Siem Reap weavers go beyond the krama

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Three of the women who work at the cotton textile community in Taan village and commune in Siem Reap earlier this year. SUPPLIED

Taan Weaves is the name chosen by Chhonn Konhing for her small handicraft workshop. The business weaves cotton yarn into scarves and blankets in many colors and beautiful designs. This business is focused on providing employment to the elderly women of her the village.

Taan Weaves was established in 2021 in Taan village and commune, Kralanh district, Siem Reap province. The workshop was founded by 29-year-old Konhing and is now a small family weaving business with five working members, aged 50 or older, from the village and neighbouring Ta Loeng villages.

Konhing, a former Non-Government Organisation employee, said she found inspiration to open the company because she grew up in a weaving family, but another important point was that she wanted to help her community.

“I used to work in an impoverished community where most youth dropped out of school. Some of them had no family income. After I completed a training course with a social enterprise called Sahak which trained young entrepreneurs to have a business mindset, I started this weaving business.

“During that time, I also learned about cultivating business ideas and information technology for businesses through PEPY Empowering Youth’s Young Innovators’ Space and Incubator project,” she said.

She said that her work focuses on making sure that the weaving community has a regular income and are able to support their children’s education.

Her goal is to encourage the younger generation to have the opportunity to study and have the vision to understand their goals.

“Although I currently only work with older weavers, I will work with young people for my next project. I want to inspire the younger generation to learn how to motivate themselves to dream, not give up and how to solve problems on their own,” she said.

She said that the women who work with her are all skilled weavers, who have been weaving since the Pol Pot era. They are all learning new styles of weaving which they pass on to one another. There are many things to learn, as previously they weaved only Krama scarves.

Srab Savy, 61, one of the five women weavers at Taan Weaves, has five children, three of whom have families and dependents. One of her daughters who is studying at university suspended her studies because she could not afford to pay her tuition during the Covid-19 crisis.

She said that she learned weaving skills from her parents and used this skill to weave Krama for sale, but when the pandemic effectively shut down the tourism industry, she had no orders and came to work for Konhing.

Chea Khay, 55, who has four children, is another of the weavers.

“We used to weave with two heald frames, but now we have learned to weave with four. There were some challenges at first, but now we are happy to say we have acquired a new talent,” she said.

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Konhing explained that the use of these 4 heald frames is very different because it is difficult to step back and forwards according to the design. If a weaver is not careful, they could make a mistake. It also takes a long time to set up the loom, she added.

“In terms of installation, it depends on the size of the scarf or blanket we want. The bigger the size, the bigger the installation. After the healds are organised, one or two kramas will be made. When we decide to introduce a new style, we all discuss it together and work out how to set the loom up,” she added.

After realising that the younger generation was not learning to weave, Konhing decided to have the older craftswomen mentor their younger counterparts.

As her business is still new, she said she does not have many customers yet. She sells her products at two locations in Siem Reap – The Sahak store, which has a monthly market event, and the Chocolate Road Garden. Her products are also available at a newly opened Phnom Penh store named Souvenir Station - Cambodian Products.

She said that her products are gaining a lot of support because Cambodians are increasingly demanding locally made goods.

“After I had been running the business for a while, I realised how much support I was getting from domestic customers. They love everything we make, because of their style and colour,” she added.

At Taan Weaves, all products are made from cotton. So far, the range is limited to kramas and blankets.

In the future, Konhing has plans to introduce many new products, including clothes, bags, hats, pillows, sofas, carpets, coffee mug rugs and handkerchiefs and even bathroom floor rugs. They are also available for custom designs, such as gifts for wedding guests.

The prices of her products vary by size and style, but start at just $15, she said.

She said the purchase of cotton yarn was difficult, as it was no longer manufactured domestically and had to be imported.

“First, we are focusing on women. I want them to have the opportunity to earn money. Second, our style is very different from others and we want to make products that our customers like. We often discuss our designs with our customers,” she said.

Savy is very happy to work there because she is able to help her children pay their tuition fees. “We also save some money to buy fertilizer for our rice fields,” she said.

Khay echoes and said: “Now we have enough money to support our daily needs, such as buying food and sending our grandchildren to school.”

The business has only been in existence for a year, so Konhing drew comparisons with a toddler. It was also true that some colours sizes were not yet standardized, she added.

She asked the Cambodian people to support local products, because it gave hope and encouragement to those who produced them.

“Sometimes, they do not want to support us because of the price. All they need to do is examine the products and whether it is high quality and will meet their needs. As the founder of the company, I urge the Cambodian people to turn to local products,” she said.