Handwoven straps give helping hand

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Models pose with a colourful handmade camera strap and bag strap by Daiku. Photo supplied

If you’re looking to make a fashion statement with the straps for your camera or bag and you’d like something colourful, handmade and local to Cambodia instead of the usual mass-produced monochromatic imported junk – then look no further than Cambodian company Daiku and their line of products.

Daiku’s wares are made by women of the Tampuan indigenous community in Ratanakkiri province. The Tampuan people depend heavily on traditional weaving to create their own garments and the women master the skill over a lifetime and pass it down from generation to generation.

Arts and crafts continue to play a crucial role in Tampuan culture still today, but Tampuan clothing and scarves are a bit old fashioned in their design and haven’t really ever caught on with the domestic or tourist markets.

Now – thanks to Daiku – the Tampuan are busy at work weaving modern products.

Daiku was founded in 2019 as a social enterprise with the goal of creating dignified work and other job opportunities through the promotion of traditional art forms to help preserve the cultural heritage of Cambodia’s indigenous ethnic groups, focusing on northeastern Cambodia’s Tampuan people thus far.

The company has given the Tampuan weavers a new focus and direction by combining their traditional weaving techniques with modern designs and products.

Daiku – which means “companion”, “partner” or “counterpart” in Khmer – has worked with the Tampuan weavers to create a new collection of beautiful accessories. Every item is thoughtfully handcrafted by indigenous women, using high-quality sustainable materials.

Fatima Gil Pena, originally from Spain and a co-founder of Daiku, tells The Post of how they came up with the different designs they use that the Tampuan women work from.

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Fatima Gil Pena a Spanish co-founder of Daiku posing with handmade bag strap. Photo supplied

“It was clear that they weren’t earning much from selling their weavings like scarves or fabrics. I mean, what they create is absolutely beautiful – but it’s just not something that’s convenient to buy or that has an obvious modern application. We thought we could help increase their sales by finding something for them to weave that is more fashionable and useful.”

“Currently, the most popular product we’ve developed is a handbag strap which can also be used for computer bags or as a camera strap. We try to do some in the traditional style but also to mix things up using various colours.”

Pena explains that the Tampuan weaver’s designs and patterns traditionally came from observing their surroundings and picking out forms that are repeated throughout nature like the shape of leaves or the footprints of birds. They use whatever they see in their environment that is beautiful or important to them and then recreate these patterns by weaving the coloured threads on a special wooden loom using ancient techniques passed down through many generations of their families.

The patterns that they weave preserve Tampuan culture (which is also a part of Cambodian culture) and teach the younger generations about their cultural heritage, thus ensuring that the Tampuan culture will not be lost over time as Cambodia modernises and change inevitably comes to their villages.

These textile patterns are developed steadily across many generations of women and they take on a greater meaning in the process than merely being pleasing to look at.

Daiku is working to support the creativity, craftsmanship and passion of Cambodian indigenous artisans, but what is even more essential, Pena says, is that their work with the company helps provide for their families and raise their living standards.

To that end, Pena has a special project underway to assist the Tampuan girls in their pursuit of an education.

Fifteen per cent of the proceeds from each sale will go into the Daiku Girls’ Education Fund set up by the company to provide educational materials, mentoring and education support to the indigenous girls living in the five villages that the weavers are all from.

Daiku has saved up enough money to grant one university scholarship and two high school scholarships to Tampuan girls so far and they hope that the fund will grow over time and eventually be able to subsidise all of the girls’ educations.

“As a small start-up, our education fund is also small – but it took one year of saving to reach even that amount. The fund is not much yet, but we do what we can for now.”

“Our purpose is to support the Tampuan girls because we see that many of them drop out of school, often during high school. Some become mothers before they are even 18 years old. We want to give them all a chance to at least finish their studies,” Pena says.

Pena says that her hope is that the first girls they send to university will become role models for the rest of the girls in the villages and they will focus all of their efforts on studying once they realise that they can have a better life that way and a brighter future.

“I understand that many of the girls’ families’ economic conditions are extremely tough and that some will make the decision that they need to stop studying and become a breadwinner for the household at an early age,” Pena says.

“However, this is an opportunity which can help their families escape the cycle of poverty. We hope to help many of them and I’m curious to see how many girls are willing and eager to take a chance and fill out the applications,” she says.

Pena says that Daiku’s product sales are still quite meagre because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of tourism, and things will probably remain challenging until the crowds of foreign tourists have mostly returned.

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The handmade straps provide livelihoods to women of the Tampuan indigenous community. Photo supplied

Pena continues to develop other woven products with the Tampuan weavers and she’d love it if more Cambodians and expats would take the time to visit the province and take in some of the local culture there.

In the meantime, the weavers’ bag straps are available in the capital as well for those interested in supporting Daiku’s mission.

“Through Daiku you know where your goods are coming from, how they are made and exactly who made them. We share with you the true story behind each item, including the artisans’ history.

“The traditional techniques used to craft every piece are our way of empowering our artisan partners and giving them a voice,” Pena says.

Pena hopes to continue to grow Daiku and create other partnerships with indigenous communities over time, but she says they will always be a company that remains committed to its values first and foremost.

“We will use our strong commitment to our values and principles and further maximise our positive economic impact on the local communities and their artisans.

“We hope people help out by supporting the local products we’re offering because with each purchase you’re making a positive social impact for the Tampuans and for Cambodia,” Pena concludes.

For more information about Daiku or to donate to their education fund for Tampuan girls, contact them via their Facebook page @daikuasia or their website http://www.daiku.asia