A local artisan in Prey Veng province is making his living from a unique fashion piece that cows around the world can get behind
In Prey Veng province’s Pea Nea village, a former hairdresser has created a successful business turning wooden engravings into a wearable art form.
Mao Gi Mern, the 41-year-old founder of Wooden Belt Handicraft, admitted they were not his own invention, he was one of just a few around the country who were capitalising on a traditional craft.
“I saw people making belts from wood just for fun for the first time and I thought they were beautiful,” Gi Mern said.
“After I tried to make one for myself, people started to ask me to make more for them.
“It was difficult because there was no school where I could learn, so I had to use my own creativity. I have created a lot of designs like Angkor Wat, crocodiles, dragons and lions to attract people.”
The belts cost between $30 and $70 and the Angkor Wat designs are the most popular.
They are made by hand, taking engraved squares of wood and threading them on longer pieces of plastic string, with the material coming from recycled wooden furniture or provided by customers.
Gi Mern said he was proud to be manufacturing a Cambodian product.
“I also want to create work for people in my village because they are poor and disabled,” he said. “I now employ 11 people making the belts.”
Most buyers were businessmen or public servants, he said.
Sun Rem, a 36-year-old garage owner from Prey Veng province, said he wore his wooden belt every day because it “looked nice and interested people.”
“I think they’re nicer than belts made of leather or rubber,” he said.
He added that his belt still looked good after more than a year, even after being exposed to water.
Soun Nat, 31, a truck driver, said the wooden belts were as comfortable as those made of leather or rubber.
“I like to wear mine when I go to meet people of quality,” he said. “They always ask me about my belt and where I got it.”
Gi Mern said he now wanted to expand his business.
“I want to help poor people and produce more Khmer products,” he said. “I also have a charity called ‘Kon Khmer that helps poor people’.
“I take 1,000 riel from every sale to help vulnerable people.
“If there are many people supporting me to do it, I want to expand my business bigger, and I will recruit poor people who want to learn from me to work with me.”
To contact Mao Gi Mern at Wooden Belt Handicraft call: 012 239 028 or 0966 200 060.