Magali An Berthon
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Investigating female entrepreneurship in silk weaving in contemporary Cambodia
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Until the 1960s in Cambodia, silk weaving was an ancestral textile practice structured as a cottage industry almost exclusively run by women in rural areas and destined for domestic consumption. With the civil war in 1970 and the establishment of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975, local silk production nearly vanished. Since the country’s pacification process and general elections in 1993, the silk sector has reopened to foreign investments, reshaped under the leadership of local NGOs and foreign-owned craft companies. This chapter examines the history of Cambodian initiatives owned by women in the post-conflict era. It explores a range of entrepreneurial projects, from the pioneering feminist NGO Khemara to Silk Associations of Cambodia, which, despite its name, is a family business led by Chin Koeur, a weaver turned entrepreneur, and the social enterprise Color Silk, a silk craft model positioned between foreign sponsors and site-specific community development. Through the study of the company owners’ history, their geographic locations, typologies of handcrafted goods, and their discourses, the Cambodian silk sector is treated as a hub made up of policy makers, organizations, and materials, in which female craft entrepreneurs negotiate with issues of leadership, empowerment, and dependence on international donors and clientele. Despite efforts towards social welfare and education, female weavers remain simultaneously the main beneficiaries and workforce of these silk initiatives, with limited opportunities to gain more autonomy and agency within the sector.

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