An Intro to Ethical Fashion in Cambodia

Fair trade is a common theme in food these days, but what about in clothing? We've partnered with a fabulous organization in Cambodia, Dorsu, whose motto "Buy Better, Travel Often, Be You" couldn't be more aligned with Traverse. Their eco-savvy clothing line brings both employment and pride to the local economy, and we are super excited to visit their facility on our Cycle Cambodia-Vietnam itinerary. We interviewed Ellen at Dorsu and learned about what ethical fashion really means in the context of Cambodia.

 Dorsu's storefront in Kampot.

Dorsu's storefront in Kampot.

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Tell us about how Dorsu started. What is the founder’s background? What caused them to start this?

Dorsu was created by co-founders Kunthear Mov and Hanna Guy in 2008. It was originally started as a way to raise funds for a local language school, and went from a 3 person team into a team of 18, designing, producing and selling in both Cambodia and an international market The goal was to provide accessible, reliable and ethical clothing alternatives for conscious consumers.

We now have two stores in Cambodia, an online store that ships internationally, and various sellers throughout Australia. We are aiming to spread our wings further into the world in 2018, and can’t wait to play a bigger role in bringing ethically produced, everyday basics to the world. 

Give us some background on the textile industry in Cambodia? How does it affect people’s day to day lives?

The Cambodian garment industry employs over 700,000 workers and accounts for over half of the country’s total export income (see stats at Better Factories Cambodia). In the past few years, we have seen a series of worker strikes and protests, leading to increases in the minimum wage. So now, the garment industry holds one of Cambodia’s only industry minimum wages, which is currently at $153/month and is set to be increased to $170/month in 2018. Workers, the majority of whom are women, are often subject to fixed, short term contracts, with a lack of support and security especially around maternity leave. Workers are faced with pressure to work overtime and long working hours with high targets and low wages. 

Transportation safety is also an issue in Cambodia. Workers are transported to and from the factories in open back trucks, with 50 or more people crammed in. The severity of accidents when they occur is extreme.

Because of the sheer size of the industry, it touches individuals and families throughout the entire country. And that’s why it’s so important to us to provide an alternative, where we aim to spread our impact far and wide with training, skills development and employment to lead the industry toward fairer and safer practices. 

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Talk to us about your team that produces the clothing. What excites them about work every day?

Our team is a diverse, skilled and dedicated group of individuals. We now have team members from Australia, the Philippines and we are opening up volunteer placements to people all over the world.

When asked what they enjoy most about working at Dorsu our team talks about how they have fun working with their friends and cooking and sharing lunch together. We are so proud to have created a safe, comfortable and fun working environment where we all enjoy working together and having a good laugh. 

What is the biggest lesson that working with Dorsu has taught you?

Working for Dorsu has taught me personally about conviction, strength and grace. Living true to your values is so important, and working with a company like Dorsu that truly values people creates space and clarity to be true to yourself and what you believe in. Every member of Dorsu faces each day with strength, passion and a belief in what we do and why we do it. I think this is the kind of attitude that fosters real change in the world, and I am proud to be a part of this incredible team. 

Be sure to check out Dorsu's online store and show them some love on Instagram and Facebook!