The handicrafts sector in Cambodia is mainly dominated by small, NGO-driven social enterpriseas that provide employment to 20,000 professional artisans, including suppliers, end producers, and traders. Silk weaving, as well as rattan, water hyacinth and sedge/reed weaving, provide the most employment, with about 5,000 active weavers in each product group. They produce mats, baskets, furniture, home textiles, and scarves. About 3,000 people are employed at the production level by general handicraft Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to manufacture other traditional handicrafts such as ceramics and lacquers, or collections of innovative jewelry and fashion apparel.
This is in contrast to the high-volume factory handicraft production seen in countries like China and India, which often comes at a very high social and environmental cost. Cambodian artisans use locally sourced natural products, have a high social impact by offering jobs inside their communities, and focus on quality as well as environmental impact. Smaller, more niche-oriented Cambodian retailers try to create a more exclusive experience to distinguish themselves from the big chains, focusing on more value-added products in the high-price segment.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, goods have been mainly produced for export markets, as the tourism market dropped by 80% from 2019 to 2020. While 50% of the producers were still not fully operational in early 2022, the most resilient social enterprises in handicraft sectors have proven strong adaptability to the market by shifting successfully from the domestic tourism market to export markets. Most buyers see consumers favoring online sales, stronger social and environmental values, feeling good inside the home, and investing in interior design. In 2021, buyers have shifted orders to Cambodia from other countries due to political unrest and the reopening of travel. Cambodia’s handicrafts are not yet well known in Europe and the fact that the European handicraft market is expected to exhibit a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 10.9% during 2022–2027 means that there is huge potential for collaboration in this field.
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