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Transparency & Context: The Cambodian Garment Industry

April 16, 2019

Dorsu Cambodian Garment Industry Remnant Fabric

Photo by Tiff Tsang 


 

As we dive into another short (yet critical) Fashion Revolution Week, we’d like to offer as much information and support to our community as we can, ensuring that we come out the other side with a broader depth of knowledge as well as clear, concise actions that we can all take.


As a Cambodian clothing company and producer based in Southern Cambodia, we are intrinsically connected to the Cambodian garment industry, although we operate independently and at a different scale. The local industry impacts our business; how our employees approach their work and employment conditions; consumer perception towards our operations, product and prices; governmental policies and procedures; and legal minimum wages.


As an ethical company within this context, it is our duty to ensure that we are doing everything we can to work towards improvements within the local industry, our biggest contributions being the provision of an alternative work environment for garment workers and the education of consumers around the world about the impact of their purchasing decisions.


This brings us to the purpose of this piece - to provide you with an overview of the current climate of the Cambodian garment industry and how our choices can impact the lives of garment workers.


Cambodian Garment Industry - An Overview


Fair and safe working conditions within garment factories differ from country to country - with regulations, standards and priorities developing in accordance with local needs and requirements, there is no blanket ‘fix’ for the global industry. Yes, there is one united end goal that sees all garment workers subject to healthy and safe working conditions, receiving a living wage for their work. Getting to that end goal is where things get complicated, and its important to understand the role of the government, culture, economic climate, unions, historical data and growth etc to fully understand the context and where it is at.


As a relatively young garment industry, the Cambodian sector has progressed rather significantly in a short period of time. The garment industry plays an important role in the Cambodian economy, with the peak of its growth seen through the mid-late 1990’s. The  industry now accounts for approximately USD 6.3 billion (roughly 80%) of the country’s total export revenue, employing over 700,000 workers across the country.


Wages in the Cambodian garment sector have been one of the most critical developments of the industry, with the minimum wage  more than doubling in the past 5 years. Now, the garment sector is the only industry in the country with a minimum wage, with workers receiving support and guidance from various organisations, workers unions and government departments.


Other issues prevalent in the industry range from job security through the lack of permanent contracts, reports of sexual harassment in the workplace and long working hours.


Although relatively forward in terms of wages and representation by unions, external influences tend to take advantage and continue to exploit workersoutside of the workplace.


There are alarming rates of reported family debt, often as a result of poorly managed microfinance programs. There is no regulation around rental agreements, and gambling, substance abuse and family violence statistics are some of the greatest in the region. Increasing wages is important, however, with each recent labour award change many workers have suffered from landlords immediately applying the same increase to their rent, or temporarily felt financial freedom without support of managing long-term family debt. In the worst cases, people have suffered an immediate increase in domestic abuse.


Arguably the most severe of issues within the industry is transport to and from the factories, where roughly  200,000 workers are packed into open back cattle trucks every day, and herded over long distances on broken, chaotic roads. From July 2017 - July 2018 there were 5 deaths and 503 injuries  reported from road accidents involving garment trucks. The  most recent and incredibly horrific accident occurred only this month, with the collision of two garment trucks causing 5 women to lose limbs and 3 more severely injured.  


Context Matters


Context is vital, and it’s important for consumers to hold explorative conversations within the discomfort of complexity. Without an understanding of context, real efforts to improve conditions and inflict industry wide change fall short of their mark, essentially being rendered ineffective, hopeless and unachievable.


Without a clear insight into what is actually happening, there is no way to effectively bring about long term, critical change. For example, when looking at improving conditions in the Cambodian sector, perhaps our efforts would be better placed in supporting labour organisations already working in the industry to achieve greater impact in their work to improve conditions, such as that by  Better Factories Cambodia. We could look at supporting the work of  TWG who are currently working with Better Factories Cambodia to improve transport conditions, drastically reducing the number of accidents involving workers travelling to and from the factories.


Absolutely, placing pressure on big brands plays a critical role in achieving this, however it’s important to note that not one party holds all the power and influence to implement serious, long term change. Simply asking a brand ‘who made my clothes’ sometimes isn’t enough. Sure, they can link you through to their list of factories and suppliers, but what information are they providing you on safety standards, employment contracts, outsourcing, workplace, transportation, working hours, community impact…? We must take into account external factors and environment, to ensure that we are placing pressure where the biggest impact can be made.


When you do start to ask brands ‘who made your clothes’, it’s important to ask therightquestions, appropriate to the scale and operations of the business. A small production house would have a very different reporting system than a multinational fast fashion company, so it’s critical to keep this in mind when approaching a brand and understand that operations have varying impact when applied from varying scales.


 

For more information on what the concept of 'Know the Maker' actually means, read our blog post  here. 


Our Design Process
Design

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.

Our Product

Meticulously designed for everyday wear, focusing on quality above all else. 

Inspiration

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.

In-house Pattern Making

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.

Dorsu Collections

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. 

Our Production Process
Step 1: Cutting

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.

Step 2: Production room

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.

Step 3: Initial quality control

The sewn products are washed and individually measured against their specifications, checking they’re true-to-size.

Step 4: Finishing & final quality control

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.

Safety

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.

Customer Service & Sales
In-Store Retail

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. 

Online Retail

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. 

Wholesale & Custom Orders

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. 

Learn More About Factory Remnants

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.

Dorsu Employment & Safety Policies
Safety
Policies

All Dorsu team members are required to read, understand, sign and abide by our internal human resource policy that is inclusive of: