PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A few years ago, spotting a teenager wearing a krama (the traditional Cambodian scarf) in Phnom Penh would have been a rarity.
Today, the krama is beginning to emerge as an appealing fashion trend among youths.
Adding a creative flare to the Cambodian traditional garment is a group of five students from the National Polytechnic Institute of Cambodia (NPIC), called Krama Yerng. They use krama to create dresses and various accessories such as keychains, headbands, and pencil cases.
“We want people to use krama to its full potential, besides the traditional ways. We want to show that in this age, krama can be innovated to fit the new generation,” said Sok Dalin, designer of the group.
What started out as a project for their school’s fair in 2014 has become a small business on social media.
“We get contacted by people interested in buying, but because we have mid-terms, finals and assignments, we cannot fulfill many requests. But during the school break like this, we are free,” said Ms. Dalin.
Krama Yerng designer Dalin sees the new-found support from youth as crucial for ensuring the survival of krama. “If [young people] turn to support local products, then our country would also prosper. But if they still support imported products more and think that they are cooler and better, then our local products would inevitably disappear,” she said.
Celebrity’s Krama Project
A similar effort to promote Cambodia’s krama industry was also undertaken by famous Cambodian movie star Mean Sonyta. She started her Krama Project earlier this year by recreating the krama garment into fashionable cardigans, shirts, scarfs, and shoes.
“Krama can be incorporated in many ways, like fashion, and other accessories,” said the young celebrity. “I don’t want our people to think that krama is only for people in the rural area, or farmers, and not for Phnom Penh people.”
Ms. Sonyta personally designs her own krama cardigans and krama shirts made from the traditional garment. What was initially a Do-It-Yourself video demonstration for youths that Ms. Sonyta posted on social media has triggered youths to start buying her products.
“Because I really love krama, I filmed the DIY video myself using my phone and posted it on YouTube and Facebook,” she laughed. “[…] but after that they wanted to buy. I wanted to show them how to do it themselves, but then they wanted to buy from me instead.”
Besides promoting Cambodia’s local product and culture, this young and fashionable Cambodian celebrity also donates the proceeds from selling her krama items to a local NGO as a charitable act.
The exact date of inception of the krama is vague, but it is no doubt that this sturdy traditional garment has always been identified strongly with the Kingdom. According to An Raksmey, an official with the Provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts in Kampong Thom province, the krama has historically been incorporated into the daily life of Cambodians passing from one generation to another.
“We can say that at least one person has krama to use,” said Mr. Raksmey. “It is shown in different pictures such as wearing at home, during showering, packaging, heat protection, or even as a hammock for babies.”
“It is a common thing for Cambodia’s community as we can see,” he added. “If our youths today use krama, this means that they understand the benefit, at the same time, giving value and raising awareness to others.”
Views of Krama Supporters
Khom Poline, an avid krama-lover from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA), sees the creative uses of krama as a positive development. “I think it is a good thing. It would help even further to spread awareness about krama. ”
As a former student in the Archaeology Department, Ms. Poline is also a krama-seller. “Whenever there is a fair at the university, I always sell krama. But the profit I gain, I give to the students in the archaeology department who man the stalls.”
“For the next fair, I plan on making dresses [out of krama] as well.”
Twenty-year-old Ngoy Socheata bought a krama cardigan designed by Ms. Sonyta during a fund-raising day at Koh Pich. She admitted that she thought the krama was only for elders and not many Phnom Penh dwellers would use them.
“I think the design is pretty and affordable,” said Ms. Socheata. “Before there might not have been a lot of support for krama, but now I think with the new creations, there has been increasing support.”
Thirty-year-old Yi Panharith, another buyer of Ms. Sonyta’s kramas, said that the restyling of krama Khmer will draw a lot of support from youths as the concept of transforming them into fashionable products is new and youths nowadays value creativity.
The value of krama will rise as more people see the importance of this particular product. It will live on as part of the Kingdom’s identity as long as Cambodians continue to use the garment in their daily lives.