Crafting Quality Handmade Cambodian Shoes

Houn Phally took over her father-in-laws shoe making business a decade ago and has helped transform it into a modern business producing comfortable and quality shoes by hand
Houn Phally at her shop in Khsach Kandal district, Kandal Province. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu
Houn Phally at her shop in Khsach Kandal district, Kandal Province. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu

Khsach Kandal District: Khmer Corp is making local products mainly focused on shoe styles that reach out to people's needs, especially for those who find it hard to find their favourite fashion and size - and all of its products are guaranteed to last two to three years.

Houn Phally, 33, of Khsach Kandal district in Kandal Province, has been operating Khmer Corp, which produces quality shoes by hands, after it was passed down to her from her father-in-law more than a decade ago due to old age.

She hoped to open a footwear enterprise in the future because she wants to boost economic growth as she noticed that most factories are not Cambodian owned. In addition, the onset of Covid-19 impacted many economic activities that affected employment.

She added, “When some factories were owned by foreigners during the Covid-19 period, those places were closed and this impacted garment workers. So, I would like to create a stable place that can provide people with jobs.”

She urged all women to stand up to face challenges and not to give up because sometimes challenges can create a chance to learn and gain more experience.

Shoes made by Khmer Corp. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu
Shoes made by Khmer Corp. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu

At the same time, Phally planned to bring all of her products to the international market, starting in ASEAN countries. She believes her commitment will help her to succeed and she wants to show that Cambodian women are capable in this generation.

All shoes provide people with convenience and confidence because the business uses the skins of cows, pigs and sheep. However, the business owner said she uses cowskin more because it is soft, durable, and waterproof.

Cowskin is easy to buy, Phally said, adding that she always buys it from many factories that throw away those that are no longer used for their production process. Therefore, Phally is also recycling materials as she wants to protect the environment.

Phally said, “Why should we throw these skins away when they are still good and beneficial? I should take them to create other shoe styles because our society now is full of pollution. If I ignore it, the situation will be worse.”

Phally asked her father-in-law to learn how to make the shoes. She mentioned that he wanted to quit his job and recruit her to make the business more modern with her competency.

She said that she has a strong commitment to performing her work for people in Cambodia, to showcase local products that fit with their daily use while also promoting gender empowerment.

Phally, a mother-of-two, had no experience making shoes before. She learnt from her father-in-law, Lay Sary, 58, between 2017 and 2018, and became a cobbler. Later, she began making shoes for sale, and set up a Facebook page, exhibitions and a shop at her home.

She married in 2012 and independently runs the shoe business with a few employees while her husband works in Phnom Penh.

Phally would like to keep this work more stable because Khmer Corp can deliver Cambodian products both locally and internationally. Normally, people find it hard to find shoes to fit their feet, so she focused on what their customers want.

She said, “I always ask them about their leg size when they order physically and online. For online buyers, they tell me what style and size they want. Sometimes, I face some challenges because they give me the wrong size, and when I make it and send it to them, they don't love it and want me to make a new one.”

Khmer Corp also employs people in nearby villages to earn a reasonable income because she knows people find it hard to find a job. Phally said that while supporting a few neighbours, she also spends some income from her business to buy solar lights to illuminate the streets in the village and has donated shoes to students.

Phally does not have an educational background in business and faced many challenges. While she started to learn from her father-in-law, the technique is very important to know because it requires creativity to provide people with different styles of shoes.

Houn Phally at her shop in Khsach Kandal district, Kandal Province. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu
Houn Phally at her shop in Khsach Kandal district, Kandal Province. Kiripost/Pok Ponleu

When she was knowledgeable enough and skillful in making products, she tried to promote her achievements in many ways, including via her Facebook page and other social media platforms, and exhibitions. She also went to many markets to tell Cambodians about Khmer Corp. However, many people did not support her.

She said, “When I went to promote my products, many Cambodian citizens gave me some negative words and they didn’t believe Khmer people could make and produce shoes. They also complained when I sold them for only $2 to $3; they said it was expensive.”

During Covid, she added that it was really hard to sell her products because she knew people saved their money, while income was difficult to earn.

She added that Khmer Enterprise supported her with some funds, which also boosted her morale during these tough times. This enabled her to connect and communicate with people and run her business better.

Now, Phally believes she has changed people who have criticised her products’ mindsets and moved to support her by promoting her products by word of mouth.

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