Looms partners with weavers around Cambodia not only with the aim of keeping traditional Khmer practices of weaving alive within their communities, but as well as offering a method of sustainable development for women in rural villages. I was able to visit one of Loom's many weaving communities, the Poy Char village in the Banteay Meanchay Province, on my break to northern Cambodia from my volunteer work in Kampong Speu, a rural village outside of Phnom Penh.
These women are producers for the scarves and throws
we have available at Lydali. The rural village lays about 15 miles off the main highway, down a very bumpy dirt road alongside miles of open green and golden rice fields. Instead of relying on resources from different provinces, the village is responsible for nearly all steps of the production. Once the final product has been achieved, in total, it has traveled between 4 to 5 different women within the Por Char village.
A few different women, including Tep Horm, farm the mulbury tree, which provides the food for the Cambodian silk worms, and farm the 'Cambodian Golden Silk.' The silk is then sent to be bleached and dyed, along with the cotton, at the 'Khmer Silk Village' in order to ensure consistency among all the tones of the dyes. The majority of the colors within Loom's collection have been dyed with extracted colors from natural resources, including the rubber secreted by the lac insect which creates a beautiful rose to red color, the coconut husk for the brown tones, and the anato seed for oranges which is also often used in curries and other cooking, and various leaves for green tones. Once the threads have dried, they are sent to be woven by the women.
The craft has been passed along by their mothers and preceding generations since the 13 century and each of these middled aged women have been weaving since they were 15 or younger. Each of them are homeweavers which allows them to weave while having enough flexibility to look after the household, whether it be preparing food or watching after their nieces and nephews or their own children.
These women use the weaving, dying, and silk farming to offset the unstable income from their traditionally main source of income, rice harvesting. Harvesting rice remains the main source of income for the majority of rural Khmer families, however, since these families still rely on poor methods of rice cultivation with minimal irrigation, their crops can easily be either spoiled by floods or droughts. Tep Horm's rice crop, for example, is spoiled this season due to the heavy flooding throughout Cambodia, so she will need to rely solely on her silk farming profits for the coming year to support her household. This is a prime example of how this traditional handicraft, along with a reliable market, can offer rural women a stable and profitable income for their household. It also provides a comfortable, flexible, safe and free environment employment, compared to the harsh places of employment many Cambodian women are economically pressured into, particularly, garment factories.
After spending over a month in rural villages in which members rely on their rice harvesting and have no specific handicraft, it is amazing to see how a traditional handicraft can make such a vast difference on their livelihood. It is such an empowering tool for these women to possess. Not to mention, each of the four middle aged female weavers I met with were single, without any children of their own. This is particularly uncommon in Cambodia, none the least, in a rural village.
These beautiful scarves and throws
are a cozy holiday gift that keep the traditional Khmer weaving alive, while providing profitable income for rural women. Gift them
to friends, family, and those who are always tricky to buy for!