“Ethical Fashion” is a new buzz phrase that has popped up to describe fashion with a conscience. The Ethical Fashion Forum defines the term as, “an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of products which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.” Smateria is Cambodia’s answer to ethical fashion.
Smateria designs bags and accessories that look great, are handmade, and are made to the highest quality. These products are the epitome of “ethical fashion” - not only are they manufactured from sustainable products such as recycled plastic bags, motorcycle seats and repurposed netting which protects the environment, production supports the employment of local Khmer craftspeople.
In a world where ethical fashion was perhaps once a pity purchase, this is no longer the case. Fashion designers around the world have finally managed to merge quality local craftsmanship and style. The story behind the product was once the only selling point, but in slow economic times, people won’t go for that any more – ethical fashion must have style and pizzazz before the story will clinch the deal.
Fashion journalist, Marion Hume ponders this point, “It is my absolute belief that ethical goods have to appeal, even if you don’t know the back story…the fashion goods we desire should be made in the most ethical way possible.”
Smateria’s “plastic” range in particular illustrates this style that Marion requires by transforming disposable plastic bags in to something desirable - fashionable handbags. You would never know where the fabric for these bags comes from – stunning Italian design and meticulous Khmer craftsmanship produce one of a kind fashion pieces.
And there is a story…Smateria employs a team of 22 women in the village of Andong, an area for displaced people on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Smateria’s owner, Jennifer Morellato describes Andong as “a village that was established in 2007 when the Cambodian Government forcibly removed 8,000 underprivileged families from an area of Phnom Penh in order to begin new multi-national building projects. The families were moved to a region where there was no electricity or running water and where the large distance from the city centre made it no longer affordable for them to commute to their previous jobs, leaving them unemployed and destitute.”
The women from Andong were brought to Jennifer’s attention and she now employs them to manufacture the unique fabric Smateria uses for their plastic range. “We have employed and trained them to collect the black plastic, wash it, cut it in to strips and crochet or knit it into a fabric that is both durable and soft – a recycled alternative to leather and an employment opportunity which may just save their families.” Jennifer said.
On June 17th, the United Nations Global Compact hosted the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum to discuss how major ethical fashion initiatives can contribute towards two key priorities of the UN: eradicating extreme poverty and empowering women.