August 23, 2023
PHNOM PENH – In the realm of furniture craftsmanship, opulent woods like Neang Nuon and Beng have long reigned supreme, gracing homes with their exquisite charm. However, a remarkable departure from this norm is taking shape in Kampong Cham province.
Here, a talented woman is turning the spotlight onto bamboo, particularly the ping-pong tronung mourn variety, fashioning it into exquisite decorative pieces.
These intricate creations, far from denuding natural forests, are adorning restaurants and coffee shops, adding a touch of elegance and sustainability to interior spaces.
Nestled in Boeung Snay village, Sambour Meas commune, lies the hub of this bamboo transformation – Khmer Bamboo Handicraft, overseen by Ann Sovanny. Drawing attention to her bamboo marvels, she revealed how this abundant material offers an array of enchanting blue and gray hues, symbolising both creativity and environmental preservation.
Sovanny shared that bamboo thrives prolifically in local districts and villages, and is an enduring part of Cambodian culture. This age-old resource, cherished for its versatility, has been employed for generations to craft a multitude of items, especially in rural areas.
Focusing her efforts on the local species, which flourishes across Kampong Cham, Sovanny and her husband recognised its untapped potential. They ingeniously repurpose it to create a range of furniture, including swings and family dining tables.
This ingenuity rapidly gained traction within her familial circle, sparking interest and requests for crafted items.
Sovanny only charges for the labour, as she values the material’s intrinsic worth. Demand surged as word spread, driven by bamboo’s durability and natural cooling properties. Consequently, her bamboo-centric ventures expanded exponentially, culminating in the establishment of her bamboo handicraft enterprise in 2020.
“In my locality, bamboo is abundant yet often felled and burnt. My husband and I chose a different path, crafting various items by hand, eschewing machinery,” Sovanny underlined, reflecting on her mission to revere rather than ravage this valuable resource.
Employing a workforce of four, her handicraft workshop predominantly relies on traditional craftsmanship, emphasising the personal touch that elevates each creation.
The delicate process of bamboo manipulation involves puncturing nodes and applying protective chemicals to stave off woodworm infestation. Through a meticulous boiling procedure, the bamboo’s resilience is fortified, shielding it from decay.
Sovanny, drawing on experience, outlined that while traditional methods could take over a month for preservation, her approach slashes it to a mere 15 days.
She believes that using bamboo for furniture also contributes towards reducing deforestation.
Her furniture repertoire includes a versatile assortment – sofas, tables, clothes cabinets, chairs, and shelves. Every piece is infused with bespoke design, a fusion of craftsmanship and aesthetics. In addition to homes, Sovanny’s expertise has adorned various other spaces, where they are sought out by patrons seeking to infuse natural beauty into their environments.
The heart of Sovanny’s business beats to an environmentally conscious rhythm. Clients, enamoured by her devotion to preserving nature, have lent unwavering support. Drawing from Koh Kong, Kampot, Mondulkiri, Preah Vihear, Pailin, and Phnom Penh, her clientele mirrors the broad appeal of her sustainable ethos.
Sovanny shed light on her pricing, with a table and four chairs ensemble valued at $99, while a set of sofas commands $235. Elegantly designed shelves, comprising two to five layers, range from $15 to $35.
These bamboo marvels not only deliver practicality but are also extremely mobile due to their light weight. Fuelled by escalating demand, Sovanny is sustainably cultivating 15ha of ping-pong bamboo, ensuring a steady supply for her diverse creations.
Poun Run, director of the Department of Industry, Science, Technology, and Innovation in Kampong Cham, revealed that the bamboo handicraft domain remains relatively niche, sustained by one or two manufacturing operations. However, he highlighted a concerning trend – the destruction of wild bamboo due to land clearance for mango cultivation, with fears of its eventual extinction.
“The current slowdown in bamboo processing activities is a reflection of these challenges,” he said.
In a landscape sometimes affected by unsustainable practices, Sovanny’s dedication to harnessing the splendour of bamboo without harming forests stands as a beacon of hope. Her artistic finesse, coupled with an environmentally sensitive approach, has not only enriched interior spaces but also echoes the imperative of coexisting harmoniously with nature.