Sunday, January 31, 2010

A look back...

So, sales have not been good at all, almost completely because of the poor advertising of the fair, bringing in next to no tourists to the site. There are several things I could complain about, but won't right now. It was not only us who suffered these past five days, but just about every other organization that shelled out the high rates for the booths. I think most of us will be lucky to break even and many booths have already closed up.

More on that later. For now, a picture that is an amazing 'fail'. All around Cambodia (and must of Asia) personal vanity is looked upon favourably. All youngsters who can afford it, get dressed up in their funkiest, coolest gear, get all made up, go wild with their hair and subject themselves to hours in front of a camera at the local photo studio to get hot, funky photos of themselves. They pose. They posture. They make love to the camera. The poses are stereotypical. The make-up is extreme. The hair is just fabulous.

After the photo shoot, the best pictures are chosen and photo-shopped for hours. Bodies are cut out and backdrops range from fashion week at Milan to Hello Kitty parlour scenes. To make the photos even cooler, sometimes random phrases in English are added. Unfortunately, no one checks that these make any sense or contain any obscenities. It doesn't matter. Cool doesn't need spell-grammar check.

Samples of the photos are usually hung around the photo shop to entice new customers. The results are often amusing for those in the know of the English language.... have a look:

After discussing this with Yeng, it seems that spell check might be to blame. He thinks they might have been going for 'gentle' and ended up with 'genitals' instead...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting ready for Siem Reap

Things are completely out of control busy right now. Writing this short blog post will be my 'down time' for today...

My amazing friend, regular partner in crime and artist extraordinaire designed this banner for us. She is also the mind behind the logo which is plain and simple, wonderful. For those of you not in-the-know, the hands are in the position of an Apsara dancers hands. More are this in the future when there is more time. For now, admire our banner:

I hope to have some time in the evenings to post photos from the craft fair. Our very cheap (7USD a night) hotel has free Internet so I hope I'll have enough energy to keep in touch....

Friday, January 22, 2010

Photo Shoot

Yesterday, friend and supporter of Cambodia Knits, the wonderful and talented Ali Sanderson, came by the workshop to take product shots and photos of CK staff in action. We both expected it would only take a couple hours, but she ended up staying with us the whole day and handing over several GBs of data at the end! We had a quick look at the photos and there are some beautiful shots, including one of all the staff in the workroom, fingers full of finger puppets. They need some editing so I'll post them in the coming days once I go through them but here's one photo of Ms. Sanderson in action:

Ali has been working with Alexandra Cousteau (yes, the granddaughter of Jacques) over the past year to highlight water issues around the world. As a member of the good morning beautiful films crew, Ali traveled last year to places like Botswana, Israel, India and the US to document critical water stories and to bring attention to the issue. More about Ali and the expedition if you follow the links.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The workroom is full

Only a few more days until the the Artisan's Association of Cambodia (AAC) sponsored Craft Fair in Siem Reap. Vyrak and Koun are working with us for the week to make sure we have enough products to display in our booth. Koun has recently bought a moto, which is fantastic because it not only means it's easier for him and Vyrak to come to PP, but because it means he's earning enough to be able to get a moto! What could be a better indication of our success than that? However, Koun is among the knitters who caught on really quickly and who knits incredible amounts each week. There are others who are not as fast and are not earning as much as he is. He also works with his wife and together they make quite the production team. Once we get into more shops, especially in Siem Reap, we'll need to revisit our piece rates and consider other ways to ensure everyone is earning a livable wage.

Back to the sale. It will be held outside the Angkor National Museum on the road to Angkor Wat. We'll have a small booth among 70 others representing other craft producers and artisans from around Cambodia. The organizers are expecting about 10 000 visitors to the fair over the 5 days it is running. Our super designer is working on posters and banners and ideas for making our booth irresistible and we're just planning the logistics of getting there, setting up and spending a week in SR. I've promised staff enough time off to go visit the temples, so I hope there is enough down time during each day for them to do that.

