Walk north from O’Russei market, and you’ll come upon a bustling street where the motorbikes are parked two deep and traffic squeezes between them. Crowds of people stand on the pavement, raising voices in a bargaining war with merchants. Colourful pieces of cloth in a variety of styles hang from the walls of shops to attract customers. Vendors yell solicitations such as, “Come and see!” as you drive slowly by. This is the tailor street, a whole block with a growing number of businesses catering to fabric shoppers throughout Phnom Penh.
The crowded street is a convenient stop, especially for men looking to buy cloth to make into shirts and trousers. While buying cloth, Sok Theara, 22, said he came for the convenient parking and the cheaper prices, often cheaper than buying ready-made clothes.
“For about $8, I can find a shirt that fits the contours of my body exactly,” he said, adding that he rarely buys shirts in stores any more.
Sok Eng, owner of the cloth stalls located near the end of the first block, has been in business for more than 10 years.
She told LIFT most of her customers were men, although she also has options for female buyers. “When they buy here, they get exactly the style they prefer because I have a tailor on site,” Sok Seng said. She added that many of her female customers came only to have simple shirts made for school and work uniforms.
In fact, every store on the street has its own tailor, so customers can have their clothing tailored right after they’ve bought it.
Phuong Saren, a tailor since 1993, said he makes a pretty good living. He also explained why women frequented tailor shops less often than men.
“Usually, female shirts require a more sophisticated style, and women might feel uncomfortable during the measuring process if the tailor is male,” he said.
Despite the increasing popularity of tailored clothing among teenagers in Cambodia, cloth dealers still complain about slim profit margins, caused mainly by the sheer number of competitors in the business. Sok Eng claimed that a few years ago, she could turn a better profit than she does today.
“When there were not many sellers, I could sell for a higher price. But now I’ve had to lower the prices at my stall so I can still attract customers,” she said.
Other stalls are not Sok Eng’s only competitors, as many shops have begun importing cloth from other countries at a more affordable price.
Mao Bun Ratana, the owner of Mr. Man Fashion, has just opened two other branches of his clothing shop on Street 215 because of potential demand.
He said that ready-made clothes were now priced similarly to tailored ones and he could provide customers with more of a choice in size, style and colour.
“I usually try to conduct market surveys with customers so I can order shipments of their favourite styles,” Mao Bun Ratana said.