We, at Rok Kern, wanted to share this blog post because this is the sort of advocacy that we like to see from people who have done our trips! We hope you enjoy this blog as much as we did. Thank you to Lucinda for letting us share this excerpt! If you would like to learn more, we linked her blog at the bottom of the page.
“Several days ago, I returned from almost a month in Cambodia. Since being back, and amongst a period of unjustified procrastination, I’ve had the time to think about one encounter that created a real perspective shift- a visit to the Goel Community on the rims of Phnom Penh.
In 2006, a South Korean couple saw a large gap in the work people were doing within Cambodia- many did things local Cambodians could do themselves. With that realisation, and a chance encounter with a woman highly versed in fabric and garment manufacturing, a four-year long endeavour to understand both textiles and more of Khmer culture began.
Though drawing inspiration from right around the globe, Goel Community sports a strikingly Cambodian sentiment. Much of the natural dye comes from the country itself. Mango, saffron and various kinds of leaves provide dainty colours in an eclectic blend of pinks, greens, yellows and earthy tones. I personally tried dyeing with mango leaves on cotton, which created a lovely burnt yellow colour. Whilst we spent only an hour doing this, more elaborate dyeing processes can take days at exactly the right temperature and with the precise amount of each product.
It’s an intricate ordeal- the products are stunning (the dress I bought is now my favourite piece of apparel), yet the garments themselves are not what seems to lay at the heart of Goel. Instead, this fair-trade certified business captured my interest because of the way it treats people, and the opportunities it creates.
Its inception via the knowledge of a Khmer woman is important. The notion that a worker from a developing country may hold more insight than the people travelling to ‘help’ them is, on a global scale, somewhat new in itself. This kind of thinking creates systematic empowerment for already-qualified individuals that many international workers do not recognise.
Further than this, though, Goel Community creates just that- a trusting community where employers can live, work, and learn. The South Koreans we met lived for several years out of a tiny room on the side of their fabric storage space! When I asked why, the answer I received was bold, and it was willing. Simply, “Jesus probably wanted to return straight back to the Father after He rose, and yet He came back and spent time with us- people.” That’s the kind of leadership we like to get behind here.
There’s a few defining reasons I want to champion Goel and companies like it. Here they are:
- They’re better for the environment (Quick facts- the mainstream garment manufacturing occurring in Cambodia and Bangladesh produces only 1 tonne of cotton per 250,000 litres of water used)
- They create better products (Generally, a tailor produces one to two products a day at Goel, compared to mass-produced factories that create huge batch orders. This means far more care is put into each piece)
- They are better for people (Fair wage, greater living conditions, better working hours and genuine friendships are formed)
Have I started to sell Goel to you? This blog has been short, but I hope I’ve started to sell Goel to you. The sad news is, you’d currently have to travel to the boutique in Tuol Tom Pong, Phnom Penh if you’d like to snap up some of their work for yourself.
Fortunately, though, there’s a lot we can do to make sure these ethical companies get more spotlight and that mass-produced brands really up their game:
- First, you can get writing. (Tell that $4 t-shirt company why you would rather pay a bit more to see better ethical protocol enacted. Supply and demand, my friends.)
- Shop second-hand! (Why create more clothing when someone’s grandma probably has a really lovely sweater in Salvos, just waiting for you)
- Market the work of small, ethical companies (Let places like Goel Community know that you think what they’re doing is really great!)
The rather unfortunate reality is that many companies would still rather churn out a profit (which we are implicitly creating), than give workers access to their rights. (You need only to look as far as the Rana Plaza Incident or the more recent Gazipur fire to see this). Something that used to really bother me was that if we stop buying from fast-fashion brands, won’t all the workers be out of business? Wouldn’t this make their lives worse?
What was explained to me at Goel is this; the aim isn’t to simply close those labels down, but to see them making more ethical choices, which consumers push for and endorse. You can find out more about this on Baptist World Aid, accompanied by a list of mainstream, ethical fashion outlets!
So, sure, the conditions under which my jeans were created maybe isn’t ideal, but we aren’t going to improve them overnight. Maybe instead, what we need to do is find holes in the system that we can have a go at solving. After all, two missionaries from South Korea never planned to dip-dye cotton in mango leaves as a career, much less to make a community out of it.
“We encountered a woman from Takeo who did not want to stay in the cycle of garment industry production”, they told me.” And so they helped her to do something about it.