7 Questions with the Founder of MANAVA

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.

Vanna Bag Artisan Sustainably Made Rattan Bag by Manava on wearwell

The Vanna Bag

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.

Maly Bucket Bag Manava Sustainable Rattan Bag Artisan Made Wearwell

The Maly Bucket Bag

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?


Ka-Lai: I love the Vanna Bag, the Maly Bucket Bag and the Anuna Bag in Black.

Anuna Rattan Bag Artisan Made Sustainable MANAVA Cambodia wearwell

Anuna Bag

Emily: Great picks! I personally also love the Vanna 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 in November!

Emily: Wow, good luck with the store launch and I cannot wait to see the new home collection this winter!

Shop MANAVA on wearwell

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