Penh Lenh: Bringing Change in Cambodia
At Dressember we are so grateful for the partnerships we’ve cultivated over the years. This week for Fashion Friday, we’d like to highlight one of our amazing partners, Penh Lenh.
Located in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Penh Lenh (meaning ‘whole’ in Khmer) was founded in 2013 by Rachel Dodson out of a passion to serve and empower marginalized women. Over the past four years, Penh Lenh has grown from Dodson’s passion project to an internationally recognized jewelry company, serving its artisans and producing unique and quality pieces.
Over the past four years, Penh Lenh has grown from Dodson’s passion project to an internationally recognized jewelry company, serving its artisans and producing unique and quality pieces.
Cambodia is currently ranked as one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations. In Phnom Penh alone, over 15,000 women work in drug or sex-related industries with the hope of supporting their families, due to lack of options. There is a saying in Cambodia that says “Men are gold, women are a white cloth,” which lends to the idea that men are innately valuable and strong, and that women can be made dirty and stained. Employment and educational opportunities for women are a necessity now more than ever.
In Phnom Penh alone, over 15,000 women work in drug or sex-related industries with the hope of supporting their families, due to lack of options.
Penh Lenh’s mission is a response to that need. They aim to give 100% of their profits into supporting and empowering their artisans. Going above what might be expected of an organization, the Penh Lenh team offers their artisans weekly education on a variety of topics, from nutrition and wellness to English classes to budgeting.
Dodson, a business and marketing graduate, left her position as a successful modeling agent in New York City after tirelessly researching the issue of sex trafficking and exploitation. “As I learned more about this issue and other social justice issues as well as the lack of opportunities for marginalized and at-risk young women I literally hit a point where I HAD to do something.”
“As I learned more about this issue and other social justice issues as well as the lack of opportunities for marginalized and at-risk young women I literally hit a point where I HAD to do something.”
Dodson had a history of being entrepreneurial; previously taking control of the modeling agency she had worked at for several years following her college graduation as well as owning a jewelry business with her sister in law. “The idea of starting my own company was nothing new and something that very much excited me. I also loved the idea of using business to create social change. Since my education background was in business, a social enterprise business model made more sense in terms of sustainability rather than the typical NGO set up.”
Penh Lenh partners with other non-governmental agencies that work with at-risk youth and marginalized women. Every few months, their artisans will facilitate community outreach programs, which allow Penh Lenh to have an organic and genuine presence in their community and partake in the joy of giving back. It is also a wonderful way to connect with new artisans who might want to join the Penh Lenh team. “We operate completely as a social business and do not take any outside funding to subsidize our business. Therefore, as the business grows, our program can grow and we can give more opportunities to more young women.” Dodson shares. “Because our employment opportunities are limited and exclusive, we have developed a interview process to find the best candidates. We accept women of all education and skill levels. However, what is most important in our search for new artisans is finding you women who truly want to make a change in their lives for the better.”
"We accept women of all education and skill levels. However, what is most important in our search for new artisans is finding you women who truly want to make a change in their lives for the better.”
Dodson is in the unique position of living full time in Cambodia herself. When she first arrived, she spent over six months focusing on sourcing materials through the very best vendors, some of which still work with Penh Lenh today. They focus on sourcing local as much as possible, which allows face-to-face meetings to ensure that materials are being ethically sourced. When vendors aren’t local, an in-depth questionnaire has been developed to ensure ethical production. “The absolute most important thing for us is to make sure Penh Lenh is creating a work environment that is ethical and having the highest standards for the way we treat our staff. We believe if we can set higher standards for salaries, health care, and a safe, dignified work environment, it will influence other companies to do the same in Cambodia.”
Dodson’s passion for her work and the women she partners with is evident in her responses and her dedication to Penh Lenh. She speaks of hope, where many would find only sadness, and joy that outweighs despair. “Working with these women for the past 5 years has absolutely inspired me to be a better person; to know forgiveness and grace on a deeper level, to give more freely, and love without conditions.”
“My vision is to empower women to know their value. My hope is that every time our artisans step into work, they feel loved. And each time our customers step into our shop or receive our product in the mail, they too, feel loved. I believe that when we are loved, and feel worthy of love, we can then know our value. We may just be a cool jewelry company, but I believe we can be a platform for so much more.”
"We may just be a cool jewelry company, but I believe we can be a platform for so much more."
To check out Penh Lenh and their designs, follow their logo below!
This year, do something different. Take on the Dressember style challenge and pledge to wear a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, learn more about the issue of human trafficking and have a viable impact on those trapped in slavery around the world.
Registration opens October 1st, 2018
About the Author
Stephanie Ramos is a film school graduate who spent a year overseas in Tanzania as a missionary and has spent the last four years working in the nonprofit sector with at-risk kids and teens. She is passionate about minimalism, experiencing different cultures, cooking, writing and finding new ways to advocate in the fight against human trafficking. She lives with her husband Eddy in Naples, Florida and looks to the future with anticipation and excitement.