Launched 2,5 years ago, Amboh is a shoe brand – espadrilles to be more accurate – launched by a French expatriated in Cambodia. The funny part? He is from Lille, in the north of France (!) where espadrilles shoes can be worn 2 weeks top during the year 😆. The great parts? The models are amazing, comfortable and above all made by locals ethically! 😍
If you check the shop in Trip Advisor, just take note that the address (as of mid-May) was not updated. Indeed, the company moved 2 months ago in the street 21. An hour before its closing I managed to reach it! The exterior of the shop is nicely decorated with street art paintings inviting you to pass the door. Besides, at this time of the year in Phnom Penh, some air conditioned is well appreciated 😅. Through the window shopping I can see the showroom with quantities of fabric on the ground. The founder and his intern were checking new combinations of models to be designed. At his welcoming I directly knew the owner was French! THE famous FR accent 😆 Amboh (= fabric yarn in Khmer) shoe is produced by mixing both FR know-how in making espadrilles and Cambodian fabric design: Khmer Krama. Krama is a piece of checkered cotton traditionally worn in Cambodia with many uses: scarves to protect them from the sun and the wind, bag, decoration, hammock for children etc. This is part of Cambodian cultural heritage. While checking the range of models, Sebastien (founder) tells me that it is possible to customize the shoes with the fabrics stored behind. So nice!! But, I already fancied a model 😍
From the showroom you have directly access to the administrative office (Sebastien’s) and the production rooms, which were empty as the workers left long ago. Since the model I liked was not available in my size I placed an order to pick it up the next day and planned to learn more about the brand.
The day after I was so glad to get my new pair of espadrilles freshly made which were wrapped up in a bag in cotton fabric and not the traditional carton box. Sebastien was really nice and talked very proudly of his brand and project. Sitting at the table outside the shop, he nicely answered all my questions 😊
Locally sourced and locally made.
The fabric is bought at the local market in Phnom Penh. The main ambition of the brand is to produce locally with local resources (people and materials) without importing. Exception is on the shoe soles, which are imported from China, since there is no jute available in Cambodia.
Why being an entrepreneur in Cambodia?
This is a family story. Since his childhood Sebastien had a link with Cambodia. His father worked closely with a French Cambodian, who decided to move to Cambodia in 2000. Yearly trips there for vacation enabled him to learn more about the culture. Then, his brother decided to move to Cambodia about 9 years ago. Therefore, this meant more trips to the country to visit him. Meanwhile Sebastien went on working in France but longed for working abroad as an entrepreneur. A 3-months internship in Phnom Penh, confirmed him he could set up there. Then, came a good opportunity and Sebastien moved to Cambodia. After 3 years of observing the market, the young entrepreneur got his idea: make espadrilles with locally sourced fabrics by locals! And it is quite successful! Starting sales during events like pop-up stores, it is now hiring 7 people and 1 intern, located in brand new premises and counts 30% of its sales made by local middle-class!
From challenges to key differentiator.
According to Sebastien, launching a business in Cambodia is less complicated than launching a business in France in terms of administrative issues. Understand the culture and local practices are critical. Speaking the local language is a great advantage but not speaking it does not prevent you from doing business provided it that you have a very good assistant 😊. In textile industry, the biggest challenge in Cambodia is turnover. Sebastien explained that since unemployment does not really exist, if the job or other factors related to the job don’t fit with the employee, s/he can just leave. The French entrepreneur turned this market issue into a great asset: providing good working conditions to keep people!
From a developing country’s perspective, it might appear basic benefits, but this is not the case in Cambodia. Having worked in France, Sebastien wanted to set up what were for him basics: provide good premises with air conditioned and an area for lunch, health insurance covering the workers even when they are out of the office, provide continuous training to enable them to be polyvalent, work 5 days a week instead of 6 so that the employees can ensure to spend a day with their family and another one for potential extras, and of course provide better wages (above minimum average). Something I noted in the shop, but that was not quoted by Sebastien were the toys and small mattress for the employees’ children 😊 Often, having no child care prevents women from working.
What were initially conditions to prevent and reduce turnover, have become a key differentiator! Besides, since the company size is still small, it enables Sebastien to know very well each of his employees’ situation and provide the necessary help when possible.
It was really nice to find out about the brand and discuss about social entrepreneurship! 😊 Very inspiring!!🤗
Photograph: Mary McCartney – THE GUARDIAN
Kampot. Famous for its pepper and its durian, the city shelters other great things: welcoming people, nice food, and a growing ethical clothing brand: Dorsu!
Upon arrival you cannot miss the developing tourism activity which surrounds you: many guest houses 🏘 and many other constructions. In the touristic guide available at hotels, there are maps of the region and different local adresses. Among them, Dorsu: a garment brand offering “everyday cotton basics ethically made in Kampot”. So of course I had to visit it.
