadow puppetry dating to before the Angkor period.
Along with the Lkhon Khol (masked dance theatre), the art form is considered sacred and performed by the Royal Ballet on specific occasions three or four times a year, such as during the Khmer New Year and the King’s birthday.
“We love traditional Khmer arts and culture. We came up with an idea to use classical Khmer motifs to help younger Cambodians learn about our history and appreciate our cultural heritage,” Rathborami said.
Neang Rathsambath, who designs the clothes, said he often uses imagery and characters from Lkhon Sbek Thom to lure shoppers, including those of Hanuman [Monkey King], the Giant Soborn Kha and Neang Seyda [Queen Sita].
“It’s the oldest art form originating before the Angkor era in 802AD, so it’s natural to use images from the play for our line,” he says.
Fittingly, Rathaborami’s partners Neang Rathsambath and Von Varak originally came up with the idea to sell clothes to help finance their travels around Cambodia.
“Initially, we were just friends on Facebook and often met at various events as we liked travelling and learning new things, but we didn’t have money, so we decided to create something new.
“We designed T-shirts digitally and posted it on Facebook for sale. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of positive feedback from friends and fellow netizens on social media, as we did not expect it,” Varak said of Dom Nork’s origins.
“Currently, we don’t have partners to expand our range of products and we have only one retail location. But in the future, we plan to collaborate with other companies and expand our range into Siem Reap province.
“We are also very happy when young people express interest in designs with traditional Khmer motifs and want to explore more about Khmer products. It encourages us to do better and create new products,” Varak said.
The label opened its first retail outlet earlier this year and has already expanded its collection to include bags, mugs, passport covers, books, candles and wallets – each with Sbek Thom or Lkhon Khol motifs for 10,000 to 60,000 riel.
The Dom Nork store is open from 10am until 8pm, seven days a week. It’s located in Building 50B on Street 390.
Call 016 533 282 for directions. To view their collection visit their Facebook page (facebook.com/domnork) or Instagram profile (@domnork).