I found CWSG (Cambodian Women’s Support Group) online, when I was looking for suppliers for my shop. In the beginning, I was just looking to purchase products off the shelf from the group, but as we got to know each other, I soon realized that I wanted to expand the level of collaboration to also include design development for my own brand.
The women used to be a part of a program at Nyemo, which was an NGO that worked to support marginalized women with job training and other social initiatives, but when Nyemo closed in 2014 due to lack of funding, the women were left on their own. The women then reached out to Kanary, who was a former board member at Nyemo and together they set up CWSG. The purpose of the group is to ensure the women a reliable source of income from selling different kinds of beautiful handmade products, but the group also has a supportive function that allows the women to seek support and guidance from each other in all aspects of life. Some of the women are very skilled in sewing, while others excel in embroidery, and when we develop the designs, we try to make the best use of the inherent skills of the group.
When we are happy with the prototypes, we sit down and calculate the price I will be paying for the products. In addition to the labor cost I also pay my share of the overhead costs associated with running the group. In my opinion, it is not fair trade, if you only pay minimum wages, so I am to offer a level of payment that does not just allow the women to survive, but also to put aside money for unforeseen expenses as well as for retirement.
We have spent many hours together, trying to make a design work and laughing until we cried when sometimes, our work produced unexpected results (we will all remember the very first cat sleep mask).
The women might be at the very bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy, but their skills along with the pride they take in their work is remarkable, and it is a pleasure to work with them. They are strong, talented women, and I feel grateful for their support and dedication.