During my time in Cambodia last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with Alexis, the Founder and Owner of Blush Boutique Cambodia.
Blush is a ladies fashion label with their products and collections all handmade in Cambodia by local Cambodian women. They have 2 boutiques in Siem Reap and they are known for their on-trend, modern boho designs using unique, patterned fabrics. When I first discovered Blush, I stocked up on their flattering cut dresses and ultra comfortable wrap tops and kaftans. The colourful prints they choose suited my relaxed boho style. It soon became my go-to clothing store during the 8 months I spent in Siem Reap.
Soon after they became my favourite clothing store in Siem Reap, I learned about their mission and values: to empower Cambodian women and provide them with a fair wage by hiring them as seamstresses. These talented local ladies are from some of the poorest parts of Siem Reap and they have all been handpicked by Alexis. Once I decided to start Roaming Hearts, I knew I needed to connect with this fellow Aussie Girl and get the details of her story.
1. How did you come to be in Cambodia?
I came here to work for the large Hotel chain I was working for at the time, transferred from Vanuatu in the South Pacific Islands here to Cambodia in 2008. My formal training is in Beauty and Spa, and my job here was to set up a Spa for the Hotel.
2. How did Blush come about?
My Mother is a seamstress, and so from an early age, she taught me to sew and make clothes. It was clear that here in Siem Reap, (at that time), there simply was no access to Women’s clothing, especially in my size. So I started to make my own clothes. Everyone commented on them and soon I had orders coming in for making more.
Wanting to get away from the Hotel scene, my partner suggested I start up a shop of my own. Initially, it was simple stuff, one-size-fits-all, clothing for everyday use for western or larger women. This then grew and grew until we branched into designer clothing for all Women for every shape and size.
3. Was this always your dream?
Yes and No. I have always enjoyed making clothing although at the time I never anticipated following this through to a professional career.
4. Where do you get your inspiration from?
All sorts of places; the internet, of course, I spend hours trawling through fashion sites. I watch what is trending in fashion abroad, in the UK, Europe and here in South East Asia. And living in Cambodia I draw from the colours, and fabrics that we see daily. Blending Urban Styles with a more Tropical lifestyle.
5. What does a week involve for you?
Typically once I have drawn from my inspiration, I start sketching ideas and designs. Looking at styles, and colours. I source the Fabric and then begin to pair this off with the designs. I meet my team of Tailors daily and together we map out the Templates. The dresses get made, then we have to size, package and price them.
I am in my shops daily too, where we work on the display of the pieces. And I interact with my staff and the customers themselves.
6. What do your brainstorming sessions look like?
I collect images of what I like with my initial sketches and start to combine these to create Mood Boards. Gathering fabric swatches and colours, I blend all these together to get an idea of a Theme for a set of clothing.
7. What challenges do you face?
One of the biggest problems we face here in Siem Reap is educating the tourists/customers in aspects of Fair Trade.
– We are endeavouring to maintain a level of Fair Fashion, which is employing and training home-based women to work in a safe environment for a fair wage.
The alarming amount of ‘off the peg’ cheaper clothing being shipped in from elsewhere is not helping here, which inevitably lowers the standard and ends up in challenging this Fair Fashion ideology.
– As Blush is a small operation, we use remnant pieces of fabric to produce small runs for clothing, which are difficult to source and restock as it’s a limited supply.
– Keeping up with fashion, in this game we have to set the Trend, which involves anticipating what women will want to wear from season to season, in terms of shape, colour and the fabric itself.
8. What do you still want to achieve?
I still want to keep pushing the boundaries of Fashion, experimenting with combining new fabrics.
At the moment we do dye and bleach some fabric for certain pieces. I am now looking to Print some of our own exclusive lines of fabric. Also to utilise more off-cuts so there is less waste.
I am also looking to branch out into different areas of Cambodia, and ultimately an on-line store, so our Hand-Made in Cambodia clothing is available to a wider customer base.
9. What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?
The answer to this is simple, although not easy to put into practice. Never give up and always trust your gut instincts.
There have been countless times where I felt completely overwhelmed, times where the odds were stacked against, and ultimately you have to believe in yourself, even in the face of these opposing factors.
Kings Road Village and The Laneway – Siem Reap, Cambodia