From from the ashes of Cambodia’s dark past, a new community of Khmer people is rising and its capital city is fast becoming thecultural hub.Crossovers of the arts, language and people are found everywhere throughout the bustling streets, workplaces and markets of Phnom Penh.
Cue the quirky, fun, individual stylings of Cambodia’s new designer bag brand luckyfishsoup.
These crafty totes, purses and travel bags embody everything that is positive about the ‘new’ Cambodia and come from a collaboration between Australian woman Marianne Waller and local seamstress & designer Srey. Marianne, an inveterate market rummager, has a background in creative writing but had spent much of 2008 & 2009 out of her comfort zone and stuck in her Norodom office, writing powerpoint presentations and worrying about the effects of the financial crisis. To keep sane, she began cutting up old t-shirts and hand-sewing them into bags and what she laughingly calls “therapy throws” On a mission to find inspiration one hot Saturday morning in late 2009, she met Srey by chance upstairs at Olympic, one of Phnom Penh’s huge bustling markets. Srey’s beautifully crafted ballgowns had caught her eye, and it was not long before the two were sitting together on tiny stools, laughing over iced tea inside Srey’s small booth. Neither speaks the other’s language but they both realised they keep a “design diary”: scraps of ideas and swatches of fabrics, bits torn from magazines, ribbons and hand drawings of shapes and styles. They decided then and there to start working with each other, and so luckyfishsoup was born.
Marianne is quick to point out that it’s very much a regular business, and is embarrassed by the amazing response luckyfishsoupand her role in the startup is getting in Phnom Penh and overseas. “I’m not at all an altruist. From my part, luckyfishsoupevolved from my need to express my creativitiy in a time when numbers and bottomlines were driving me nuts. Srey is a not a charity case. Of course her life has been shaped by what’s in her past, and it has been a real struggle for her and her friends, but she has not let that define her. We clicked because we share a real passion for beautiful stuff. She is fantastic at her craft, a confident young business woman, and luckyfishsoup is essentially about beautiful bags sold as a commercial enterprise, albeit small, for us both.”
The women use all kinds of fabrics and materials, including Khmer silk, pre-loved oddments & seconds, polar fleece, tuk tuk roof lining and krama fabric. Friends sometimes donate material and road test each of the designs and suggest improvements – the bags have travelled as far afield as Spain, the UK, Indonesia, Shanghai and outback Australia. The latest range repurposes oil paintings bought at Russian market and bamboo handles rescued from a shop on Sothearos to create amazing one-off works of portable, useful, and beautiful art.
It was Srey’s idea to embroider every bag with a signature “I am a lucky Khmer bag” in hot pink thread. Another friend suggested the inclusion of the distinctive Cambodian red string bracelet: each one has blessed by Buddhist monks for love & safe travels.
luckyfishsoup bags are great for travel as well as everyday running about, each larger bag has pockets for passports, drink bottles and knick knacks.
They are a traveller’s best companion, a mothers must have baby bag, a creative type’s dream, a student’s book bag and a girl’s best friend – no two bags are the same, so no awkward “hey i have that bag!” moments.
If you are in Phnom Penh anytime soon you can view and purchase your very own luckyfishsoup bag from The Lunch Box cafe, #14 Street 282.
Head to group page – Luckyfishsoup on Facebook and check us out!
Laura Joy Kiddle