Update: The Simple Kind's Trip to Southeast Asia!
"Like anything, when you take time to look at an issue of injustice up close, you start to see the intricacies, the little details, the contradictions...things are way more complex up close than they are from far away."
Two of The Simple Kind's staff recently went on a trip to Cambodia and Thailand! We went on this trip to make connections, better understand the fashion industry, and discover where we fit in being a part of the solution to "Fast Fashion." We have a lot of hopes as a brand to to help empower women around the world, and we believe that the best starting place is just to listen and learn.
This trip was very instrumental in helping us to mold our identity as The Simple Kind: what we want to do, how we want to do it, and who we want to partner with.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
We spent our first week in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and home to many traditional/mainline garment factories and a huge number of NGOs and social businesses. Our first few days we spent visiting some central sites of the Khmer Rouge, the mass genocide that the Cambodian people experienced in the 1970s. "Tragedy” actually seems like an insufficient word to describe what happened. Taking the time to visit the prisons and the killing fields helped us to better understand the historical and present climate of the people we were living among, as well as foster an incredible respect for the strength and the dignity of the Cambodian people.
We spend the rest of our time in Phnom Penh visiting social businesses and NGOs that empower women in various ways-- some worked with survivors of sex trafficking (offering rehabilitation, specialized education, job training and employment in various means), others worked with survivors of labor trafficking, and still others were there to provide high-quality jobs to men and women in the community.
Siem Reap, Cambodia:
After nearly a week in Phnom Penh, we traveled to northern Cambodia (Siem Reap) to learn more about the richness of Khmer culture at Angkor Wat (some of the oldest temples in the world!). From there, we crossed the border into Thailand and set up camp in Pattaya (just a few hours south of Bangkok).
Pattaya is known as being one of the sex tourism capitals of the world.
Though the landscape is beautiful (beaches galore), the city is known instead for its women. This culture stemmed from a high demand for prostitution during the recent wars that ravaged Southeast Asia. We spent time with The Tamar Centre, an organization that has been providing aid in Pattaya for over a decade. Tamar Centre reaches out to women and men working in bars, karaoke clubs, and brothels, offering a rehabilitation program and transitional vocational training.
Like anything, when you take time to look at an issue of injustice up close, you start to see the intricacies, the little details, the contradictions-- things are way more complex up close than they are from far away. Take for instance the fact that it’s actually kind of normal for girls and women who are “rescued” from sex trafficking situations to go back to those situations after the first few months outside of them....or the unsettling fact that sex work in Southeast Asia is largely voluntary for women, because of the cultural expectation to provide financially for your parents. The stories you’ll hear over and over again are that these women quit school, left their villages, and came to the cities because there simply weren’t jobs available to them at home.
I think one of the most troubling things that we learned is that over 66% of women who work in the sex industry in Phnom Penh came from garment factories. It was the same thing-- they needed jobs and the city has a ton of factories just waiting to hire those women, because they have huge orders from major Western brands who are selling to a market that likes to go shopping every weekend.
The conditions in the factories are poor, laborers often become indentured, and rent for housing around these factories is sky-high to keep these people working. But outside of physical working conditions, the most sincere oppression comes from being looked down upon. Being considered second-tier in society, women are often taken advantage of by their managers inside the factories, and their worth is measured by what they can produce and not who they ARE. They lose hope and their sense of personal worth.
Think on this: a woman can earn a month's factory wages in a week via prostitution. So women who are driven to work in these factories out of legitimate need find themselves dehumanized and exploited. This makes the transition from factory work to sex work is just disturbingly easy and preferred. Yet many NGOs don't take this into account! We heard several accounts of women who turned to sex work after desperately wanted to escape the garment factories...soon after, they were "rescued" from sex work and "given" jobs back in those same factories. This is not progress.
If we care about combating the sexual exploitation, we’ve got to look at its roots and very practically where it comes from.
How We're Responding:
As The Simple Kind, that puts a fire in our belly. We want to provide dignified jobs for women so that they can stay with their families, live lives they're proud of, and retain a sense of worth or hope. We want their children to eat well, finish getting an education, break the cycle of poverty, and keep the ability to dream. We want to be on the preventative side of combating human trafficking and offer people who buy clothes around the world an opportunity to participate in building up lives WITH THEIR PURCHASES.
Out of the handful of folks we spent time with, there are three groups in particular that we feel we may have a future with. Our partnership is very grassroots and just beginning, so we’ll tell you guys more about those in coming months as they start to take shape a bit more. We don’t want to be a part of creating NGO dependence, and we really respect and believe in the folks who are dedicated to investing in local economies, empowering local makers, and petitoning to improve labor laws and factory working conditions.
Our plan of action now is to learn how to be a good business. We’re placing an order with a ethical workshop in Denver to produce an inventory of baby dresses, and our plan is to participate in a few local markets this year to kind of make ourselves known. We were able to make friends with a young woman who owns a textile booth in Phnom Penh and we bought fabric from her so we can start making dresses for women.
Thank you guys SO much for being a part of our story and supporting us so well. It means THE WORLD, and we really wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you. We’ll keep you in the loop-- keep an eye out for some pretty things coming out this Spring!