As Thailand prepares for a year of mourning for their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a rush for black clothing across the border has some Cambodian traders and small-scale manufacturers seeing potential green.
With Thais expected to wear black or dark colours to express their devotion to the revered monarch, who died on October 13 after a 70-year reign, Thailand’s government say they fear a shortage of suitably sombre clothes as citizens rush to stock up.
While some Thais are taking their own garb to street-side dyers to avoid price-gouging, according to reports, others are looking across the border for mourning wear, said trader Roeun Phanna, who has been acting as a broker between buyers and suppliers and selling about 1,000 shirts per day.
“Thai traders are buying them up to sell in Thai markets, in streets and even in the supermarkets,” Phanna said, adding that Cambodian traders had been slow to realise the opportunity.
“There was no reaction in Cambodia for a week or week and a half … If we knew immediately that they needed black shirts to that level, we could have sold double the current amount.”
One of the firms Phanna engaged to churn out mourning wear is KB-Cambodia, a small garment factory in Kandal province of 30 staff. KB-Cambodia’s owner, Vichara Kosal, said she had received orders for 70,000 black T-shirts following the monarch’s death, which she sells for $2.10 each.
“Cotton is running out of stock in Thailand and there are many millions of Thais, so the demand is very high,” she said, adding the surge had come following a tough five or six months for small clothing manufacturers.
“The buyers are in Poipet; they buy it and sell it in Thailand. After there were many orders, we distributed some to other places [for sewing]. Whatever I have, they will take it all.”
In the weeks following the king’s death, Thai traders have descended on the Rong Klue market, situated on the Cambodia-Thai border, for black attire, say locals from Poipet town.
Rong Klue clothing vendor Sin Sameng, 56, estimated she’d sold about 4,000 to 5,000 shirts following the king’s death.
“There are many Thais who come to buy black shirts. I sell a lot of them,” she said, adding she had raised the price from about $3 per shirt to just over $4.
“For normal people, they buy 10 to 30, but for those who buy to resell, they asked for ‘whatever amount you have’. Before the king died, there was no one who bought black shirts.”
Ny Ky, a representative of cart workers who haul cargo across the border, said local vendors were ordering from Cambodian and Vietnamese factories to keep up with the demand.
“[Usually] Thais do not really like black colours, they like colourful clothes,” Ky added. “But now, because most people love and respect the king, they wear black clothes to mourn. They are very popular and sell well after [the king] passed away.”
The Thai government has warned retailers in the country against hiking-up prices, with the Thai Commerce Ministry saying it would work with manufacturers to ensure a stable supply.
Speaking on Monday, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia Ken Loo dismissed any suggestion Thailand’s rush for mourning wear would provide a boost for the Kingdom’s garment sector.
“Even if it is happening, it won’t be enough to affect the overall situation,” Loo said. “I don’t call it a trend.”
Additional reporting by AFP