Launched just before the start of the pandemic, online marketplace Sepak supports Cambodian handicraft and home-based producers, paying the makers a fair price and allowing buyers the ability to shop specialities from around the country from the comfort of their homes.
It’s founders, two young Cambodian women already in the business world, work with producers in the provinces and Phnom Penh to design original pieces that appeal to a broad audience while simultaneously exposing buyers to the intrinsic beauty and versatility of traditional handicrafts. Impressed by their vision, the Women in Tek Network selected the duo and their budding venture for mentorship and support, and Sepak now sells on three platforms – social media, in person and its own website – to individuals and local businesses alike.
We were impressed, too, and got a chance to ask Seng Bouyky and Lim Kanika about how Sepak got started, what we can look out for and how important it is now, maybe more than ever, to support our local artisans.
WOPP: How did Sepak come about? What is the story behind it?
Seng Bouyky: I used to work at a company called Sabay. I worked in HR, and my role was to buy gifts for the staff. It was hard for me to find gifts because we had a lot of staff during that time – 100. So, it could be buying a gift every day, and I’d have no idea. I didn’t know what to buy next.
At that time, I asked Kanika what I should buy. And then she came up with an idea that I should buy local products so that I can support producers of Cambodian stuff. Kanika was working at many organizations, and she found out that producers in Cambodia, handicraft producers, lacked a market. They were struggling to find a market for their products. So, together we came up with an idea to create Sepak, so that we can find B2B customers for our producers.
Lim Kanika: Before classes at Nomi [Network, a local nonprofit where Kanika previously worked that provides advanced technical training for local entrepreneurs in the fashion sector], they’d tell me about the problems that they are facing. Because some of them only have orders when customers order from other countries. The locals, it’s hard for them to go into the provinces (the place that they sell). And [the sellers] lack marketing, or online selling. So it’s hard for customers to find them. That’s why we bring the platform. It’s easy for them.
WOPP: So you can fill the gap in the market. Are you targeting customers both in Cambodia and abroad?
Kanika: Right now we have around 80% locals and 20% are foreigners.
WOPP: How is delivery handled if someone’s living in Phnom Penh?
Bouyky: It depends on them. If they’d like to come pick up at our office, we can prepare it for them. Or if they want delivery, we can deliver to them in the city for $1.50.
WOPP: How many makers, or producers, do you work with?
Bouyky: It’s around 30 producers and more home-based producers as well. So total it’s around 100. For example, in a community there’s five or ten people, women, in the community who come together for production. It means they work from home.
Kanika: They do their farming but, if they have small handicrafts, then they do that, too. If they have the availability, they spend more time on that for extra income.
WOPP: What kinds of things are being sold?
Bouyky: We sell a lot of bullet jewelry and also masks.
WOPP: Oh, masks! That’s a big one.
Kanika: We have different kinds of masks, like lotus masks, kroma masks or cotton masks, based on the needs and what people are looking for.
WOPP: Wait. Did you say lotus, as in the flower?
Bouyky: Yes. It’s lotus microfibre fabric.
WOPP: The fabric is made from lotus flowers? I didn’t know that was a thing!
Kanika: It’s new. It’s really new to Cambodia. People are impressed by this one very much. And when we posted this product, we got, like – how many?
Bouyky: 100,000 reach.
Kanika: It’s made in Cambodia, in Siem Reap….
WOPP: Sorry, I got caught up in the masks. What else do you sell?
Kanika: Water hyacinth. We can make it into a bag, or mats, boxes, furniture stuff. And we make things from bamboo, seagrass, rattan…
WOPP: Can you make custom orders?
Kanika: Yes, for instance we can make custom size boxes out of hyacinth or bags out of seagrass.
WOPP: Cool! What’s been the most popular?
Kanika: Jewelry, and also water hyacinth bags. We’re now designing silver and hope it comes out soon.
Bouyky: We also have men’s products, leather products – belts, wallets, suitcase, bags, leather name card holders….
WOPP: This has been a big year – launching the business, a new website and growing your network. What are you looking forward to next year?
Bouyky: We hope to grow our business by providing more jobs, especially to our producers. We also want to let customers be aware of the value of local products. Because it’s handmade, the price and the quality will be very different from the manufactured products. So we want people to know more about the process and the value of the producers.
Kanika: It’s really something we should be looking into, supporting the locals and local businesses. For instance, maybe handicraft stores are closed down because no tourists come to Cambodia. So that’s why it’s time for customers to come and support.
Shop the entire collection on Sepak’s website and check their Facebook page for news on the latest listings. If you feel like shopping in person, visit their booth at CULT’s Christmas Joy holiday market at Sofitel Phokeethra, Saturday, December 20, 11am–6:30pm.