Wearwell's co-founder Emily Kenney chats with the co-owners of Penh Lenh, Rachel Dodson and Srey Mao to talk about all things sustainability, favorite jewelry, and their commitment to ethical fashion.
Emily: Please introduce yourselves and tell us about your favorite piece of clothing to wear!
Rachel + Srey Mao: Hi! We are Rachel Dodson and Srey Mao, Co-Owners of Penh Lenh. We are based in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Srey Mao: I can’t decide on just one…. anything pink though. My whole wardrobe is mostly pink!
Pearl Choker Necklace in Black
Rachel: For me, I’m all for anything with stripes or a cool band tee. Both of us shop for anything we can style our jewels with; jewelry always comes first for us! The surprising thing about Cambodia is we have great shops selling overstock items from all the garment factories or pieces that were thrown out for minuscule quality issues. There are also some great secondhand shops here, and some really cool artisan-made clothing brands! We can get great quality sustainable clothes here.
Emily: What motivated you to start Penh Lenh together?
Rachel: In 2013, I left my job as a modeling agent in NYC to move to Cambodia and pursue a career focused on empowering women through ethical fashion. Once in Phnom Penh, I met Srey Mao and we became fast friends - she was literally my first friend in Cambodia! When we met, Srey Mao had a background in cosmetology and was the co-owner of a salon. We quickly bonded over a shared passion for empowering women, ethical fashion, and strong work ethic. When I told Srey Mao about my idea for Penh Lenh, she was on board from the start!
Emily: How did your interest in sustainable fashion begin?
Rachel: We both have very different reasons and perspectives for why sustainable and ethical fashion is important to us. For me, I come from a background of working in the fashion industry as an agent for models. I was exposed to the unethical side of fashion in my job. And for Srey Mao, growing up in Cambodia, she saw firsthand the negative impact of the garment industry on workers and the environmental impact. Coming together with our different perspectives and experiences is something that makes us so unique and powerful, I believe. We see so many different ways to change the industry from a holistic view.
Emily: What’s one piece of advice you would give someone who is just beginning to build their sustainable wardrobe?
Rachel + Srey Mao: Doing something is always better than doing nothing. If you can buy one sustainable piece, start there. If you can buy a whole outfit that is made ethically, start there. And if you can buy a whole wardrobe made ethically and sustainably…go off, queen!
Emily: Sustainability in fashion can be described in many different ways. How do you define it?
Rachel + Srey Mao: To us, sustainable fashion is jewelry and clothing that is produced in an ethical and sustainable manner from start to finish. It is conscious of its makers, the environment, and consumers. A lot of people hold the belief that sustainable fashion should leave a minimal negative impact, but we believe fashion that is truly sustainable can leave a positive impact - for workers, the environment, climate change, and the communities where we work.
Emily: I love that! How do you each describe your brand’s aesthetic in 3 words or less?
Srey Mao: Mod, Chic, Golden!
Emily: Totally agree. What are each of your favorite Penh Lenh styles? Personally, I love your 13mm gold hoops and wear them almost daily!
Rachel: One of the greatest perks of our job is getting to wear all the jewels! We are constantly changing jewelry, but on any given day you will probably find me in our Walton Gemstone Hoops, Heart Eyes Necklace, and our new Rhiannon bracelet!
Srey Mao: Oh gosh, it is so hard to choose just three! I usually always wear our Cable Chain Necklace, Pearl + Powder Pink Choker, and 22mm Gold Hoops.
Emily: What’s next for Penh Lenh - any exciting initiatives or new designs that you’re looking forward to?
Rachel + Srey Mao: We are looking forward to releasing our first line of 14K & 18K Gold pieces later this year - all handcrafted by our female artisans. This project has been years in the making. It has taken so much time as it was incredibly difficult to find local goldsmiths to agree to take on women as apprentices. The art of being a goldsmith is a male-dominated industry in Cambodia (and many places). We finally purchased all the necessary tools and equipment and found a goldsmith who agreed to come teach on site at our workshop. To our knowledge, our artisans will be the first and only women-owned and run goldsmith in Cambodia! We will be working to use all sustainable, conflict-free gold with our gold collection as well. We are very excited to show everyone this collection!
Emily: That is so cool, we can’t wait to shop the Penh Lenh goldsmith collection!