Photography by Tiff Tsang, interview 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
We collaborate as an entire team, combining design and production priorities.
Our design and sourcing processes are inter-linked. Sometimes we design and then source fabrics we wish to produce in, and other times we discover fabric we love and can create accordingly, quickly.
Meticulously designed for everyday wear, focusing on quality above all else.
You inspire us - our #DorsuCrew! We love talking to you and learning about what you do, what you need, and how clothing fits into your life. Every day, we meet fellow travellers from around the globe, visiting us during their holidays in Kampot. They buy Dorsu for our quality; withstanding weeks or months of adventures. When they return home, they have their go-to essentials for work, weekends, and holidays.
We make our own rules and don't abide by trends, mass consumption or over-production. By investing our time and talent into thoughtful design, we create pieces that will be mainstays in your closet.
Our patterns are made in-house by our Co-Founder and Head of Production & Design, Kunthear. With years of experience and training, she opts for the traditional method of measuring and cutting paper to transform concepts into complete, graded patterns.
Every 8 weeks, we release new collections consisting of 3-4 thoughtfully designed, intentional pieces to be worn with one another and across collections. We use limited edition fabrics, meaning each collection is small-batch, sitting perfectly alongside our year-round Core Collection.
The first step in the cutting process is washing the fabric, to test shrinkage and colour fastness. Our cutting team cut paper patterns from the originals, laying them on the material in a way that minimises wastage. Cutting up to 25 layers at a time, we bundle each piece according to size.
The cut and bundled pieces are then moved into the production room and delegated along the production line. It’s fast and straightforward, ensuring we create consistent end-products.
The sewn products are washed and individually measured against their specifications, checking they’re true-to-size.
The final step in production is ironing and the second check for shrinkage, warping, construction or fabric faults. The final garments are folded, packed and stored for sale. Some are moved directly into our studio store (located at the front of our production space), while others go to our flagship store in Kampot, or sent to Australia for international retail.
All production staff undergo extensive training and skills development to ensure safe, efficient and quality work by all team members. We train all new staff on our internal Human Resources policy, including occupational health & safety procedures, fire safety and evacuation, and child protection. We update and renew training annually, with ongoing instruction on equipment safety and maintenance, as well as the protocols to assess risk and responsibly address incidents in the workplace.
Fair and safe employment is the responsibility of all companies, and we prioritise the physical and emotional well-being of our employees above everything else.
We have two storefronts in Kampot, Cambodia - our Old Market Flagship Store and our Road 33 Production Studio Store. All team members take part in regular training on our new ranges, inclusive of design concept, fabric, fit and styling.
Our Kampot based retail team manage the in-country delivery program, speaking directly with customers to facilitate the order and delivery process.
We ship all online orders from our distribution space in Tasmania, Australia. Our online customer service team work against Australian EST, providing consistent and quality support to our international customers.
We welcome your feedback and are open to answering any questions you may have about sizing, construction, fabric, or our production practices.
We ship all bulk orders from our Road 33 Production Studio in Kampot, Cambodia. Most of the time, these are made-to-order. As a result of having a close-knit team, we can offer a seamless buying experience. Our sales staff speak to our Production Manager, face-to-face so that you can have the most accurate updates on the status of your order.
Our fabric is remnant cotton jersey sourced from independent suppliers in Phnom Penh.
Remnant fabric (also known as "deadstock" or "surplus") is unused and unwanted leftover rolls of cloth in its original condition.
As a result of Cambodia’s pervasive garment manufacturing industry and issues that occur along the fashion industry’s incredibly complex supply chain, vast amounts of fabric are deemed unusable by brands on a daily basis. This waste arises due to reasons such as incorrect or oversupply of cloth, last minute changes in production schedules and the ever-increasing need for brands to be immediately responsive and adaptive to fashion trends.
These fabric leftovers are sold on from brands and factories to a local fabric supply industry, who then sell on through the Cambodian supply chain. We scour the warehouses of our preferred suppliers and purchase rolls of fabric per kilogram. When sourcing for our collections, we buy up to 100 kilograms of a collection colour (like burgundy) and up to 300 kilograms of a core colour (like black and navy).
Due to the nature of sourcing factory remnants, we can't guarantee consistency in the fabric blends. Consequently, we burn-test every fabric we buy to ensure it has very little or no synthetic fibres.
We pre-wash a sample of every new fabric, testing for colour fastness and shrinkage.
We know that using factory remnants has limitations. We know we can’t trace the true origins of our material. But, we are doing what we can, within the context in which we work. Cambodia doesn't have cotton mills or weaving facilities so, we are limited by access. As a small brand, we experience financial barriers of meeting minimum order quantities of suppliers outside of Cambodia and then importing fabric into the country. We are acutely aware of our impact on the local economy, and we choose to place our money where it has the most significant impact.
All Dorsu team members are required to read, understand, sign and abide by our internal human resource policy that is inclusive of: