martes, 25 de diciembre de 2012

Fashion in Cambodia: Eriya Miura

Lift the back of an H&M shirt and you may find a “Made in Cambodia” tag. Does it sound familiar now? This country of contrasts is where conservative traditions meet modern ways, and the richest of the country co-exist with the poorest. Eriya Miura has lived her whole life in Cambodia, and as a recent graduate of Raffles University, she is proudly one of the few Cambodian designers that has studied fashion in her own country.

Eriya Miura by Clay Frame
As some Puma shoes or H&M clothes may indicate, Cambodia holds a great reputation for being textile manufacturers. In fact, it is the country's largest source of employment. Still, finding fashion students or even fashion bloggers to talk to wasn’t easy. It took me a while, but I was finally able to talk to Eriya, occasionally a model, but mostly a fashion designer. She recently graduated from one of the two private schools that teach fashion in Cambodia. At Raffles University she was the only student of the two-year Advanced Diploma on Fashion (I know, I was quite surprised too). Basically she is one of the first generations of Cambodian designers that actually studied in Cambodia, and the first one in her family full of doctors and lawyers. Very excited, Eriya agreed to talk, and she answered all of my questions very openly in the Skype messages, since Internet at her house wasn’t great to talk.

First of all, would it be possible for you to describe the Cambodian fashion scene? “Well, the fashion scene in Cambodia is slowly rising...more youngsters are becoming interested in fashion.” Apparently, Eriya has started to notice that Khmer people – as Cambodian’s are often referred as – care more about what they wear and how they look now than they did before. So, if fashion is emerging, why couldn’t I find any stylish bloggers around there? Not very certain of why either, Eriya took a guess. “Khmer people are really conservative, and sometimes they might feel like they're not important enough to be looked up to, especially in fashion.” 
Eriya interned in Sentosasilk, a Cambodian brand that employs disabled craftsmen and women that are experts in the art of silk weaving. However, the type of buyers that the brand has are mostly from abroad. “They get most of their orders from important people like ambassadors or even the wives of very important people here and of countries in south-east Asia”. So it turns out, that only a few Cambodian people are buying Khmer fashion. Not even Eriya, who ashamedly confessed to me she didn’t have any Cambodian brands in her closet but her own. “I think Cambodian people are still trying to get used to buying clothes made by Cambodian designers. So they tend to buy clothes from overseas with brands from Zara, H&M and Mango to higher-end brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin and Chanel.”

Despite this, it appears that there is a chance for students to work. “We can work in boutiques, or work with merchandising and manufacturing companies. A lot of people from garment manufacturing companies in Cambodia have come to my school to ask if any graduate students are ready to work with them.” It sounds good, but there have been recent strikes in the textile factories because of the low wages. There were even investigations from Puma and H&M, because women in their factories had started to faint. “Yes, that “fainting period”, she said. “It caused a stir here in Cambodia, no one still knows the exact reason why girls in the factories keep fainting. Some say it's because of the hygiene in the factories, some say it's because there's not enough ventilation in there, some even accused the girls of pretending to faint because they wanted attention.”

These controversial circumstances have increased Cambodia’s worldwide recognition as a manufacturing country. But by the looks of it, there are people trying to change this vision of the country. Both F, a Cambodian fashion magazine and the Cambodian Fashion Council are trying to push Khmer fashion forward. Also, for the first time, Cambodia Fashion Week was held last year in the capital Phnom Penh, and Eriya participated with her mini collection ‘Aurum’ that was inspired by the Victorian military uniforms and the Byzantine Empire.
Eriya's collection 'Aurum' 
Photography by Clay Frame

On the other hand, their stunning traditional Cambodian costumes made of silk caught my eye. What has been the biggest inspiration that you’ve taken from Cambodian culture into the things you design? “It's the fabrics. I've noticed how the traditional Cambodian costume has very delicate and beautiful fabrics. To me the choice of fabric is very important, your designs can be outstanding, but if you choose the wrong fabrics for it, the clothes would lose its value.”

In between the beautiful traditional garments and the fast-fashion factories, Cambodia’s fashion scene looks like it is just starting to develop, and Eriya seems quite inspired to change the perception of her country. “Firstly, I would like the rest of the world to see that Cambodian people do have potential to make it in the fashion industry. I want Cambodian people to realize that being a designer isn’t a low-life job. It’s a career that requires a lot of passion, and designers are very well-respected people.” As she’s applying to Parsons now, Eriya is looking to gain all the experience possible so she is able to share that in her own country and help create a change. “I don't only want people to see me as a fashion designer, but also as an artist, a helper and a teacher.” 

All pictures courtesy of Eriya Miura 

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Fashion in Cambodia: Eriya Miura is licensed under a Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 3.0 Unported License.

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