July 31, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Inspired by the incredible weaving skills of women in Siem Reap province, a young Dutch designer set up a social enterprise to support the production of traditional Cambodian handicrafts.
Ka-Lai Chan, the founder of Manawa Enterprise along with Cambodian co-partner Baraing Tho, said that having initially come to Cambodia as a volunteer, she was inspired to start the business after seeing the weaving skills of women in Siem Reap town’s Krabei Riel commune.
“Me and my co-partner Baraing Tho visited Krabei Riel and we were fascinated by the weaving skills of the women living there.
“They were able to weave such beautiful and unique products made from natural vines, but they were not able to earn enough to support their families, so at the end of 2016, we decided to start Manawa Enterprise,” she said.
Chan said she and her partner spent around $3,000 to initially set up Manawa and provide additional skills training for the weavers.
Manawa Enterprise aims to promote local Khmer handicrafts to the world while improving the lives of Cambodian women in rural areas, particularly in Siem Reap.
The 24 female weavers are able to work from home, enabling them to earn a living while taking care of their children and the family household.
The highly skilled artisans use rattan and lpak (knotgrass or Paspalum distichum) to handcraft a range of products including bags, jewellery and souvenirs, as well as home and hotel decorations.
Ranging in price from $17 to $179, each Manawa Enterprise product takes a long time to create and requires meticulous care, and remarkable levels of skill and creativity.
Manawa Enterprise is a social enterprise, which means it is committed to using business to solve social problems. In addition to providing income for the weavers, it also provides training and skills development.
Chan thanked all Manawa Enterprise’s customers for supporting Cambodian arts and crafts, and in particular the work and livelihoods of the women in rural Siem Reap and their families.
“Around 30 per cent of Manawa’s customers are Cambodians, with the other 70 per cent from overseas countries, such as the Netherlands, the US and France.
“We are grateful to all of our customers, both Cambodian and foreign, for supporting traditional Khmer weaving and handicrafts.
“And so importantly, their support is also helping to improve the lives of these 24 woman and their households in Siem Reap,” Chan said.