I’d like you to meet two amazing women: Lauren Iida and Rachel Faller, ethical fashion mavens who are running social enterprises benefitting marginalized and impoverished communities of women in Cambodia through fairly trading ethical fashion goods.
I met with them at their fashion show dress rehearsal, whereby I was able to get in a quick interview. Instead of a lengthy line of questioning, I zeroed in on just one important question.
What inspires you to do this?
Lauren Iida – ”It was a perfect opportunity for me to combine my love of art and design with my love for travel and working with people of different cultures and backgrounds.”
Lauren traveled to Cambodia and loved the people and lifestyle. She started getting clothes tailored, but eventually found out that the seamstresses who worked there weren’t getting paid. She started working with their boss, bringing in her own designs for them to make that would fit the larger-sized expats living there, as well as the tourists who were visiting. Unfortunately, the money made did not trickle down to the workers, as Lauren had hoped. On a trip back to Seattle for only 10 days, Lauren decided that she wanted to start her own shop in Cambodia, and through a series of small donations, raised $2,000 to start her own shop. She went back to Cambodia and invited those same workers to work with her. The young women also took out a loan via Kiva.org and bought sewing machines. Lauren paid them while they continued to pay off their Kiva loan, which, as of this month, is now fully paid off. Her workers mainly come from impoverished, rural areas of the country, wherein their best chance for employment would have been in a hazardous garment factory (which oftentimes leads to human trafficking), while making a maximum of $0.75 – $1.25 per day. Now the women are given free room and board, have steady jobs, and are able to fully sustain themselves.
Rachel Faller – “I enjoy the creative process of making products that not only benefit the people who are producing them, but also the people who are buying them.”
Like Lauren, Rachel also went to Art school and has a Fine Art degree in Textiles. She always did lots of community work, and when a friend of her mother’s asked her to help start a business for women with HIV at a hospital in Cambodia in 2007, she went. She really loved the people, the culture, and the textiles. She applied for a Fulbright grant, learned about fair trade and how people were running their organizations, and found a way to help these women start a business. She started out with 4 women, and now has staff of 15. She works hand in hand with the hospital to identify the HIV positive women who are willing and able to work, and trains them in their homes, as well as in her own home. Everything in the collection is locally produced, using recycled materials, second-hand clothes, natural dyes, etc. The style is geared towards foreigners and expats, since they can make more money this way. The company sells to other local boutiques, as well as at the hospital. She built up the company gradually, and opened up a store with a Cambodian manager. She chose the name KeoK’jay, which means bright green or fresh in Khmer.
The two designers met in Cambodia and co-own a retail space near the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap called Circle Boutique. It is located in the new and increasingly popular Alley West, which is known for its fashion boutiques from designers all over the world. They have recently been featured in the first Cambodian fashion magazine, called F Magazine, which has helped influence some of the more well-to-do locals to buy their products.
Fresh from the runways of Los Angeles’ Fashion Week (they were a part of the Green Initiative Humanitarian Fashion Show), Rachel and Lauren will both be in Seattle for the first time showcasing their designer lines on the 28th of Oct at SPACE Art Loft in Pioneer Square. And, if you can’t make the Fashion Show, you should put this trunk sale down in your calendars:
SPACE presents A Green and Fair Fashion Show
DJ Event and Runway Show, Thursday, October 28, Doors @ 9pm, Fashion Runway Show @ 9:30pm, Refreshments and clothing available for purchase, benefitting the work of Iida and Keok’Jay
Girls Night Out Trunk Sale
Thursday, November 18, 6-9pm, SPACE Art Loft Pioneer Square, featuring Iida and Keok’Jay, gifts, women’s apparel, accessories, and jewelry, wine & snacks
Both Lauren and Rachel’s companies are shining examples of how businesses can thrive without engaging in exploitative labor practices and without harming the environment. As the pre-holiday shopping season begins, please consider the work of these galvanizing women in your gift-planning.
You can shop via their online stores, or if you live or are traveling to Cambodia, you can stop in one of their shops in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
Iida designs: locally designed, fairly traded in Cambodia
KeoK’jay: handcrafted fashion, made by women with HIV in Cambodia
CIRCLE BOUTIQUE – Alley West – upcoming fashion street with new clothing boutiques featuring international designers (one block off the old market), Siem Reap, Cambodia
IIDA – Top floor of restaurant Chey on Street 294 between Norodom & Sihanouk (opening Dec 1), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
KEOK’JAY – Street 240 House #52 AEO, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
You can also find them (and “like” them) on Facebook: Iida & Keok’jay Design
Adventure on…in style, but of course!