Beneath the palm trees of the grand Elephant Bar garden at Phnom Penh’s Raffles Hotel, female-run businesses came together to showcase their products and promote gender equality at an event for International Women’s Day.
It was the sixth event in a series called CULT, a designers’ market born of a desire to bring together sellers and customers from Cambodia’s growing ‘ethically conscious’ shopping scene.
As well as them all having female bosses, the businesses were united by their focus on locally-made, environmentally-conscious goods made by workers paid a fair wage in a safe setting.
Fashion brands such as Un été à Kep-sur-Mer and I Love Dada displayed their brightly coloured clothes and accessories beside jewellery stands, soaps, beauty products and even printed pollution masks. Stallholders were enthused about the ways in which the creation of more socially conscious brands benefit women in particular.
“Silk weaving can give women a sustainable income and equal opportunities. They can also work from home in a safe space,” said Ngorn Vanntha, whose business Color Silk was inspired by her mother’s work as a silk weaver in Takeo province, and the many female weavers she knew who sought work abroad when the local market for silk products dried up, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. She currently employs 450 women in Takeo.
“It is very important that women know they have equal rights in society and that they are acknowledged by the law,” the 33-year-old said, adding that the CULT events are an important place for enterprises that promote this message to network and put their names out to the public.
Discussing the challenges faced by women entering business in Cambodia, Katia Nicolas, co-founder of CULT as well as fashion brand Good Krama, said: “My business is 100 percent run by women, so I find them to be extremely powerful and strong.”
In her experience, she said, “the struggle Cambodian women face is having to take on a rather motherly role and not being able to have as much independence and creativity”.
Nicolas hopes CULT will become a “one-stop shop” for consumers who want to make sure their purchases are locally and ethically made, and hopes to expand into e-commerce soon.
Daneth Eng, co-founder of beauty brand Dai Khmer, acknowledged that small businesses could only help in their own circles, but said she was inspired by the thought of changing just a few lives and spreading a wider message.
Like many others at the event, her business aims to equip women with new skills to give them more independence. “Women in Cambodia have to have their own power. They have to feel like without men, they can support themselves,” Eng said.
“On Women’s Day I would like to spread the love - women can run the world.”