Wearwell's co-founder Emily Kenney chats with Ka-Lai Chan, Co-founder + Product Designer of MANAVA, based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. They chat about how sustainability inspires her and exciting growth for her brand this year.
Emily: Hi Ka-Lai! I’m so excited to have you featured on our blog. To start things off, can you share more about what motivated you to start MANAVA?
Ka-Lai: Even before visiting Cambodia, I’ve always had a deep desire to help others. I’ve also always been fascinated with ancient, traditional crafts and wished to one day work alongside artisans to create a beautiful product collection together. By chance, I met a woman in the Netherlands who was working with an NGO in Siem Reap, so I took the opportunity to volunteer for two months. For me, that experience felt like the beginning of a dream come true. The Kingdom of Cambodia is incredible. The people are genuine, cheerful, and relaxed. I loved the way of life there and the artisanal crafts are simply stunning.
During my time volunteering, I did a lot of research on different local traditional crafts and spent time with families in the countryside. This was such an enriching experience and I felt so welcome, but I could see that the people I met were struggling with many challenges, the most obvious of which was their income level. They earned an average of $70 per month, which made it almost impossible for them to live within their means. Yet, so many women had such incredible weaving skills, particularly in one village I visited. With my entrepreneurial and design background, I saw possibilities to support these women, if we would work together. I then met Baraing Tho, a Cambodian creative with years of expertise and knowledge in the local basket weaving traditions. We shared the same vision and together we decided to start MANAVA.
Emily: What a great story. I also lived in Cambodia for some time and absolutely loved it. I can see why you decided to stay and start MANAVA! Even before you launched your brand, how did your interest in sustainability begin?
Ka-Lai: There are a few things that are really important to me: nature, people, love, and creation. These aspects give me energy and give life meaning. We are all children of Mother Earth and home to this planet, therefore, I naturally see sustainability as a way of life.
Emily: That is so beautifully worded. Oftentimes, sustainability in fashion can be described in many different ways. How do you personally define “sustainable fashion”?
Ka-Lai: For me, for a product to be sustainable, I look for a few things: quality that will last, timeless design, ethically made, and it tells a story.
Emily: In 3 words, how do you describe your brand’s design aesthetic?
Ka-Lai: Minimal, sophisticated, and earthy.
Emily: Oh, I love that! What are your top favorite styles from MANAVA?
Emily: Great picks! I personally also love the Syuti One Bag and how versatile it is. So, what’s next for MANAVA, any exciting initiatives that you’re looking forward to?
Ka-Lai: We are opening our own first MANAVA store in Siem Reap next month! And we will launch our new home collection soon!
Emily: Wow, good luck with the store launch and I cannot wait to see the new home collection this winter!