Far from the glamour at fashion weeks in America and Europe, Cambodia’s silk industry is struggling to regain the foothold it lost during years of political and civil unrest.
The government recently named silk as one of eight priority export items to be developed by the Ministry of Commerce. And experts agree that the quality of the country’s handmade gold-colored silk is far superior to the mass-produced white silk turned out by China, Vietnam and Thailand.
But Cambodia is producing just five tons of silk a year, even though demand is estimated to be about 400 tons.
And that silk is selling for around $70 a kilogram, or $32 a pound, much more than the $50 a kilogram paid for imported silk, making it much less competitive when attracting buyers from abroad.
In Cambodia, “the skill and the design are not there,” said Sokunthy Heng, export manager for the Kearny Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on trade links.
Still, there are some early signs that the industry is experiencing a revival. In 2008, the British department store chain Marks & Spencer started to source silk pillowcases from 200 families in Prey Veng Province, and so far 500 kilograms of the product have been exported.
In January, Kearny Alliance created a sourcing report for silk fashion accessories so buyers could locate quality suppliers in Cambodia more easily. (Ms. Heng said she did not know whether the report had led to any deals yet.)
And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is helping to fund silk sector development. Last year the agency financed a $475,000 project to work with the government to create a production center for silkworm eggs. Seven demonstration farms are also being established to train local residents in rearing silkworms.
The U.N. agency estimates that, if the silk sector develops to meet domestic demand, it will generate employment for 25,000 people and result in import savings of around $10 million per year.
Silk production in Cambodia has always been a modest affair, mainly produced by women living in rural areas that often lack basics like electricity and modernized roads. Many of them also are subsistence rice farmers, focused on planting crops between May and July when the monsoon rains arrive and harvesting in December, tasks that take time away from producing silk.
The silk trade here dates from the 13th century, when villagers started to breed silkworms along the banks of the Mekong and Bassac rivers. Villagers now breed a variety of caterpillar known as bombyx mori, which feeds on mulberry tree leaves for three weeks and then spins a golden cocoon. The silk yarn that forms the cocoons is washed, dyed and eventually woven.
To read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/23/fashion/23iht-rsilk.html?_r=2
I really like the excellent quality and the great design of cambodian silk products. Have a few of them and really like to wear them. Also many friends over here in Germany love them a lot, when I bring some with me for them as a gift.