Smateria is the brainchild of Elisa and Jennifer, two expat Italian women in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While it is first and foremost a business, specializing in brightly colored, long-lasting bags and accessories, it is very much a social enterprise, employing Cambodians from many different backgrounds.
Smateria started in 2006 when Jennifer and Elisa met by chance. They talked about creativity, design and business and Elisa invited Jennifer to look at the designs she was working on using materials like nylon netting and plastic bags.
Jennifer loved them immediately and they agreed to try their luck at developing a line of bags using up-cycled and re-purposed materials. They sourced mosquito net locally and searched the markets for fabrics to use as lining.
Fast-forward from 2006 and these fabrics now form part of a fashion collection that is sold in five Smateria stores in Cambodia and in 15 countries across the globe.
Jennifer and Elisa started Smateria with two very clear objectives: to create a beautiful, high-quality product using ‘bizarre’ materials, and to employ Cambodian workers in a fair and sustainable way, giving priority to women and mothers. In today’s world it is not enough to create beautiful designs. Consumers want to know that a product has been produced sustainably and that the people who produced it are being treated well by their employers.
Elisa and Jennifer can confidently tick both those boxes. Smateria’s employees (85 percent of whom are women) enjoy comfortable working conditions, a thirteen-month salary, health insurance, professional training and the freedom to train across the whole organization – from pre-production to sales.
Possibly best of all is a free preschool and childcare centre right on the premises so new mums can breastfeed their babies and staff with young children can work, happy in the knowledge that their children are getting a good education – right upstairs. The professionally trained teachers also oversee a library and encourage children to borrow books to read at home.
Smateria’s philosophy is simple: give new life to ‘poor’ materials, create something beautiful from materials that were meant for something else, and at every opportunity, recycle.
Images and text courtesy Smateria.