Jewellery-making ngo wants to be a brand

Sylvia Dang, general manager of Senhoa Social Enterprise, wearing​ Coco Rocha's 'Chantrea' necklace made with translucent Swarovski crystals.​
Sylvia Dang, general manager of Senhoa Social Enterprise, wearing​ Coco Rocha's 'Chantrea' necklace made with translucent Swarovski crystals.​ Miranda Glasser

Jewellery-making ngo wants to be a brand

Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha has designed a collection for them, they have graced the pages of Vogue and Marie Claire, and now NGO jewellery-makers Senhoa are opening their first outlet in Siem Reap, launched by a fashion show tomorrow at 1961 Coworking and Art Space.

With some of their items retailing at up to $995 and firmly in the ‘high fashion’ niche, Senhoa Jewelry isn’t the typical NGO-based jeweller. Many of Rocha’s pieces, for example, contain Swarovski crystals, while another collection designed by New York celebrity stylist Julie Ragolia – who has styled the Beckhams and Rihanna among others – features hand-sewn seed beads, antique brass chain detail and more Swarovski bling.

These are statement items, and not a recycled bracelet or shell necklace in sight.

Supermodel Coco Rocha wearing Champagne Delight bracelet, made with Peruvian opals and Swarovski crystal.​
Supermodel Coco Rocha wearing Champagne Delight bracelet, made with Peruvian opals and Swarovski crystal.​ PHOTO SUPPLIED

Little wonder, then, the “holistic social enterprise” that supports survivors of human trafficking counts fashion-savvy celebrities such as model and entrepreneur Iman among its fans.

But why, until now, has Senhoa kept such a low profile in Temple Town?

“Previously we didn’t think there was a market for our jewellery in Cambodia, just because of the price points,” says Sylvia Dang, general manager of Senhoa Social Enterprise. “Our jewellery mostly ranges from $50 to $350, and we use very high quality materials – Swarovski crystals from Austria, semi-precious stones. So we had previously just sold online, shipping to the US and we were also at a few retail stores in the US.

“Then we realised that there’s the tourist market here, so we started selling at the Shinta Mani Foundation shop, Anakut, in November. It’s been steadily doing well but it’s mostly just the hotel guests who shop there – you wouldn’t really get guests from other hotels.”

When the opportunity arose to rent space at 1961, Dang jumped at the chance. Senhoa Jewelry’s first Siem Reap outlet will open late August with tomorrow’s catwalk parade a taster of what’s to come. Kicking off at 8pm, the show will be followed by a one-off jewellery sale.

“This will be our debut in Siem Reap and in Cambodia, and we’re really excited about that,” says Dang. “I guess we’re probably more known as an NGO here so we really want to establish ourselves as a brand.

“We’re going to have a fashion show that’s open to the public, and an exclusive sale featuring some of our never-before-seen pieces. We have a couture line too which is all one of a kind. Our creative director Jenny Van will be here from the US, and some of our artisans will be running a little workshop so they’ll be working on some pieces.”

“We’ll be featuring one piece from our new collection which is to launch September 22, so it’ll be like a sneak preview.”

Coco Rocha modelling the 'Chantha' bracelet from the Coco Rocha for Senhoa collection.​ NIGEL BARKER
Coco Rocha modelling the 'Chantha' bracelet from the Coco Rocha for Senhoa collection.​ NIGEL BARKER

Fashion fiends will also be able to see Senhoa’s first menswear line, designed by Ragolia, which features cufflinks, lapel pins and unisex necklaces and bracelets made of hand-braided black cord and antique brass.

“Each collection is different, so it is nice to have a co-designer come in,” says Dang, who is sporting one of Rocha’s blingiest pieces – a chunky, chain necklace made of silver and gun-metal, with clear Swarovski crystals hanging off it in large spikes.

The effect is pure rock chick.

“Coco’s collection is very edgy and modern, kind of rock n’ roll, and then Julia’s pieces are a little bit more rugged, a lot of the rope look.

“What I really liked about the brand is that it is very different, for a charitable brand. Because most jewellery lines that do social good have recycled pieces, kind of hippy jewellery, and those are cute in themselves, but we figured why can’t you have glamorous jewellery. We meet a lot of designers who’ve been in the jewellery business for years, who are really surprised.”

Founded in 2010, Californian-based Senhoa has three programs in Siem Reap dealing with the prevention of and rehabilitation of human trafficking survivors – a pre-school and community development program called Lotus Kids’ Club, a women’s shelter, Lotus House, and the jewellery program.

“The jewellery program started off as just a job training program; it was something for the girls to do, we needed to teach them a vocational skill,” says Dang.

“We chose jewellery because it’s an easily acquired skill – it doesn’t require any reading for example. A lot of the women were illiterate and a lot have dealt with a lot of trauma or abuse, so it’s also therapeutic. And of course they get to make beautiful jewellery which is something that’s very significant for them. They go through a year of artisanship training, and some of them are so talented.” ​

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