Handicraft artisan Cheab Sibora has achieved success both financially and in terms of his mission to spread Cambodian culture to the world through his Apsara Barbie dolls, which have become renowned both at home and abroad.
The 25-year-old is known for his Apsara Barbies, which he has been creating since 2011. Growing up in Siem Reap, at first he had to work on his creations in his spare hours, as he was working at a company at the time.
Mr Bora said, “I want Cambodian culture and art to be universally known. Also, I want to help Cambodian people learn more about its ancient history through Apsara [celestial nymphs from Khmer folklore], including the history of Khmer fashion”.
His highly original use of dolls to display traditional Cambodian attire has attracted widespread attention.
Recalling his struggles when he was starting out, Mr Bora said he had difficulty managing his time at first, along with his job. He said finding good fabrics and jewelry is the hardest part of his work, adding that he also spends a lot of time thinking about how to match all the clothing and accessories. If the designs don’t go well together, he has to redo them.
He added: “The right fabric is another very hard thing to find. I have to find different patterns with numerous designs. I cannot dress two dolls in the same skirt or people will say I’m repeating myself”.
Mr Bora has been able to remain motivated over the years thanks to the support he has received from friends, family and, most importantly, social media.
He buys Barbie dolls online, choosing those with tanned skin, which suit Cambodian styles and match his clothing concepts.
Mr Bora makes all the accessories himself. He starts by making print-outs of the shape. Next he sews shiny decorative objects on the clothes, before putting crowns on the dolls to make them beautiful.
“Since 2012, I’ve received a lot of support from around Cambodia and internationally; I’ve even had people overseas ask relatives in Cambodia to purchase one for them. The dolls are now being exported,” Mr Bora added.
Having produced dolls in every one of Cambodia’s 25 provinces, Mr Bora is now taking a year off. He expressed his gratitude to all of his supporters both at home and internationally.