Cambodia’s history is both beautiful and devastating. The spectacular ancient temples of Angkor stand in stark contrast to the heartbreak of the Killing Fields. The warmth and generosity of the Khmer people make it easy to forget the country’s present challenges and difficult past. For these reasons and many more, Cambodia profoundly impacts all those who visit and inspires many of those visitors to help make a difference in improving the country’s future.
When Michael and I founded Banana Backpacks, we set out to help address some of the issues facing Cambodia today. Like any ambitious project, it was inspiring to look around and see others with a similar motive making a big difference. The following 6 amazing companies craft goods that not only make your life better, but also have a major impact on tackling current issues in Cambodia. From watches that provide water filters, to jewelry that fights human trafficking, we’re sure you’ll love what these shop for good enterprises are working on as much as we do.
If you’ve visited Cambodia, you may have seen the brightly coloured cement bags used on construction sites across the country. But we guarantee you have never seen them like this. Elephbo is a Swiss startup created by Nicolas Huxley in 2014 to turn these recycled cement bags into beautiful products. Employing a team of Cambodian staff to collect and clean the material at above average wages, the cement bags are then combined with other high quality materials to create unique and sustainable bags, wallets, sneakers, and caps. Elephbo is dedicated to decreasing environmental waste and improving local employment opportunities in Cambodia through every one of their pieces. Their newest collection involved the impressive recycling of more than 25,000 cement bags. That’s certainly a fashion statement you can be proud to make.
I had the pleasure of visiting KOW Lifestyle’s beautiful workshop when I was in Siem Reap this spring. Having heard rave reviews about it from one of the company’s Khmer employees, I needed to see this working haven for myself and KOW did not disappoint. Tucked away in a peaceful garden, the company is a model for responsible small business and employment in Cambodia. KOW was founded by the inspiring Dutch entrepreneur Godie van de Paal in 2015 and the company is revolutionizing the making of hand-crocheted slippers in an ethical and environmentally responsible manner. The materials used to make the company’s slippers are biodegradable and they actively pursue a zero-waste project by transforming scrap materials into new products. KOW offers fair wages, benefits, a pleasant working environment, and training opportunities, all of which are outlined in the company’s publicly available employee handbook. With all of this social good, you can certainly feel cozy wearing these beautiful slippers!
For those readers who are iron deficient or anemic, Lucky Iron Fish has your best shopping answer. This fellow Canadian social enterprise creates small, reusable fish that release iron into water or broth when boiled with a few drops of an acidic liquid like lemon juice for 10 minutes. These fish last up to 5 years, making them an affordable and environmentally friendly solution for those suffering from iron deficiency. Better yet? For every fish you buy, a fish is given to a family in need. Iron deficiency is responsible for anemia, impaired cognitive ability, and increased risk of illness, among other life-altering health conditions in Cambodia. The concept for the Lucky Iron Fish originated from a study trip to Cambodia by Dr. Christopher Charles who was shocked by the high rates of these conditions in the region. His future research was dedicated to developing a safe and affordable solution. The fish design was inspired by a symbol for luck in Cambodia: the kantrop fish. What better way could there be to shop for good than by spreading health and luck in Cambodia and around the world?
I often describe Dorsu as the Everlane of Cambodia. This transparent Khmer and Australian founded company takes a hard stance against the environmental and societal harms of fast fashion in favour of timeless, ethical pieces. Founded by Kunthear Mov and Hanna Guy in 2008, Dorsu offers beautiful, minimalist clothing for both women and men. The company uses unwanted or unused leftovers from the large garment industry in Cambodia to cut back on waste and make unique collections. In addition to ethical employment standards, including above average wages and training opportunities, Dorsu financially supports Chumkriel Language School (CLS). CLS provides English, computer, agriculture, and creative arts lessons within the Kampot community of Cambodia where Dorsu does its entire in-house production. With a belief in making education a priority for future generations in Cambodia, Dorsu is a company close to our hearts.
TUK is a brand I recently came across and it was love at first sight. The word “tuk” means water in the Khmer language and the brand takes its name seriously. For every one of their beautiful watches, their partner, RDI Cambodia, installs a water filter in a school classroom. With our own focus at Banana Backpacks on tackling barriers to education and clean water in Cambodia, TUK’s mission speaks to our hearts on a very deep level. The company was created by the talented Kelsey Braun and Sasha Juliard. Their incredible Instagram photos are sure to inspire you to see the world and shop to make a difference.
The Brave Collection is the kind of organization that gets people talking. Jessica Hendricks Yee built her striking jewelry line to raise not only funds but also awareness of the human trafficking of women in Cambodia and around the world. Every one of her items is made by local Cambodian artisans who suffer obstacles to fair and meaningful employment due to disabilities or poverty. Going above and beyond this, 10% of The Brave Collection’s profits are donated to fighting human trafficking in Cambodia through partner organizations. Additional education stipends for artisans’ children are even more of a reason to shop for good here. Be sure to check out their brass bracelets that feature the word “brave” written in the Khmer script.