Guilt Free Fashion

By: James Reddick [March 17, 2016 | Khmer Times, Phnom Penh - Cambodia]

When the average person thinks of clothing made in Cambodia, they see images of massive warehouses with thousands of seemingly anonymous workers. Clothes are `stitched together en masse and put on a plane for Western markets. The rejects pile up in landfills or are simply burnt.

But a small corner of the industry is trying to reshape this image, reinventing the process of designing and making clothes in Cambodia. While using eco-friendly techniques and giving their employees good wages and benefits, these companies are increasingly able to sell their goods both at home and abroad. 

The newest entrant to Phnom Penh’s ethical fashion scene is Good Krama, a company specializing in casual urban wear that is riffing off of the Kingdom’s most distinctive item of clothing: its iconic checkered scarf. Despite the name, the company does much more than sell scarves; it designs t-shirts, trousers, hats and dresses, all of which in some way use the Krama pattern. 

“Pretty much our idea is to blend traditional weaving techniques with modern design, all inspired by the krama,” says co-owner Katia Nicolas, who is French but spent much of her childhood in San Francisco. “We wanted to be authentically Cambodian but it’s also a very classic print.” 

With a degree from the University of California – Berkeley in environmental economics, Nicolas has applied her knowledge of sustainable design to the fashion world. For every company in this sphere, the definition of “ethics” varies, but for Good Krama the focus is mostly on sourcing. When possible, they use hand-woven silk and natural dyes, made mostly by a woman named Somnang in Takeo Province. When not sourced locally, they import natural fabrics, like Tencel, a fiber made from wood pulp using cutting edge technologies. 

Manufacturing clothes in an environmentally friendly way has its difficulties, Nicolas admits. It also has costs, which are reflected in the company’s prices. As much as possible, they use “upcycled” materials, meaning they reuse what is left over from garment factories. This means that it can be difficult to get enough of one particular fabric to make a consistent design.

Although the company only began selling its clothes in January, Nicolas says that they are already receiving orders from abroad, especially from the West Coast of America. “There’s a growing trend of people asking where their products come from,” she says. “They’re also realizing the impact of fast fashion on the world.

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