I discovered a great new company when I visited the Titirangi Markets a couple of weeks ago. It was their bags that first got my attention as they are so colourful, light and with a great design for almost every occasion. Then I discovered that they had an amazing back story and a purpose that I really wanted to support.
The company is called Smateria and they create long-lasting, colourful bags for every occasion using up-cycled and re-purposed materials. The bags are beautifully designed and good quality, and made from materials including including a nylon multi-purpose netting produced in Southeast Asia for fishing nets, mosquito nets and construction projects, leather off-cuts from a furniture factory, and even recycled plastic bags.
But perhaps even more important than this wonderful environmentally friendly and sustainable product is how and where they they are made. Smateria’s production base is in Cambodia in a small village just outside Phnom Penh and they train and employ women displaced under the city’s current wave of building and urbanization.
“Smateria’ is aware of the country’s poverty and the lack of training and work opportunities for women. Smateria’s employees go through a non-discriminatory application process overseen by a lawyer, a process we might take for granted here in New Zealand, but one that is highly unusual in Cambodia. It offers it employees comfortable working conditions, an annual one-month bonus, health insurance, flexibility to work from home, professional training for production managers and pattern makers and the freedom to train across the whole organization – from pre-production to sales.”
“Training exclusively local women to sew and to use its work methodology, it empowers them by entrusting them with the work. Smateria has created a free pre-school for worker’s children in the workplace. It gives women interest free loans for sewing machines and teaches them to crochet recycled plastics so they can work from home.”
The company was originally started as a cottage industry in 2006 by 2 ex-pat Italian women, and the fashionable bags are now sold in 15 countries. The label has now been brought to NZ this year by 2 New Zealanders (one of whom lives in Cambodia) and is currently selling through markets and their on-line store. They are currently looking for retailers.
I visited Cambodia in 2013 and learnt first hand about their awful history and the atrocities that impact every single family. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet we met such lovely, friendly people who were all trying to make the best of their lives. My trip was with Intrepid Travel and I really like their commitment to responsible travel and helping the local people. In Cambodia this included direct support through a homestay in a rural village and visiting a less touristy village on Tonle Sap, as well as encouraging us to use the cyclo drivers for a tour of Phnom Penh; Seeing Hands, a massage organisation set up to provide work for the blind; and supporting the local artisans.
The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that allows travellers to give back to the communities they visit, supporting initiatives in health care, education, gender equality, human rights, child welfare, sustainable development, environmental conservation and wildlife protection – all around the world.
I am a regular supporter of these intiatives but real success will come when the people are succeeding in business by themselves and only need others to buy their goods and services. So I was very happy to buy (at least) one of their beautiful bags and to share the message so that hopefully many others will too.
If you are interested in visiting Cambodia, try these tours:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more ☺.