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Fabric from Lotus Fibers Wins World Interest

Naomi-Collett Ritz / Khmer Times Share:
A model sports a Samatoa scarf woven from lotus stem fibers. Photo: Awen Delaval

SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – Using natural fibers like silk and bamboo, the Samatoa Company creates handmade fabrics whose popularity is growing so fast that large orders can take a year to fill. 

With the introduction of their latest creation, a fabric made from lotus fibers, they hope to raise $10,000 this month to hire more workers and expand the business. 

Awen Delaval, from France, founded the eco-textile company one decade ago. After setting up Samatoa’s first lotus farm on 15 hectares on Kamping Poy Lake in Battambang in 2009, Delaval learned of a long-forgotten blend of textiles.  He discovered that the robes of Burmese monks were made from fibers of lotus plants. 

“In Cambodia, the fiber is cream, almost white, whereas in Myanmar, the fiber is gray,” explained Mr. Delaval. “So we have the advantage of dyeing it. We have worked a lot on the technique and on the traditional loom to make the perfect, uniform thread. Our quality is a lot higher than what they can do.” 

After six years of experiments, Mr. Delaval and Joel Woodcock of Lantern Moon, a Portland-based e-commerce company, have created what they believe is the world’s most ecological fabric. 

Mr. Woodcock, who mentors Mr. Delaval, has been in the social enterprise and natural fiber business for nearly 20 years. 

The lotus flower has always been harvested for food in Cambodia. But the stems were left in the water. The fiber from those stems can be extracted and woven into a soft, breathable and lightweight fabric. 

The lotus fabric’s ecological footprint is almost nonexistent. No chemicals, electricity or petrol is used. The flowers clean the water they grow in, and no part of the flower goes to waste. The flowers are dried in a solar oven. Petals are mixed with tea. The pistil is used to make soap and infused coffee.

Their Flower Power fabric has received a “Seal of Excellence” from Unesco. This certification encourages artisans to produce handicrafts, “using traditional skills, patterns and themes in an innovative way, in order to ensure the continuity and sustainability of these traditions and skills.” 

Samatoa’s fabrics are sold as far away as the United States, Singapore and Hong Kong. 

They currently employ 50 Cambodians on payroll. All workers are paid a living wage, have paid leave, and health insurance. 

The $10,000 they hope to raise through Kickstarter will allow them to hire and train 500 more artisans. By August, they hope to have a full line of lotus fabric garments produced. Through 2020, they want to open 12 new workshops in five impoverished villages in Cambodia.

Mr. Delaval, who comes from a village in central Brittany, says the lotus fiber fabric is his favorite creation.

“The lotus is a strong symbol here in Cambodia and for myself,” he said. “My dream when I came was to help the women emancipate themselves and to improve themselves and their jobs and to enjoy their work.” 

 “Buddhism teaches people how to grow from the mud to emancipate themselves,” concluded the bearded Frenchman. “The symbolism is very strong and has taught me a lot.”

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