The silk weaving and krama industry is currently collapsing, sparking deep concerns among business insiders.
Krama, the ubiquitous chequered scarves in silk and cotton, usually see a boom in the days leading up to the Khmer New Year festivities as rising demand keep the weaving industry busy.
The year 2564 will begin on April 14 at 8:48pm with Khmer New Year festivities being from April 14-16, according to the Khmer Chhankitek Calendar.
During the season, people typically buy woven silk, solid-coloured silk skirts and other cuts of fabric for family members to use in the New Year. However, the Covid-19 spread has halted this year’s orders.
Chen Sopheap, the founder and managing director of Keiy Tambanh Khmer, a manufacturer of traditional Cambodian silk-based products, told The Post that her sales have taken a sharp dive.
In previous years, vendors and weavers kept busy during the festive season, but activity has fallen.
“Sales during the days before Khmer New Year are about 80 per cent lower than in the same period last year,” said Sopheap.
She said she could normally sell between 400-500 pieces of woven cloth in the month leading up to Khmer New Year.
“But sales started to decline at the beginning of the year. It has only gotten worse as the Covid-19 outbreak has become more severe in the last few weeks,” she said.
Due to the slump in demand, production has hit the brakes, she said. The drop in sales has led to her laying off members of her weaving group for more than three weeks.
San Vannary, the owner of Silk House, which sells souvenirs and silk products, said the crisis has brought her business to a standstill, as most of her customers are foreign tourists.
“This has been the most trying period, with many products left in stock despite trying to sell them online,” said Vannary.
If the crisis persists, she said, her situation will become dire. She urged the authorities and financial institutions to look into more favourable loan policies for the Kingdom’s struggling small- and medium-sized businesses.
Looking to an entrepreneurial solution to their plight, both Vannary and Sopheap have transformed their unsold products into masks as well as home items for daily use – such as pillows and decorations – in line with demand during the health crisis.
In doing so, the shops can remain afloat with minimal layoffs and financial losses.
The owner of a garment shop in the capital’s Sen Sok district, Choen Sophea, said orders had slowed to a trickle this year.
This, he said, is in stark contrast with previous years, in which he had been forced to set a cut-off date for orders as he could not fulfil them by Khmer New Year.
“By this time last year, I had stopped receiving orders from clients as there was no time to tailor them,” he said.
Cambodian silk production accounts for only one per cent of domestic consumption, while imports account for 99 per cent, equivalent to more than 400 tonnes per year.
The Kingdom imports most of its silk from China, the National Silk Strategy Report 2016-2020 said.