Around 70 people including 20 girls, five boys, and 40 women are still engaged in traditional silk-weaving near Chiso Mountain in Takeo province, supplying about 10 shops and markets in Phnom Penh.
Por Phal, a Takeo-based merchant, collects and sells silk products to large shops and some markets in the capital.
October to April is the busiest time of the year in the silk trade, Mr Phal said. The business quietens down from June to September, with fewer customers looking for the product.
“I started this business in 2004 with very little capital. The main reason I got into silk was that I wanted to help this community of women, who have passed their knowledge of the craft of weaving down since ancient times, and to help them can earn money, as they work from home,” Mr Phal said.
Mr Phal buys silk from the market and dyes it with natural compounds. After that he sends it to the silk weavers. “Once they have finished producing the fabric, I take it back from them and cut it into krama,” he said, referring to traditional Khmer scarfs.
Silk weaver Ouch Yeourn, 49, said she learned the art of fine silk weaving from her mother when she was young. She has been weaving silk for a living since dropping out of school in 1987.
“It takes me 15 days to make one four-meter-long piece of fabric, enough for one set of women’s skirts. Customers can make two skirts out of it. Before, my silk fabric fetched a decent price, but it has gradually decreased,” Ms Yeourn said.
Weaver Meouy Khorn, 62, said she learned how to weave silk from her mother, just as her mother learned from Ms Khorn’s grandmother. Whereas Ms Khorn weaves SCARVES, her mother and grandmother wove skirts known locally as hol and phamoung.
“I could finish three scarfs a day if I spent a whole day on it. But currently it takes me about two days to make three SCARVES because I have to work in my rice field as well.”
Not many young people take up silk weaving any more, because they can’t earn much money from it. Most youth from this area leave their hometowns to find work in factories near Phnom Penh, where they can earn more, Ms Khorn said.
Eng Natry, 15, a Grade 9 student, said that when he’s not at school, he always spends at least 2 hours a day working with silk products. He said he can roll up 50 to 60 scarfs in one hour. He uses the money he earns from this to help pay for his studies and school supplies.