Like most businesses during the pandemic, Pho Sopha’s shop selling lotions and other goods online wasn’t going well.
But rather than sitting around and idly waiting for the economy to recover, Sopha began to explore a new hobby – one which she unexpectedly managed to turn into additional income.
Sopha handled her free time during the pandemic in a unique way, turning disposable plastic bottles into items for home decor and costumes.
The colourful display of repurposed water bottles outside of her humble home in Poipet attracts the curiosity of people in her neighbourhood and those passing-by.
Arranging water bottles into sculpted shapes and spray painting them colourfully has made her home into a lively and friendly place. Her creative designs include vases, lamps and wall or window decorations.
Sopha was motivated to create these items out of boredom and to relieve stress but now her hobby has turned into a serious business that earns her family extra income.
“As I was lying there scrolling on the phone one day, I saw a DIY video about creating stuff from water bottles. I was interested in it because I happened to have quite a lot of water bottles at home and I didn’t know what to do with them. But I guess I do now,” she tells The Post.
She used to sell the water bottles to recyclers but she noticed that a whole sack of them earned her just a few pennies, so she decided to pile them up in her house just in case she ever needed them.
“Both of my regular businesses weren’t doing as well as before, so I decided to give it a go. I watched the videos to learn the techniques for connecting the plastic bottles together but in terms of designs I prefer to use my own ideas because I don’t want to duplicate what other people have already done,” she says.
At first, she only kept the finished items that she had designed inside her house or in the corner of her backyard. But days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into a year as she constantly created new things from plastic bottles until, finally, the front of her house became a display for all of her blooming plastic flowers and illuminated pillars.
People started to recognise her creativity and her friends and neighbours began to save their water bottles for her to use free of charge.
Sopha began decorating front yard with no intention of turning her creations into a business. But after it was all set up, she took a picture and posted it online. It went viral on social media and she got a lot of positive attention from people who said it was completely stunning, unique and also environmentally friendly.
“It has blown my mind! I never thought that this small act on my part making these creatuions out of garbage would lead to this huge response from loads of random people. Some of them even say they want to follow in my footsteps,” she says.
People told her to open a business selling her creations but said they might hesitate to inquire about buying them given that there was no sign that they were for sale. Sopha gathered her courage and posted a sign out front: “House of Creative Water Bottles” that also lists her contact information.
One by one, customers contacted her. She’s had requests to do photo shoots on her property and some coffee shops have purchased items to decorate with. All of them are attracted by the notion that it’s a real Khmer product that they can support.
Clients from any province can place orders and Sopha says she can ship the items everywhere in the country. Prices range according to the item’s size: the smallest items are 15,000 riel (about $3.25). Medium sized items are around 20,000 riel ($5.00) and the largest creations are usually 40,000 riel ($10.00). The illuminated “night light” pillars are 100,000 riel ($25.00).
In response to the overflow of compliments, Sopha says “I feel thankful and thrilled to hear all of the wonderful words from people. For an ordinary woman who has sometimes felt left out I take pride in what I do now.”
“Some people have even helped me financially. They tell me to keep going, work hard at what I do and they will always back me up. And these precious words will always go with me and keep me moving,” she says.
Once the pandemic has subsided, Sopha plans to look for a better space to use for her business. She says she strongly believes that once Covid has come to an end her way of doing business will be a little different. Her idea is to keep what she makes where it belongs.
“I’ve come up with an idea of opening a space for people to go and visit and take photos in the garden. I will decorate more water bottles, design it into different items and grow distinct types of flowers and let them all bloom beautifully and charge admission. That way I can earn money and what I make is still mine,” she says.
Finally, Sopha has some encouraging words for anyone reading about her:
“I urge you to stop habitually throwing rubbish away, especially plastics. If you’re bored, you can look for something that makes you feel at ease and turns plastic into something useful. Whether you imitate what others do or come up with your own ideas, the goal is to reduce plastic waste. Let’s unite in protecting our environment,” she says.
For more information about the “House of Creative Water Bottles” you can contact Pho Sopha at 088 999 1289.