29.01.17

Ethical Fashion From The Heart Of Cambodia With Modimade

Emily Uebergang

Brought to you by Modimade

Cambodia. A small nation tucked away in South-East Asia known for the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and the tourist streets of Siem Reap. But for Anna Wythes, founder of Modimade, it’s so much more than that.

It’s a second-home.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

While Modimade was officially founded in 2010, the journey for Anna started many years prior.

Feeling called to share her passion for education and child-wellbeing, Anna, a mother herself, was drawn to a small community based development organisation in Cambodia.

What started out as an opportunity to exchange knowledge and skills with the Chumkriel Language School, led to a deep seeded connection with rural village life, the Cambodian culture and its people that set her heart on fire.

And so gave birth to her ethical fashion brand, Modimade – a collection of unique homewares, yoga essentials, garments and accessories for women and children hand-crafted by the local people of Cambodia.

Anna goes on to explain, “Modimade’s goal was to engage people in discussions centered around ethical and sustainable employment. To start a conversation about the crucial importance of supporting community development opportunities by sharing my experiences of living and volunteering in Cambodia.”

FROM CAMBODIA WITH LOVE

As a grassroots project, Modimade has always focused on the trade partners who form the backbone of the brand.

Modimade is an authentic example of ethical fashion reaching deep into local communities where it really matters.

This is not just a story about Modimade. This is a collection of many stories. Of the women, the families and the communities who Anna has personally reached out to and touched the lives of.

But Anna sees it in a slightly different light. She considers herself the one drawing inspiration from the people who make it all possible. The artisans and the people who lead the social enterprises.

Each artisan brings their own story to the table.

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“Each person brings a sense of pride and achievement to their work, plus loads of dedication. The most inspiring is when I get the opportunity to speak with the artisans, see their work spaces, and am able to see first hand how they benefit."

ETHICAL FASHION MEETS MODERN TASTE

No one day is same for Anna. As a mother, she juggles her responsibilities at home with her commitment to the community she helps support back in Cambodia. Anna shines with the qualities of patience, dedication and passion which are essential in seeing her through each day.

Education is a massive part of the conversation she has with customers. Of growing interest and popularity is her line of baby clothing made from organic cotton.

“It’s products like our Modimade Baby Bag that’s chosen by Mums for Mums. I know what works. I know our products are useful, educational and 100% ethically wearable and stylish.”

The materials used in her products range from certified organic cottons to recycled factory remnants. Blended with a modern twist of design, the creations emit a sense of homeliness and comfort. Her children’s line of clothing are durable, practical and let’s face it, absolutely adorable.

“It’s products like our Modimade Baby Bag that’s chosen by Mums for Mums. I know what works."

THE DARK

For a people who have suffered at the hands of exploitation, corruption and war, Cambodians maintain a genuine positivity that shines through in each smile.

But Cambodia remains a poverty stricken nation. Over 10% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day.

Constant problems plague the garment industry. From poor working conditions, child exploitation and trade union rights violations. It’s brands like Modimade who are having a real impact, no matter how small, on the lives of these communities.

No matter how deep the cause though, there are always challenges that crop up along the way. As a mum, Anna knows full well the difficult decisions parents must make in the trade-off between quality and price.

She explains, “One of the biggest challenges has always been finding a way to bring these beautiful, high quality products to Australia, whilst still ensuring that they are affordable for the average person. It can sometimes be a struggle to find a balance between achieving a ‘win’ in people’s budget, especially if they’ve always leaned towards buying that $10 Tee from a mass production store.”

This spurred her to create the kid’s clothing line made from certified organic cotton and connecting the story behind the person and family who created the garment.

“It’s about getting people to recognise that price equals quality and ethics. I think it’s allowing people to see that our products are much more than a garment – they’re quality craftsmanship, they’re sewn by a person with a family, they’re worth supporting.”

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

For Anna, it’s not about ticking every environmentally conscious box on the list of what constitutes an ethical brand (although they do a great job of doing that too!). It’s about giving back first, and helping the people who are working on the ground and raising them to the top. Fundamental to the Modimade philosophy is the relationships with their artisans. This isn’t just about business partnerships. It’s about friendships.

When reflecting on the past year, it’s clear to see the impact these friendships have had on Anna.

“During my last trip back to Cambodia, I met up with Houpao, one of the women who make our unique toy line. It’s always a highlight visiting with the artisans. But this was extra powerful. Houpao had found a cystic lump in her breast and needed treatment. The highlight was the moment of thanks where she told me that our latest toy order meant that she was able to seek treatment. Her kids would still have a Mum. That’s why I do it. Each woman has a story that makes her just like you and I. If I can help make that story a little more equal and increase the opportunity to access simple things like health care, it’s a massive WIN!”

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modimade home
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She encourages other brands to keep their ethical philosophy at the forefront of their mind. Anna shares, “It’s not always about profit. It’s the value of lives and the environment that counts.”

This infectious warmth and dedication shines through in the Modimade range. From the maker’s hand-signed labels to the unique fabrics used that are factory remnants. These small things piece together to tell a story about how these women, and Modimade, are making a difference. They reflect an attitude that the world needs more of.

It’s all about making the little things count.

Emily Uebergang

Emily Uebergang is a writer, farmer and ecoprenuer who transitioned from the urban jungle to a working farmstead in the beautiful mountains of the Manning Valley in New South Wales, Australia. She writes like she’s out to try and save the world… or at least make a difference for the better.