A Bostonian with fair trade scarves
By Chau Mai, Emerson College
A Bostonian is helping to sustain and improve the lives of poor people in Cambodia. His company sells handmade Cambodian scarves to international buyers. Reporter Chau Mai spoke with the C-E-O of Cambodian Threads at his Wayland company.
Jacob Daniels is checking his inbox to see how many orders he has received today. His company’s website, cambodianthreads.com, automatically sends him an email whenever a customer places an order.
The Fulbright scholar founded Cambodian Threads in late 2009 while teaching English in Phnom Penh. The decision came after he witnessed the widespread poverty in the village of Preah Bangkong outside Phnom Penh. Preah Bangkong is known as the “Silk Island” for its traditional craft of handweaving silk scarves.
“I saw the amount of poverty around Phnom Penh. I’ve never seen poverty like that before. The children were walking around picking up trash. they didn’t have shoes on. they barely had any clothes on. It was pretty shocking.”
Daniels has built a partnership with silk artisans in Preah Bangkong. He pays above fair market value for their products.
“The price is always above what people would go to the market in Phnom Penh center and pay for a scarf. But the price doesn’t go through the middleman; it goes directly to the artisans for their work.”
Naysim Heng is one of the artisans in Preah Bangkong. She says her family’s livelihood has improved since they started supplying scarves to Cambodian Threads.
“Mr. Daniels has helped us sell more than 1,500 scarves over two years.”
Paying a higher price to scarf producers in Cambodia has brought Cambodian Threads into the Washington-based Fair Trade Federation.
“The FTF membership gives my company more credibility because FTF is a recognized watchdog of fair trade. More than that, it gives our customers confidence in our company because the FTF symbol is synonymous with the idea of trade without exploitation.”
The FTF membership also helps expand Cambodian Threads’ customer reach. Daniels says his company can join FTF events, such as trade shows that allow greater access to retail shops.
Daniels runs Cambodian Threads with three partners who are also his best friends in Boston. The company’s co-founder Steve Patton says no one receives compensation for their work.
Cambodian Threads has used profits from selling scarves to establish a school supply initiative and a scholarship fund for students in Preah Bangkong. Daniels says every single purchase makes a big difference in the lives of poor people in Cambodia.