Photography by Tiff Tsang, words by Hanna Guy
Our Everyday Advocates Series is dedicated to showcasing legends that both inspire us and help us to meet our potential. Working directly with businesses and individuals committed to creating a positive impact is important to us at Dorsu - allowing us to bring you along on our journey to drastically alter the nature of the fashion industry. Our Journal is a space to talk about how everyday people and businesses can, and are, doing great things by challenging the status quo.
You lived in Cambodia as an expatriate for a long time, working in a variety of fields and forming a community with people from across the world. Can you share takeaways from your experience?
The main thing I discovered is what community really means. I’d grown up in a big city, where you plug in your headphones and instantly feel anonymous. In Cambodia, and across Southeast Asia, it’s entirely the opposite. Living as an expat, in such a dynamic and energetic place, people were so incredibly friendly and generous with their time, their patience, their stuff, and their networks. I wouldn’t have transitioned out of my traditional career into something I really enjoy doing without having that community support.
You have extensively researched clothing, design, food and travel in this region, what have been your favourite discoveries?
Oh man. Where do I even begin? Inside Cambodia, it’s pork and rice – the standard Cambodian breakfast. Outside of Phnom Penh, my favourite Asian megacity is Bangkok. People are creative and excited! From the city’s restaurants, to the markets showcasing young designers (one of my favourite Thai brands is tathata), and the ease of getting around the city – it quickly became my “safe place” to get away to when work and life in Cambodia became too much.
Living in Cambodia, I also discovered my love for textiles. Hand-feel and the way fabric feels against your skin in such hot and humid conditions became really important for me. Also, the patterns and the work that goes into making embroidered textiles or woven linen and silk. As a result, I now look for clothes that are made from sustainable and ethically made fabrics.
Can you talk about your thoughts and reflections on fashion and Cambodia’s place in the global industry?
I came into fashion in Cambodia first through working on urban migration, women leaving their villages to work in garment factories, then developed appreciation for the sustainable and ethical innovations of designers working on these issues. I started a blog with my best friend and also became involved through my photographic and writing work. After a decade here, I feel like I barely scratched the surface.
In terms of Cambodia’s place in the global industry, it’s probably second to Bangladesh in terms of press coverage of garment factory conditions and issues that happen. But I wish there was more awareness of what is happening here to change that. Whether its through the work of smaller sustainable brands, campaigns like #fashrev, big multi-lateral or non-governmental organizations, a number of interventions are happening to make garment factory work better and the Cambodian industry cleaner. I don’t think these activities receive enough coverage - a lot can be learned from what’s happening right here.
How do you feel about the emerging creative scenes in Cambodia?
Young Cambodians are where it’s at. Whether they’re designing new typefaces, are in the graphic design space, making art installation pieces, reviving a music scene through the use of traditional sounds or creating new fashion – I’m so excited by young Khmer creatives and the investors who are supporting them. I feel very lucky to call a few of them my friends.
I’ve long admired your tenacity as an independent woman in an industry heavily dominated by men. How do you stay charged up?
Photography is SO DOMINATED by men! When I was first starting out in Cambodia, I could count the number of female photographers on one hand. This gave me room to find my own style. I learned how to use traits and aesthetics, like the #femalegaze, which socialized and differentiated me as a woman to my advantage in the photography business. And I needed to stay confident that there was a market that wanted this too.
All of the professional photographers I follow are women. And I’ve been really lucky to have worked with great female photographers, videographers and creatives. We’re there. There aren’t that many of us and I think it’s important that we stick together. I’ve been lifted up by other women and in turn, I’m trying to collaborate with and lift other female creatives who are new to the space.
Working with younger women who are new to the craft and getting started as creatives is really exciting, especially in Cambodia. That’s really what kept me going in my final year living in Phnom Penh.
How does it feel being in front of the camera rather than behind it?
SO SCARY! I’ve never liked being in front of the camera and have struggled with how I think I look my entire life. So when you asked me to do this, I had to work on a lot of “body positivity” and “body neutrality” thinking to get there. There are really only 1 or 2 people I feel comfortable to be shot by. As in – they make me feel comfortable; and I’m happy with how I look after. Unfortunately, both of them are thousands of kilometers away from me now, so I needed to shoot myself - something I’ve never done before. A couple of female photographers I look up to occasionally do it, so I learned from them and basically just had to buck it up and do it.
It turns out that being the awkward chick photographing herself in the middle of a forest isn’t that bad.
See more of Tiff's work on her website