There are 2 Dorsu shops in Kampot: one in the old market (the original one) and the other one at a junction road closed to a café. I headed up to the 2nd one where the production is. It was not easy to find it, since there is no board sign indicating the brand name 🤔. Only drawings of sewing machines, yarns and needles on a board right next to a café board. Yes, you will know why later on in this article 😉
Transparent production: Shop and production unit. Upon arrival, you are quite surprised by what you see: a very nice shop with clothes for sale and the production room right behind (!) widely open, where ladies are working and textiles rolls are stored and prepared. Upstairs, there is the quality activity where the textile bought is tested and inspected.
Basics and no plastic. I had the opportunity to discuss with the sales officer of the shop, who explained me how the work is done and allowed me a visit of the workshop 😊 All clothes are in cotton and made from remnants cotton fabric bought in Phnom Penh. Textile production companies which don’t use their surplus, are selling them. The models are mainly basics that can be worn though all seasons. I purchased a t-shirt, and I was greatly surprised to see that the bag to put the clothe in was a cotton-made bag (Probably from textiles falls) and not a plastic or paper one!
A brand story with strong commitments. I had the opportunity to meet with one of the co-founder, Hannah, in the original and newly renovated shop and learn more about the brand story. The story of the brand is quite amazing and reflects perfectly the brand meaning and values since “Dorsu” means persistance in Khmer. However, due to the use of this word by the opposing political party, the garment brand cannot use it on a board sign. (I told you you would know why there was no board name on the shop 😉)
The brand concept started in 2008, arising from a Cambodian- Australian friendship. With Hannah’s knowledge and motivation to work with locals and Kunthear’s experience in garment production, both wanted to make something different in the garment industry in Cambodia. So Dorsu was born. However, the brand wanted to be distinguished from what NGOs or associations were doing. The brand ambition is to work with locals (Kampot and nearby region) and produce quality products locally by applying its commitments which are: providing good working conditions (details here), trainings to make people grow, fund trainings, limit the use of plastic. Dorsu also aims to encourage people to buy quality clothing that last and fit all seasons.
Step by step, the garment brand started to extend and launched a crowdfunding in 2015 enabling them to renew the “original” shop. An online shop is also available! As of today, the company counts 20 people: 13 in production and 7 in management team.
It was a great pleasure to find out about this inspiring brand! 🙂
Famous for its pepper, Kampot counts many pepper farms, hold by foreigners or locals. Visit one is part of the top things to do when you visit the city ☑. So the question is: which one? 💡 Let’s check out an organic farm! Actually many of them are organic pepper farms, which is good but not a relevant selective criteria 🤔…
Big coincidence! We were in Kampot at the same time than some friends! Meeting up with them 🍻 helped in making our decision: to not go at La Plantation. Although it is an organic farm, labeled with all well-known AB, IGP, ECOCERT labels etc, hold by a French guy, nice, happy and proud to present his work, he is also very very talkative as mentioned by our friends. Reviews about tours at his farm indicate that it lasts about an hour and a half. Our friends confirmed, but enjoyed their tour though. Anyway, the choice was made: Sothy’s farm!
You know you are closed to it when you see the above signs (see picture). 600 meters later here you are: at Sothy’s farm! What catch the eye upon arrival are the solar panels used over the house roof, the kettle heating system using solar energy, the lovely house and restaurant part and the shop where peppers of course, scarfs and other handicrafts can be bought.
Sothy welcomed us and looked for an English speaking staff to guide us in the farm. Before becoming Sothy’s farm, it was “Chez Christophe”.
After explaining all the basics about pepper cultivation in Kampot, we had the opportunity to visit one of the plantation. Since pepper plants are very fragile, only harvest by hand (no machine) is practiced. The harvest season had just passed (March – April) so only the young pepper branches were remaining. To protect the pepper from the sun, they use small wood branches to make shadow and to protect the plants from caterpillars 🐛 they use a mixture made of lemongrass, quinine, tobacco and neem leaves. To grow the plants the manure used is made of 80% cows and 20% bats. Other pepper plantations are located farther.
Kampot pepper are quite expensive, this is why it is mainly used for high officials in Cambodia and bought by foreigners. But why Kampot pepper is so particular? One of the reasons is the composition of the soil, which is made of quartz.
In the garden, other nice things to see: durian trees, lemongrass bushes, mango trees all cultivated with organic methods.
After the visit (in total about 30 mn) you have the opportunity to have a delicious meal for about 5 USD 🤗
And if you are lucky*, you can get a fresh organic mango for dessert 🤗
*since they are organic mangoes, some mangoes may contain some insects.