Phnom Penh’s Modern Ethnic Design Center (MEDC), initiated by the suPPPort sustainable development group with the Fashion Design Institute in Berlin, Raffles International College in Phnom Penh and Messe Berlin trade fair company, has been teaching students how to tap into the international market, blending Khmer and European design.
Throughout the last year, 14 Cambodian students have spent time learning to adapt traditional Cambodian fabrics and patterns for the European market, employ sustainable production practices and work with local suppliers. About half the students had been working in the garment or textile industry already while the other half came from Raffles International College.
Polham Seila, founder of Khmer Artisanry in Phnom Penh, said the program had given her inspiration and shown how to simplify patterns so they appeal to the foreigner. It’s somewhere in between traditional and modern.
Her designs include patterns inspired by Angkor Wat and dragon scales, which she’s learned to incorporate into modern products.
The MEDC also helps students adjust their products to fit their target market. Since Ms. Seila’s naturally dyed fabrics are often above the local price range, she tailored her collection for 25- to 45-year-old foreigners. In the future, she hopes to bring her designs to the U.S. by selling them on Amazon.
Students are also given advice on how to capitalize on a growing international demand for unique, sustainably sourced products.
Ozan Oezdemir, managing director at suPPPort said that Cambodian designers have those kind of products, they just need to match that with what the international markets actually need.
Anne Lonnes, a graduate from the Fashion Design Institute who instructed the course, said that it focused on using traditional Cambodian weaving
methods of silk and cotton, as well as patterns such as ikat (a dyeing technique), in the loose-fitting, casual-chic styles preferred in Europe at the moment.
Models draped in classic Cambodian textiles melded with modern designs strutted across the runway under the glare of spotlights as an enthralled audience showed their appreciation.
At the fashion show held last night at Meta House where models draped in classic Cambodian textiles melded with modern designs showcased the work of fledgling designers, five students were chosen to showcase their products at Bazaar Berlin, an international sales show: Mr. Suphearac and Ms. Seila, along with Samnang Kang, Vannary Sang and Sam Ath Cheng, will head to Germany in November with all expenses paid.
Mr. Oezdemir, of support said that they want to help them have financial success in what they do, that’s why they take them to a business-to-consumer trade fair so they can directly try the Berlin market.
The program will also connect selected students with businesses in Berlin and online sustainable fashion retailers.
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