#Cambodia | where your #silk and #fashion came from

We love fashion and we definitely love high quality fabrics like silk.  Today it’s difficult for customers to do the right thing. Even with expensive brands you often don’t know where the clothes were produced and under what circumstances. I ask myself regularly if others had to suffer for my lifestyle. That makes it tough sometimes. I love little labels of young emerging designers who produce their stuff locally. But still, where do the fabrics come from? It’s a question hard to answer. We often hear from exploited people in India, Bangladesh or Cambodia in the news. Burning or colliding factories left all of us in an unsure state what to do. And what about the fact that these countries live from the fashion industry? There are no easy answers to these questions and the problems won’t be solved tomorrow but when I travelled Cambodia in 2013 I took the chance to visit a project which tries to change things.

Cambodia is a fascinating country and one of my favourite places in the world. If you ever have the chance to go there, take it! It might change your life forever. The countryside is rural and amazing. The temples are  gigantic and more than amazing. The food is really unique and rarely known in Europe or the States.

The people are still suffering from the after effects of the Red Khmer Regime under Pol Pot but they are welcoming and as friendly as you could imagine. It’s a place where you have to think about a lot we do over here and it might change the way you see things. I met a lot of inspiring people, too.

Cambodia is also very important for the fashion industry, wages are even smaller than in India or Bangladesh and a lot of people live from it. Probably most who don’t work in the tourist business. But the Cambodians do have a voice of their own and go on strike a lot for better payment and better conditions. And there are projects like Angkor Artisans. Angkor Artisans is  a company dedicated to the preservation of traditional Khmer skills in silk-making, stone and wood carving, lacquering and painting, but it is also an organization committed to promote the development of individuals and secure their future by the means of education and welfare. So they combine two important aspects of Cambodian life and future! They try to preserve the traditional crafts and they give insurance, health care and child support (day care and school) to their workers. In that way they promote especially the women, too. More than enough reasons to go and see how they work and how they produce silk, one of my favourite fabrics.

If you are in Siem Reap, home town of the famous temple Angkor Wat, you can visit the work shop of Angkor Artisans for free and see how the artists do stone and wood carvings. If you have more time you can go and take a guided tour out to the silk farm which is an amazing experience. You’re in the middle of nowhere in the country surrounded by mulberry trees. The leaves are fed to the silkworm while breeding them.

Mulberry trees as far as you can see surounding the silk farm.

The silkworms are fed with the mulberry leaves until they built their cocoon.

After breeding the silkworm the cocoons will be seperated from the leaves.

Commercial silks originate from reared silkworm pupae, which are bred to produce a white-colored silk thread with no mineral on the surface. The pupae are killed by either dipping them in boiling water before the adult moths emerge or by piercing them with a needle or by being laid out in the sun like they do that in Cambodia. These factors all contribute to the ability of the whole cocoon to be unravelled as one continuous thread, permitting a much stronger cloth to be woven from the silk.

After the moth inside died in the sun the cocoons are cooked and the silk string is unravelled.

The unravelled string can now be coloured. In Cambodia they use traditional techniques and natural ingredients to get all different kinds of beautiful colours.

To get the right colour the strings are cooked again.

With this traditional technique they dye certain patterns in the silk strings.

After the colour is just right the strings are fed into spinning wheels to get high quality material.

The next step is to bring the silk strings on a big spool which will be used for the actual process of weaving.
        

Traditionally painted silk curtains.

Traditional Cambodian scarfs.

Last but not least the traditional Cambodian silk wedding outfit.
So this was my day at a silk farm in Cambodia. It was impressive to see how a product is made that I normally just know hanging in stores. It was also awesome to meet people who try to make a difference in their country without condemning the industry. My conclusion until today is to ask more questions about where my clothes came from and how big fashion labels try to make the living conditions of their workers in foreign countries more livable. I also try to buy a lot of local designers but I learned in Cambodia that these people rely on us, too. They need an income and they need the industry. So go and support labels which pay fair wages. And to start somewhere raise your own awereness and that of others to the fact that there is a dark side in the fashion business, too.

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