Weaving bonds between Cambodian and Canadian women

image1Lovely, quality Southeast Asia silk

Since the 13th century, Khmer silk has been considered the most beautiful in Southeast Asia. Mulberry silkworm cocoons yield a golden yarn that is soft, resistant and thermoregulatory.

In the 1970s, this practice had halted as the Khmer Rouge required women to stop weaving. But over the past 15 years, interest in this exceptional material has revived the sericulture sector.

A traditional know-how worth preserving

Unfortunately, this artisanal technique is now struggling to regain its secular grandeur against competitors like China and Vietnam that also provide most of Cambodia’s silk.

Artisan Hub, an important lever

TFO Canada’s Artisan Hub project was launched in 2016 to promote small and medium-sized textile companies in the 8 least developed countries (LDCs): Nepal, Madagascar, Uganda, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Haiti, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

During a visit to Cambodia, Nathalie Bourgouin – owner and co-founder of Soie Femme – met Ms Veasna of Women For Women (WFW) an artisan group producing silk scarves locally.

Soie Femme imports and distributes fair and ethical products in Quebec/Canada. Ms Bourgouin was looking for someone on site who produced authentic silk as she had recently discovered this unique Cambodian expertise.

A professional relationship and a friendship were born. It now allows WFW to access the Canadian market through the distribution network of Soie Femme’s independent boutiques.

image2Soie Femme emerges, WFW expands

The first 100 scarves from WFW, which Nathalie brought back for her now-partner Josée Maranda, marked the beginning of Soie Femme’s adventure. They have since created their own collection of light silk scarves – woven 1/1 (one thread, one thread) – in a variety of fashionable colours.

In 2017, WFW was selected to exhibit at Apparel Textile Sourcing Canada tradeshow in Toronto as part of the Artisan Hub Pavilion. Bourgouin, Maranda and Veasna forged strong ties and concluded further business.

They are now working on other products such as silk capes, silk ponchos, silk bags and pouches.

Helping Cambodian women thrive

With Soie Femme’s stance on the ethical market, sets fair prices, ensuring good working conditions and decent wages, paid directly to women hand weaving their silk scarves. image3

“I think TFO Canada does a great job of finding producers/artisans outside of Canada,” says Nathalie Bourgouin. She adds: “The scarves are made in a fair and ethical way! This allows WFW to secure employment for Cambodian women in poor communities and to hire women with disabilities. We hope to be able to buy more scarves to help more women and their families to access a better future.”