TWO metres tall and draped in yellow silk, the woman in the painting catches the eye of everyone who enters the Ebony fashion shop. Fashion designer Roath Rina is the owner of the shop and the artist of the painting in question.
Roath Rina opened the shop five years ago, using her own effort and capital. An only child who lives with her widowed mother, she has encountered many challenges in setting up her business.
She had to work five jobs a day to make her dream of owning a fashion store a reality. “I tried to save up money in the bank to make my dream come true,” she says.
As a child, Roath Rina was a pagoda girl, staying with nuns at the pagoda in Ou Chom Nar Village, in Sihanoukville, so she could learn from the monks.
She did a variety of work there, including cooking, making furniture, learning how to dance in the traditional Apsara style and sometimes offering to paint pictures on the walls of the pagoda.
Roath Rina graduated from high school in Sihanoukville and went to university, where she struggled to find an area of study she liked.
She told LIFT she had never attended fashion school, but employed her talents in drawing, which she developed when she was young.
“I like drawing houses, monks and dancing Apsara,” she says, adding that she learned fashion design by using second-hand clothes as an example. “I tore out parts of those clothes and sewed trhem back. It’s difficult at first, but don’t give up – it will get easier.”
Roath Rina always keeps paper and crayons in her handbag so she can immediately take down any fashion ideas she doesn’t want to forget. “As soon as I find a new fashion, I draw it,” she says.
Roath Rina designs both male and female clothes, mostly summer fashions. “I try not to copy the market,” she says, adding: “My fashion is a mixture of European and Asian style.”
Her clothes are popular among foreigners, many of whom order them via Facebook.
As well as being a designer, Roath Rina is a modelling instructor, employing the skills she honed when she was a model in fashion shows run by shops and restaurants.
She says that, if called upon, she can design 10 articles of clothing a day for a fashion show. “Sometimes I can make a new dress for myself in 40 minutes,” she says.
Her simple dresses normally sell for between $30 and $60, while her full-moon dress sells for a whopping $500. She is endlessly creative, and has also made forays into jewellery-making.
Roath Rina’s vision is to open an orphanage to help children who have a difficult childhood like she did. “I really needed someone to help me when I was young,” she says. “I would have been so grateful, but no one ever did.”
Over the course of four years, however, she has provided jobs and skills training to 40 orphans from the Apsara Arts Association. “Finding success for ourselves is not enough; we have to do good for society as well,” Roath Rina says.