When I was in Cambodia earlier this year, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting American expat Rachel Faller who resides in Cambodia running an ethical, socially responsible fashion business. Her business, which is called KeoK’jay, means fresh or bright green in Khmer. Although I didn’t get a chance to speak with her much that night at a dinner for a mutual acquaintance, I did stop by her boutique in Phnom Penh and buy two eco-friendly dresses which are made from recycled fabrics. I also did some research into the back story of how the business and label came about.
Long story short, Rachel studied Fibers (is that a major?) in the U.S. and went to Cambodia with a friend who was thinking of starting a textile business. That business never materialized but Rachel fell in love with Cambodia, won a Fullbright Scholarship to return and research the textile sector and then moved there permanently to start her business. What is interesting about her approach is that she trains and employs women who have HIV/AIDS to make the clothes and pays them an above average wage so that they can support their families and send their children to school. It is not a charity or an NGO.
As Rachel recently told the Huffington Post:
KeoK’jay is (in some ways) a traditional, sales-supported business that can compete in the international fashion scene, but without all the labor violations and environment trashing. By creating high quality products that resonate with the ever-changing fashion market without sacrificing our principles, we aim to combat the traditional victim mentality that leads to dependency by building a business model that does not rely on charity to sell products.
While I admire Rachel’s business model and her commitment to her chosen community, I am in awe of the fact that she is but a 26 year old whippersnapper who is incredibly mature and ambitious. She has sacrificed a lot to make her vision a reality and has sustained that through hard work and passion. To say that she took the road less traveled is a massive understatement. Because of her drive and courage, hundreds of lives have been transformed. Her commitment to social justice is inspiring. Props to you Miss Faller!