Kampong Thom entrepreneur turns kapok fruit fibres into textiles
It is common to see some woven fabrics such as hol and phamuong skirts – silk handwoven fabrics – made from silkworm nests, along with fabric made from cotton or synthetics.
However, there is a woman who is making clothing by turning the silky fibres of kapok fruit (botanical name: Ceiba pentandra) into yarn before weaving them into rugs and other objects and is looking for a market to sell them abroad. She is also interested in attracting Cambodian women to join her in this creative enterprise.
Born in Por Bak Kor village, Damrei Choankhla commune, Stung Sen town, Kampong Thom province, Tech Simheang had no family pedigree as a weaver, but she loves weaving and wants to help Cambodian women find good paying work.
Simheang told The Post that she is a daughter from a farming family with five siblings and that she is the eldest child living in Por Bak Kor village now.
She said that although she did not know how to weave at first, she bought silk handwoven fabrics from the weavers and sold them. In the business of buying and selling the handwoven fabrics for many years she has become an expert on them.
“Actually, although I was not a descendant of a weaver, I would buy the fabrics from weavers to resell. We bought and sold them and I came to love these woven fabrics,” she said.
She added that in 2017, she established the Women’s Weaving and Development Association in Koh Dach commune in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district, which had 50 to 60 members but later disbanded due to problems in the weaving industry.
Although the association was closed, she continued to work hard to find ripe kapok fruits and she took out the silky fibre inside the fruits to make into silk threads, but when they were made into yarn, they had large fibres so she could not weave them into silk fabric.
“So we could use them to make them into rugs or sofa covers or pillowcases or something to decorate the house, which is better than making it into a garment or as a scarf. It is too thick to weave it into cloth but if sold abroad it could be used that way in a country with cold weather,” she said.
According to Simheang, she has now completed research on how to make the silky fibres of kapok fruits into thinner yarn and she has now opened a shop called Kei Meas in Sorya Market to sell products made from the silky fibres of the fruits. At the same time, she wants to train her community and people to know how to take advantage of natural products.
As for the kapok trees, they are still present in the villages in the rural areas and she observed that the elderly or middle-aged women in the rural areas do not know what to do to earn money. So they can pick the kapok fruits around their houses and then take the silky fibres out to sell in order to make money.
She said that before the Covid-19 pandemic she was able to earn a decent income from selling the woven fabrics to pay for training some families who wanted to know how to make the fibres of kapok fruit into yarn.
However, although the Covid-19 situation has improved, she has not yet been able to earn money from the sale of the textiles to support the expansion of training in the community so that people can weave with the fibres.
“Importantly, now we need to find a market to sell products from the kapok fruit to design and sell in the market. Before being made and sold it needs to be designed to meet the customers’ needs. We cannot do this job to our heart’s content. So innovation takes time and I do not have enough time to help them,” she said.