Designing in Cambodia May 31 2016, 0 Comments

A designer in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is an amazing city. The bustling streets, amazing food, cheap cocktails and generous people all make Cambodia’s capital one of my favourite places in the world. But as I quickly came to find out, it cannot (yet) boast to be a hub for world-renowned modern jewellery designers.

To begin with a profound understatement; designing in Cambodia is a challenge. It is a world away from the air-conditioned jewellery studios and abundantly stocked bead shops that I so unthinkingly took for granted in Australia. The reality of this hit home in June 2008 during my second series of jewellery making classes. I had visited the year before, strolling bright eyed out of the airport with my luggage overflowing jewellery basics from Australia. The students had eagerly taken these building blocks and turned them into great jewellery – the classes had been a hit! This time, counting myself somewhat of a savvy local, I thought that I’d browse for the materials when I arrived in Phnom Penh. After several days I came to understand that access to those raw materials I used in Australia was severely limited, and as my acceptance of this grew, my trepidation about establishing a jewellery business grew about three times as fast…

Designing in Cambodia - cotton bead wrapping - timber beads

Fortunately, something that isn’t difficult to find in Phnom Penh is good coffee. Thus armed with liquid enthusiasm, I embarked on a raw materials scavenger hunt (which, as it turns out, has now been going for the better part of a decade). It may have been the coffee, or the desperation, or the vicious cycle of coffee and desperation, but I found myself wandering the stifling halls of the Russian market, imagining that there was somehow an all-purpose jewellery supply store that I had inexplicably missed. I didn’t find it. I found something much better – moto-dup parts, plumbing supplies and power tools. It seems rather silly now that there was a time where I thought a brass bolt and washer couldn’t be a beautiful fashion piece.

Crochet jewellery coffee

Since this fateful, inspirational and sweaty discovery, my designing style has changed for the better. I now think about the origins of the products we use, and the sustainability and accessibility of each element. This ethos and the wonderful peculiarities of Phnom Penh inspire jewellery that is often very different to styles that Australian consumers may be familiar with. This just makes it more exciting to bring them to the Australian market. Exciting… and quite nerve-wracking.

I hoped you enjoyed reading this post, it is the first in a planned series about designing in Cambodia. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming weeks.