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!!🤗