The capital’s sustainable fashion scene has received a recent boost through the introduction of monthly market CULT. Writer Joanna Mayhew speaks to co-founder Katia Nicolas about the movement. Photography by Charles Fox.
How did CULT come about?
CULT stands for Cambodia’s Ultimate Lifestyle Trade. CULT started with me [meeting co-founder] Ludivine Desablin when she came to one of my Good Krama events, because I have a fashion label first and foremost. She owns vintage store, Bee Vintage and Craft. So CULT is a two-person team. We noticed there are so many different labels around, but they’re kind of hidden all over the city, and most people don’t know where to go. We’re like, what about starting a one-stop shop for the public to discover these products? So we decided to do a monthly market, [with] an after-work vibe – more of a swanky environment of cocktails, music and shopping, where you can talk to the vendors and hear about how they do it, and why. We picked Jun. 9 as the first one. Everyone kind of came together, and in three weeks, bam, it was done.
What are the events like?
When you walk in, you’ll have a very full bar, you’ll have vendors left and right, presenting their stuff on really beautiful Alchemy [Design Co.] tables. You’ll have a DJ playing some deep house. CULT is an ethically, socially and environmentally responsible market in terms of what we sell and also in terms of how we present the space. So, for example, we’re a plastic-free zone. At the bar, no straws are handed out. And all the vendors have been given [biodegradable] shopping bags from Cleanbodia. We want to find a different angle for every CULT to keep it interesting. The vendors also rotate, so it will be 10 different vendors. That way everybody has a chance to participate, and the public has a chance to discover new brands. But we try to do our research into how things are produced and in what conditions, to make sure we’re not presenting a label we don’t believe in.
How do you select the companies?
Everything has to be made in Cambodia, in fair trade-like conditions. You don’t have to be certified fair trade, but it has to be done in good living conditions, so we actually go there to see how things are made. It’s a mix between the social enterprise and the environmental impact of the production. We’ve had Funky Junk Recycled, who recycle a bunch of plastic bags and bottles, and create woven baskets. We have labels like Jungle & Jardin, a higher-end fashion label who only use natural fabrics. So it’s a little bit of everything. There’s no one set rule as to how we select, but it’s all about finding a product that we feel caters to the public, is high-quality, and has some social and environmental consciousness to it.
Was CULT created for shoppers or vendors?
It’s definitely a win-win situation for both. It allowed shoppers to discover new brands, and vendors keep all of the proceeds of their sales. And we have our own labels that we showcase, so we get to make money off our own sales. It’s mostly a good opportunity for people to talk about their products and network. The first one was widely successful; we had over 200 people. So that motivated us to keep going. It is a lot of work. But in the end it all paid off. And the community was really strong. Everyone’s really helpful, and it’s great exposure for all of these brands, which can then come back to you. It’s like a virtuous cycle – people helping each other out for the same mission of being more sustainable and conscious. It’s really rewarding, more for the soul than financially.
Tell me about your role with Good Kroma.
I am the co-owner and creative director of Good Krama, which is an ethical men and women’s wear label. We do street style, and everything is made with love by Cambodian ladies in Phnom Penh. I’m an environmental economist by background, so I’m all about sustainability and – because fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world – finding alternatives in a country that is highly focused on garment manufacturing. Every material we use is all-natural, either up-cycled or new technologies of sustainable materials. Our concept is blending traditional weaving techniques with modern design, so every item has a hand-woven kroma accent on it. My mission is to show that you don’t have to give up aesthetics for ethics. There’s still so much that can be done.
Will CULT diversify from the market format?
I think CULT could become not just a Phnom Penh-wide movement, but it could definitely become a countrywide, if not international, movement. When you look at how fashion is moving, it’s all becoming mobile. I think CULT could become a mobile app, so that even if you can’t physically be present, you can still be aware of where to find things in your area and how things are made.
What does it mean to “join the cult”?
“Join the cult” is our slogan. It’s a powerful word. Join the cult means become that shopper that buys sustainable, ethical fashion. Learn about it, inform yourself, and yeah, join the CULT – join that shopping experience.
The next CULT is on Sep. 8. Visit facebook.com/CULT.p.p for details.