Ethical Trade friendships play a special role at Modimade. Each relationship that I have with our various trade partners, lets me tell you who is behind the making of our products. Whilst I was in Cambodia, two Mum’s got together to share our history and what makes both of us love what we do. Here is my first ‘Walk the Ethical Talk’ session with Monika Nowaczyk from Cambodia Knits.
Why did you first come to Cambodia?
Anna: I first came to Cambodia in 2009 to volunteer in the education sector. As a primary school teacher from Western Sydney, i wanted to learn and develop a deep understanding of the different life experiences and skills that my students had. Living and breathing another culture for a year was a great way to do this. I used my skills to make my year count, sharing my knowledge of western style teaching methods, whilst working collaboratively with the staff at a small community development organisation called Chumkriel Language School. The essence of the Cambodian people and culture captured me and I've been hooked ever since.
Monika: Haha, likewise. I first came to Cambodia in 2000. I was going to pass through during a South-East Asia trip, but I ended up teaching for over a year. I left in 2001, thinking that I would probably never return, but did in 2006 for what was supposed to be a short volunteer visit. I’m still here however and have stayed because I believe I can have an impact here through my work and experience in both education and in small business.
What inspired you to start your business venture? And why a business and not a non-profit?
Anna: Modimade was established as way to raise financial support to donate to the programs at Chumkriel Language School. Initially living in Cambodia had nothing to do with running an ethical business back in Australia (I laugh now!). So I set up ethical trade friendships with different social enterprise like Cambodia Knits, bringing their unique and beautifully hand crafted wares to Australia. It seemed like a win - win. Later, I expanded Modimade whilst I was on extended maternity leave from teaching. Becoming a business rather than a 'not-for-profit' enabled me to grow the stability of my business, whilst supporting my own families financial needs from home. I could spend more time with my young son and I could grow our sales, communication reach and support more sustainable development, ethical trade and fair production.
Monika: Like you Anna, I had no experience in running a business when I started Cambodia Knits. I saw that women in communities around Phnom Penh were lacking employment opportunities either because of a lack of skills or education or because they could not fit their lives around strict working hours. I wanted to find a way to create great, high quality products, while supporting women’s access to employment that could fit in within the constraints they face. Knitting is a relatively easy-to-learn skill and does not require a lot of inputs and I thought it would be a great skill to introduce to women and to create work for them them could do from home. I decided to follow a business model because I believe this would be more sustainable in the long term and we could continue to grow and expand our product lines, while creating more work for more women.
What keeps you motivated to keep going through the tough times?
Anna: The 'rewards'. That's simple. It's seeing and learning about how our product purchases help to support the women. They enable mums to care for their children, pay for health care, access education and guarantee that she will be safe and happy at work every day. Then there are the motivations closer to home. Like hearing my four year old son acknowledge that kids in places like Cambodia deserve to have the joy of riding a bike or the fun of going to day care. Modimade gives opportunity to Cambodian women but it also gives people in Australia the opportunity to connect with people behind the things we buy. The motivations are endless.
Monika: My main motivation is the people we work with. We have some knitters who have been with us since the very beginning and I see how hard they work, how much effort they put towards earning an income so they can support their families. In the darkest times of our business, I felt and I knew in my heart that we had to keep going, keep trying, so that these women could continue to have work. They inspire me with the love they have for their families, for their children and for their communities and they motivate me to keep the business running, to make it
stronger and to grow.
What impact are you hoping to create with your business?
Anna: Modimade's structure means that our impact will always be multi-layered. With the development of our online store and social media presence, Modimade is now able to spread the word about ethical purchasing every day. When I'm at work, at home or at village markets, I love speaking personally with people, sharing the story of both sustainable community programs offered by CLS and the benefits of supporting Cambodian artisans like the woman at Cambodia Knits. I hope to build and foster this into the future. I'm already seeing that Modimade is able to leave a lasting impression on the next generation. The other day, my Yr 6 class discussed the notion that people (not machines!) actually make their clothes and other items. They were amazed (and shocked) by this! Then there is the obvious - business growth is always a great thing. By expanding, we will hopefully be able to grow our sales. In turn, we’ll increase our trade purchasing support to social enterprise, donate more to CLS and sponsor additional women at Cambodia Knits as part of their ‘Sponsor a Knitter’ program.
Monika: We aim to empower women through economic opportunities. First, this means giving them opportunities to work from home, with flexible schedules so they can continue to look after their children. Additionally, we provide soft skills training in topics such as personal financial management, conflict resolution and topics like health and hygiene so women can make the most of their incomes and grow and develop personally. I completely love what Cambodia Knits encompasses and Monika shares her story beautifully. Cambodia Knits is currently running a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. CLICK HERE to purchase one of their gorgeous Sleepy Snoogus and help sponsor an education fund set up for the children of their knitting mothers.
It’s pretty easy to see that my little ‘Walk the Ethical Talk’ with Monika from Cambodia Knits shows that both our businesses aim to build support in sustainable ways, achieving sustainable outcomes. Do you have a soft toy like the Cambodia Knits ‘Sleepy Snoogus’ range from your childhood? Maybe it was handmade with love too? Share what it was below in a comment, I’d love to hear about it. Catch you all soon, for our next ‘Walk the Ethical Talk’. If you want to find out when it's being launched, make sure you sign up.