The Khmer Crafts and Food Festival kicks off for it third edition this weekend outside Toul Sleng.
Organized by Nomi Network and VillageWorks, the Khmer Crafts & Food Festival aims to highlight and strengthen Cambodia’s rising local artisans, craftspeople, chefs, small business owners and social enterprises.
While tourists may not have the biggest appetite after exiting a genocide museum, Nomi Network cofounder, Supei Liu, said the location was the perfect way for the international community to be exposed to local artists, crafters and chefs.
“The excellent location brings regular customer flow; it’s a fun environment with many workshops and activities,” she said.
The festival has grown exponentially with each edition, according to event organizer Maria Blackburn, with crowd favorites including Angkor Bullet Jewelry making a return with an all day workshop, as well as an upcycle fashion challenge and show judged by Cambodian fashion designer Yun Rottanak, and creative director Bo Sakalkitya.
Other editions this year will include a food challenge, testing participants tolerance to all things sweet, sour and spicy and traditional Khmer food paired with Cerevisia’s craft beer.
While Blackburn noted there was large amounts of support for local handicraft industries in certain circles, the trends of globalization and Cambodians growing exposure to global brands meant it was a challenge for local vendors to compete and remain sustainable.
“Among the networks of expats and locals working in the public and social sectors, there is huge support for Cambodian artisans and products,” she said.
“But Cambodia is also a developing country with a rising middle class that will flock to new global brands that symbolize wealth and status.
“Many would say the handicraft industry is in decline as new technology rises and causes traditional methods to become obsolete.”
It’s part of the reason the festival has a strong emphasis on capacity building and training the vendors who are involved, with Nomi Network partnering with Villageworks providing training workshops to vendors to improve their customer service and marketing skills, as well as connecting with Fair Trade Associations that help support and promote local exports.
Blackburn said while the greater demand for global brands in Cambodia will be a challenge for local artisans, it could also be seen as an opportunity for innovation.
“International brands bring exposure to new ideas and design which will help the local industry grow and reach a global standard,” she said.
“Artisan brands can recognize and acknowledge the growing influx of global brands and use it as fuel and motivation to get to the next level in terms of design and quality.”
In the face of these challenges, Nomi Network runs a fashion incubator to help local designers get access to grants, as well as providing training to small businesses and social enterprises to get off the ground and open the door to global markets.
“There is a struggle to keep traditions alive, but there are also organizations dedicated to preserving handicrafts as well as jobs” Blackburn said.
While she noted there was limited support coming from the government to support the local industry, Blackburn believed younger Cambodians will want to seek out and support the handicraft industry.
“Eventually there will be more local interest and support for “Made in Cambodia” and artisan products as the next generation’s influence grows,” she said.
Khmer Craft and Food Festival will be on this Saturday from 10am to 7pm along St 113 and 330.