Phnom Penh, Cambodia: As I sit here at a cafe called Connecting Hands, in Phnom Penh Cambodia, it makes me almost emotional realizing that I’m actually here.
I have moments of “holy crap”, still can’t believe this is where I am and this is what I’m doing.
I feel a special connection to this place.
Let me give you some background as to how I ended up in Cambodia and what it all means to me.
Back in 2014 when I first arrived in this country. I was previously living in Korea where I was teaching English for a year. I decided to backpack through Southeast Asia. Tokyo was my first stop after Seoul, and I like to define that city as Seoul on steroids (in the best way possible). More people, more lights, more parties, more drinking, more everything. I had a blast. My experience in those big metropolises was a pretty easy adjustment. The culture was different for sure, but stick a big city girl in a big city and I can definitely find my way around.
The next stop after Japan was Siem Reap in Cambodia. I remember flying in at night so it was hard to really tell what it all looked like… but waking up thinking – HOLY S***! I’m in freaking Cambodia! The architecture, the roads, the tuk-tuks, the pagodas – I had not experienced this kind of Asia yet, vastly different from my everyday life in Japan and Seoul.
I became quite fascinated with Cambodia. Little did I know about the country’s tragic history, with the Khmer Rouge carrying out the Cambodian genocide in the mid to late 70s. As I travelled through the country, I read a memoir by Loung Ung called “First, They Killed My Father”. She shares her experience of being forced from her home at the age of five, living through the Pol Pot regime and trained as a child soldier. As I read, learned this and visited the Killing Fields where they had massacred bodies, I felt a deep sorrow and connection for the people of this land (even as I write this I get a bit emotional).
At the time I knew I’d be back to this country even if I didn’t know how or in what capacity, I knew somehow I wanted to give back to the marginalized and friendly people here.
Four years later, I am back here. And it almost creeps me out because I am literally just putting all these pieces together as I write this piece. Remembering how deeply I felt I needed to do something for this country, but not knowing what that was when I was here four years ago. Coming back here now gives me these very familiar feelings and it just feels so right.
Related Post: Why the World Needs More Social Entrepreneurs
So why am I here now?
Well, my passion for entrepreneurship led me to launch my eco jewellery line Chic Made Consciously shortly after my backpacking trip through Asia. Later in that journey (after Cambodia), I connected with an artisan group called Art Cycle Bali, who was repurposing tires into gorgeous fashion accessories. I was driven to start a business importing their beautiful handmade and fairly traded goods to North America and help their local artisan community.
So, I am here now in Cambodia with the intention to expand the business and product line. Chic Made Consciously is now working with a new community of artisans, part of Craftworks Cambodia. I had the incredible opportunity to personally meet some of them the other day. Hearing their stories of empowerment and how they really depend on companies like mine to provide them with sustainable employment. I came to learn that even with jobs from Craftworks Cambodia, those in the community still struggle with work and the women I met hadn’t had much work in the past couple of months. I was sincerely humbled to see first hand see how we directly have a positive impact on the livelihood and well-being of artisans in the developing world. It feels good to be giving back in such a profound way.
What also fascinates me to be working with this community, is that they are actually recycling brass from bombshells. Yes, you read that right, actual bombshells used during the war and most likely during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Hearing the artisans say that they are happy to be giving this item full of hate a new life filled with love, gives me so much joy!
This week is Fashion Revolution Week and today is the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed over 1,100 people and injured 2,500, most were garment workers working in factories that manufactured clothing for the Western market. Anyway, I encourage you to think, connect and ask yourself questions about who you’re buying from, asking yourself “Who Made My Clothes”. We all play a role whether we choose to believe it or not. Customers like you buy from brands like mine and in so doing, we continue to supply these developing nations with a sustainable income and offer marginalized people dignity through work.
Keen to know when our “bombshell collection” goes live? Make sure to stay connected and follow my ethical entrepreneurial journey via Instagram.
To participate in Fashion Revolution Week and fight for transparency in fashion, check out this post to learn how you can get involved.
(Travel note: This city is full of social enterprises offering more opportunity for people in this country. This cafe in particular works to train women who have been involved in sex slavery, human trafficking, and domestic violence and gives them the skills to work in the hospitality industry. How cool right?)