The next edition to our “Lottie Meets” series is here and that makes me really happy. This one is very special. During our recent trip to Cambodia, we had the pleasure to tie in a visit with Fairsew, an independent business and proud branded manufacturer based in the capital city of Cambodia.
Early in the morning, we made the 6-hour journey on the coach from Siem Reap to Phenom Penh. As we bounced along the Cambodian roads, we passed lines of palm trees, lush green rice fields as far as the eye could see and colourful houses on stilts. As the capital city crept into view we started spotting many more high-rise buildings, offering an interesting contrast. Buzzing, traffic-filled wide roads, running through a modern hub with its charm still intact. In comparison to Siem Reap, Phenom Penh has a metropolitan feel which we enjoyed. After weeks of seeing more rural areas, it felt good to be in a busy city again.
The next day we made our way to Fairsew in a tuk-tuk and what a pleasure it was to visit the facility. We were given a very warm welcome into the small but busy factory by Partners Juss and Anneliese. As you will see from the video it felt very homely and relaxed, with a confident team concentrating on their work. While we were there it was coming up to a national holiday so it wasn’t as busy as usual, but you can get a feel for a day in the life of Fairsew.
What sets Fairsew apart from many others is that they are operating a fully transparent operation. You can track your garment back to them by the information on the garment tag, and learn about where your clothes are made. Fairsew clearly has nothing to hide providing the answer to our burning question, who made my clothes.
In the modern garment industry, this is a very rare phenomenon. Many retailers do the opposite and keep their supply chains hidden, this can mean a couple of things, either they have something to hide or they might be unaware of where they themselves are producing. Time stretched in modern retail and profits are often the top priority. Unfortunately, the workers behind the clothes, actually making them, can get forgotten. Trivialising their humanity and the true cost of labour.
This is what happened when the infamous Rana Plaza collapsed in 2013, killing 1,134 people in Dakha, Bangladesh. It shocking the world. In the wake of the tragedy many families lives would never be the same again, and circumstantially neither would ours. It pushed ethical fashion to the forefront of our agendas. Many fashion followers don’t want to buy into that kind of business any more.
Strong ethics and quality products are at the core of Fairsew’s business. Fundamentally proving that fashion can be beautiful, without the human or environmental cost.
Fairsew creates a positive community, for customers and sewers, encouraging them to grow where they want and to be proud of their work. This interesting thing about working with people in business is the transformation effect it has on peoples lives. Workers earn a modest but fair living wage, meaning they have enough money to look after their families and save money for the important things rather than get into dept. But most importantly they can send their children to school and progress the next generation.
The devastating recent history of Cambodia is heartbreaking. We had a thoroughly depressing day visiting the killing fields and the S21 prison, learning in depth why Cambodia is still classed, unlike its neighbours to the East and West, Thailand and Vietnam, as a developing country. Because of this status wages remain low, which makes it attractive to western companies. The garment industry makes up a whopping 70-80% of Cambodia’s exports, it a huge industry here. Many students aspire to work in garment factories after graduating, as it is seen as good readily available work. Fair factories like Fairsew are making this perspective a reality.
Many NGO’s are set up to help Cambodia get on its feet and gradually reach its global potential. But, Fairsew is proudly a full for-profit business. Of course, they are. Fashion is one of the most profitable businesses in the world. You have to laugh, and we did, about how providing a good secure job with sound human rights, and paying a fair living wage in fashion is currently considered a charitable act. Paying people fairly shouldn’t be a niche concept, it should be the norm. Ethical fashion can make a profitable business model.
In the future, Fairsew is looking to upscale their size and replicate their model in other areas developing areas, and we wish them every success in this vision. Creating small creative communities where they are needed most and keeping the craft alive is so important.
We spent quite a lot of time with Juss over the two days we were in Phenom Penh, it felt so good to be able to chat to someone who shares a lot of the same passions. All big believers in ethical fashion and doing all we can to progress the movement forward. Juss is working on the ground here in Cambodia, connecting with people and learning about the culture, thus learning the best ways to make a difference. Annalise is teaching her honed skills in pattern cutting and making. It is great to see people and specifically women, in this case, doing things right. Not through charity but with respectable work.
I have been harbouring the desire to design and make some products of my own and Fairsew left me feeling so inspired and forever connected to Cambodia and it’s people. I vowed I would go back there one day. And guess what, after a month in India, we are back in Phenom Penh already. What can I say we just love it here.
Watch the full video to hear the full story and I am sure you will fall in love with Fairsew too. We hope you enjoy watching and learning about this amazing company.
Love, Lottie xx
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