Here are some earless pigs being prepared for next week. They look silly without their ears...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Knitting Advice on Stripes Needed

So we're starting a new and very wonderful pattern from Danger Studios, a stripey monster with a baby monster, Daphne and Delilah. We've done some stripey things in the past and had a lot of problems getting it right. I studied the tutorial on how to stripe at Tech Knitting (which is excellent and if you knit, it's really helpful) and explained it carefully to the knitters. They always take what I've taught them and within a few hours, do it better than I could ever hope to do it myself. Except for the stripes. I have no idea what we're/they're doing wrong or how to correct this.

So I'm posting some photos here of what they've knit so far. If you're a knitter and can offer any advice on how to improve what you see below, fire away.

The one above is Tyna and I think it's a jog, plain and simple.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


As you know, Haiti has been hit by the biggest earthquake in 2 centuries and thousands are feared dead. The living have the immense task of rebuilding after the devastation. And many of us are thinking of ways to help. After the tsunami in 2004, millions of dollars were raised and sent to affected areas, only to be found to have been wasted. When Nargis hit Burma last year, many of my friends were asking, 'who do we support? How can we be sure donations aren't wasted, that they get to the people in need?' These are difficult questions to answer.

In times of emergency, aid is more likely than usual to be diverted away from the people who really need it. Food, medicines, supplies need to be distributed fast and this prevents necessary checks being put in place to ensure support is going to those who need it most. Haiti scores lowest in the annual Corruption Perception Index released each year by Transparency International. This will make it even harder to aid agencies to do their work on the ground without the risk of diversion by the powerful. It's an unfortunate reality.

This does not mean that we shouldn't give Haiti as much support as possible. It just means that you should do your research when giving. Give to organizations that are already established and have a history of operating transparently and effectively in-country. These organizations and their people on the ground have already built relationships and know their way around. They can quickly establish fair channels of distribution and get your donations to where they need to go most.

Personally, I would avoid giving to any UN agency. That's a personal bias, based on my experiences in Cambodia and from anecdotes from elsewhere. UN agencies are large, bureaucratic, slow and already very well funded. They don't need small donations. I'd try to find a locally founded and based organization that focuses on the country, is run by locals but with sustained outside support. One such organization in Haiti is the Restavek Foundation. They are already in place, working directly with schools that they have been working with for years, ready to get assistance to those in need. Go here to read more about their post-quake situation.

The other organization I would donate to in any emergency situation is Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). If anyone knows how to get help to people in emergencies, it's them. They already have clinics set up in Haiti and like Restavek are able to distribute aid through already established channels.

From the early reports it looks like Haiti is going to need a lot of support, immediately and in the coming months. Give what you can, but give where it will help the most.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ravely Group

So, it's been suggested in the past that I start a Ravelry Cambodia Knits group. If you don't know what Ravelry is, then it's about 99.9999% likely that you don't knit. If you knit, you'd know the site. Ravelry is kinda like Facebook but the focus is on knitting and crocheting. There are patterns, a place for you to display your finished products, discussion forums, groups, news and more.

So if you are a Rav'er, then come on over to the CK group and join:

And if you haven't yet, become a fan of Cambodia Knits on Facebook do it now: here. We've got 110 fans so far!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The year that was...

It's still early enough in the New Year to look back at what 2009 was for Cambodia Knits and what we've accomplished.

Back in June, I was lucky enough to find 5 knitters, two of whom were already very experienced, to start up CK. We had many challenges in translating patterns into Khmer, learning new ways to knit (me English style, they continental style) and finding materials. We found two amazing designers Raynor Gellatly and Rebecca Danger who were willing to let us use their patterns to knit up and sell the finished products locally. We experimented with local acrylic yarn, some cotton yarn brought from the US by a friend and a variety of yarns bought in Bangkok, Thailand.

