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Catherine Théron Weaving Success in Cambodia

By: Charlotte Lancaster Posted: July-08-2009 in
Catherine Théron
Charlotte Lancaster

Locally produced Cambodian silk handicrafts have been re-surfacing in recent years and Catherine Théron is at the forefront bringing international attention back to high quality Khmer silk products. Cambodian silk is admired for its strength, softness, purity and ability to absorb colour, while its workmanship is well received for its distinctive flavour inspired by the employment of traditional techniques. The quality of the material is what encourages Catherine to create and the customers to buy.

Machines and technology may allow neighbouring Thai and Vietnamese producers to manufacture silk goods on a larger mass scale, but Théron argues that quality is sacrificed in this rush to generate a quick income. Currently, all Cambodian silk handicrafts are completely hand woven permitting originality in design and a uniqueness in detail not found in machine woven products. And it is this loving preservation of 800 year old traditional hand weaving techniques that maintain Cambodia's reputation as a producer of high quality silk.

Being the source of their livelihood, weavers closely safeguard the treasured technique of silk weaving within the family. Traditionally, the master weaver, usually a woman, passes on the methods to each new generation of daughters creating a self sustaining mini silk production unit within their homes.

When Catherine first established her business in 2000 she employed three families in Takeo province; however she eventually narrowed her enterprise down to a family of 25 with a master weaver who was prepared to experiment with colour, technique and design, beautifully complementing Catherine's creative ambitions. "Traditionally, weavers reproduce and copy designs rather than innovate or create so it was a relief to find someone who will never say no." Explaining that by moulding her knowledge and blending her skill with Catherine's vision, the master weaver produces contemporary designs not previously seen in Cambodia. "It can be challenging, but through experimentation we grow together," Catherine adds.

This method of trial and error appears to be working well for Théron, whose products were recently displayed at a UNESCO fair in Paris designed to celebrate Cambodian heritage.

Kashaya Silk, located on Street 240, exhibits Catherine's semi-annual collection of bags, cushions, shoes, purses and her most popular items scarves and shawls, which can take up to five days to make each. Selling mainly to clients in France, Japan, the US and Switzerland much of her design work is catered to the tastes of these international patrons.

The emergence of the Angkor Silk Fair, the Cambodian Silk Forum and the Cambodian Silk Board exemplify the slow but steady development of the silk trade in the country. The annual Angkor Silk Fair is a chance for Cambodian businesses or manufacturers to flaunt their silk to regional buyers, such as Malaysia and Singapore. "Outside interest is still limited but it is growing," clarifies Catherine, "the more we experiment with colour, design and the fusion of modern with traditional and the better the quality of production, the higher the level of interest will be."

While talking of the positive changes occurring in the silk world, Catherine expresses her wish that the Cambodia silk trade does not turn into a machine operated, money driven industry where quality and human resource is forfeited in the name of 'development'. The handicrafts produced in Cambodia are unique because they are hand woven, they are distinct because they are functional and yet artistic. Let's hope that in its search to enter the international market Cambodian silk products can retain the essence that got it there in the first place.

Kashaya Silk,
55Eo, Street 240,
Phnom Penh
kashayasilk [at] gmail.com

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