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Cambodian designers head for Europe

Mark Tilly / Khmer Times Share:
An MEDC student’s design shows off European and Cambodian styling at Meta House on Sunday. KT/Mark Tilly

The red carpet was rolled out and fashion models showed off modern designs with Cambodian features on the catwalk at Meta House on Sunday evening to celebrate the successful first year of a design centre hoping to bring sustainable Cambodian fashion to European markets.

Students of the Modern Ethnic Design Centre (MEDC), showed off the fruits of their labour, with five finalists being selected to take their newly created collections to Germany to visit the Bazaar Berlin trade fair to promote their work.

The intensive one year training course allowed 14 Cambodian designers to learn international retail and marketing while using locally sourced Cambodian textiles and elements to blend with European-style designs.

For finalist Samnang Kang from Khmer Creations, it was her first time since joining the fashion industry nine years ago, and she was able to create an entire collection thanks to the training she received.

“I think my designs are very different from my old collection, especially the things that I’ve been working on from my heart… more Khmer and more modern together,” she said. 

“During the training I got a lot of feedback from the consultants, so they were really important [in helping our] designs.”

Out of the 20 designs she created over about four months, ten were selected for her to take to Berlin, out of the 20 she created.

She said she was excited to see Cambodian designs sold on the European market.

“I hope I can bring Khmer Creations to the Europe market.
I haven’t been there before, so I hope I can get some more buyers, and enjoy the country,” she said.

Sarah Obser, one of the founders of MEDC, said consumers have become more savvy in sourcing sustainable, ethical fashion labels, after high profile cases of worker exploitation and accidents in the industry.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the conditions their products are made under,” she said via email yesterday.

“Since consumers don’t want to buy products which are harming factory workers and the environment, they are increasingly buying sustainable products.”

Obser noted there is a growing demand for original Cambodian designs, with some of the designers’ work already being sold to western customers.

“It is great to see the first collection of the designers and the project team is very proud to see the amazing results,” she said.

Obser added the designers received training and seminars from the Fashion Design Institute, noting the challenges of mixing European and Cambodian designs.

“Through this training, most designers managed to meet the European trends, however some designs didn’t find a balanced mix between Cambodian traditional and European design trends,” she said.

However, Obser said the creative methods designers used natural sustainable materials for their collections was to be commended.

“Some of them started their own plantations for silk production, others even used fibres from banana trees, so they’re really ambitious and really looking for ways to develop sustainable garments,” she said at the event on Sunday.

She said the programme is funded with the help of the German government for another three years, but hopes it will continue for longer.

Kang said she was pleasantly surprised to be picked as a finalist, and looked forward to the benefits her career and the Cambodian fashion industry in general could reap from their efforts.

“Even when I thought I would not be picked, I was still pleased with it as it was the first time have I designed my own collection,” she said.

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