One of the biggest challenges was finding suppliers willing to sell to us at wholesale prices without expecting orders in the hundreds of kilograms. I must have spent literally hundreds of hours online trying to track down factories that accept small orders for things like safety eyes, yarn and needles. Each time I succeeded was a minor victory! Thanks to the following we can import the small quantity of supplies we need: 8Season-Knitting, Beisica Cashmere and New Li Yen.

Next came finding and training new knitters. After meeting with Davy from City Hall, we decided to work with the Toul Sambo community, which had recently been relocated from Borei Keila in Phnom Penh. Over the course of a month in October and November, we trained 18 knitters (13 women, 5 men) in basic knitting skills and taught them how to make the finger puppets. We were able to do this in large part because of the generosity of sponsors from as far as Sweden, Hawaii, the UK and Canada. One major challenge was finding ways to present patterns for those who could not read and making sure the trainers could, well, train! As of January 12th, 2010, all but one of the people we trained at TS are knitting for us and many more are interested in starting.

Finally, and very importantly, we started to sell our products. We started at Cafe Living Room and expanded to four other locations around the city. We participated in several pre-holiday sales and took orders from Canada. The reactions have been very, very positive! Everyone loves Penelope and the finger puppets always get a great response.

So in summary, we:

- Trained 24 knitters from two communities
- Sell products at five local retail locations
- Currently employ 6 full time staff
- Have 27 piece rate knitters producing our products
- Provided health insurance to our full time staff
- Developed partnerships with other local NGOs and businesses with similar values and models
- Found sponsorships for 19 knitters in training

All this has been possible thanks to the generous support of friends and family and all of you out there who have given advice, words of wisdom, connections and links. We recently received two large yarn donations from the Around the Bay Guild and from a Ravelry member in California. We can use these yarns to experiment with different fibers and needles, colours and see what we can create. We've also received financial donations from generous supporters (both large and small, but always helpful!) which have helped us make sure salaries are paid on time and that we have the resources to do what we do.

All in all, I think we've come pretty far in a short time. Here's to an even better 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Final photos and contest winners!!!

We should have selected the winners by now, but 40 hours of travel and jet lag have prevented me from doing, well, anything. First,our final two photo entries:

My sister, Malgosia with her orange Penelope (we both love the colour orange, must run in the family).

My nephew Jaxon enjoying his full set of finger puppets.

Ok, I'm headed to the random number generator right now, and with my husband as my witness, I'll select three winners. Drum roll please:

The winners are (#s 6, 12, 16 which represent the following:

1. Helena Barkla
2. Jo-Ey Lee
3. Molly Ball

If you see this before I've emailed you, then send me your mailing address and I'll get the package to you this week.

Congratulations to the winners and thank you to everyone for participating!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Contest extended until Friday!!

Just in case you haven't heard (or didn't catch it in yesterday's blog post), you now have until Friday evening to join in the competition!

Here are two more lovely entries:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More photos and a presentation

We've gotten some more entries for our blog contest and they are all very cute!

I gave a presentation on Cambodia and Cambodia Knits for the Around the Bay Knitting Guild. It was nice to have an attentive audience of knitters (all in the process of knitting some lovely items) and to be able to the tell the story of CK. It was my first time giving a presentation on something so close to my heart and I hope to have the chance to do it again.

And since we sold a few items, and I love the photos we've been getting, I'm extending the blog contest until Yeng and I are at Seoul airport for our lovely 15 hour layover. There is a post office in the airport and I can send out prizes through reliable post to the winners then.

So you now have until Friday 6 pm (Toronto time) to get your photo or comment in. At that point we'll be half way through the layover and in need of something to do. A trip to the PO will be just the thing...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First few photos

Here are the first few entries in our first ever blog contest. You have a couple more days to get your photos (or comments) in for a chance to win! Don't wait until it's too late! Do it now!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all our regular and non-regular readers!! Cambodia Knits wishes you all the best for 2010.

Our blog contest is still rolling and time is running out. Get your entry in ASAP for a chance to win some lovely, lovely prizes. Don't miss it!