Armed with the list of items we put together at Saly’s workshop in Tramung Chrum yesterday, we are ready to hit the markets again.  It is a warm and clear morning, and Mr. Key is waiting outside the hotel with his tuk-tuk, ready to transport Saly, Thida and me around the city. Thida looks especially stylish this morning, and I snap a picture of her before we leave.  I am thankful to have someone with fashion sense, located in Phnom Penh,  involved in this project!

This is my last chance to see what is available locally for use in our spring/summer Apsara product line. We will be looking for cotton fabrics and sewing notions such as rivets, foam, batting, and interfacing for use in making our fashion accessories.  The plan is for me to go home with as much information and fabric samples as possible.  My goal is to have the product line defined within four weeks of my return. Is this possible? I have no idea, but I will find out.

We arrive at one of several markets we will visit. This particular market has many cotton fabrics, and I take numerous pictures of potential choices for use in the product line.    In one booth, a baby is sleeping peacefully in a swinging hammock while his mother stands nearby selling her goods. He is adorable, but I have to move on or risk getting separated from Thida and Saly in the crowded market.

Saly stops to buy new scissors, and I buy a pair as well. These are heavy iron scissors, and seem crudely made. I recall the rusty scissors she was using yesterday in the village, and had wondered how sharp they possibly could be. My mother, an avid sewer, always emphasized the value of a good pair of sharp scissors to be used for NOTHING but cutting fabric (her six daughters consistently ignored this scissor rule). I plan to give her the pair I just purchased as a tribute to her scissor fixation.

Saly asks the scissor vendor if he has a machine for sale which attaches rivets to fabric. He says no, but she doesn’t need one. She can just use a hammer to secure each rivet.  Hmm. This might work for the customers interested in “unique, handmade articles from around the world,” but certainly not the quality conscious “sophisticated buyers” of our other targeted market segment. We will keep looking.

We search through several booths before finding just the right cotton denim with a soft feel, containing no elastic fiber for use in one of the prototype purses Saly will make. After haggling over the price, one meter goes into Saly’s bag. Thida spots a booth with cotton plaids in 2012 trend colors hanging prominently out front. A meter of each goes into Saly’s bag, and I make a mental note to test plaids with teens back home before deciding if these fabrics will work for headbands. This is where having nieces interested in the project is very helpful.  I’ll need to get Katie and Carly to survey their LaGrange, Illinois friends again quickly.


We scour the second floor of the Orussei Market for appropriate rivets and machines to attach them, with no luck. Most of what is for sale have designer label names imprinted on the rivet. Not exactly what we had in mind for launching our new Apsara brand. I can buy a rivet gun at Jo Ann Fabrics back home, but getting it to Saly quickly will be difficult with no reliable postal system in the country. We strike out on batting and foam as well. I am going to have to figure out how to source from China sooner than I expected.

It is now well into the afternoon, and we have not stopped for a break. I suggest we go to a restaurant where we can eat and summarize everything we have agreed to do and make sure we are all on the same page. My treat! Mr. Key takes us to an air conditioned,  western-style place and we sit at a table with ample room to spread out our fabric samples and notes for our working lunch.

We each order a different dish to share, and everyone gets a chocolate milk shake. When the food arrives, we dive in, famished from our day of shopping. There is way too much food, but Saly and Thida make sure none is wasted.  “In Cambodia, since we have paid for it, we finish everything” explains Thida. We laugh at the amount of food Saly eats, given that she weighs all of 35 kilograms (77 pounds).

For more than two hours we concentrate on how each prototype should look. Saly will make the samples from the materials we have purchased. Thida writes notes in Khmer for Saly to refer to later. They go over this in great detail, and we draw pictures for clarity.  How should the tassels for the silk stole look, how should they be attached? The fill threads on the beautiful pink silk are actually bright orange—can we get more bright orange silk to use to make the tassels? These are only some of the details that must be considered to put together just one product. And we have many more products to define!

Earlier, I had indicated to Thida how much I will depend on her to ensure that Saly understands what we are asking for to avoid the problems encountered with the last order. Thida has taken this to heart, and insists that tomorrow, when we visit the village again, Saly make the orange and pink silk tassels we have been drawing so we can confirm she understands. And Saly should try sewing the very narrow hem we want to see on the silk scarves. This turns out to be an excellent suggestion.

Suddenly, Thida notices the time. Almost 4:00! Saly rushes out to catch a moto taxi back to the market before it closes so she can buy the orange silk.  Thida and I head back toward my hotel in Mr. Key’s tuk-tuk. She is anxious to get home so she can be prepared for her university classes at 6:30.  The three of us will meet early in the morning and travel the two hours to Tramung Chrum by car to finish our work,  and then enjoy the special Cham Charity Celebration in the village.  I feel good about our day, and I am impressed with the enthusiasm of Saly and Thida about making this business a success!

Narrow hem on silk? Can do!

Saly making prototype scarf tassels

Russian Market fabric vendors

.....and more fabric...