Magazine Sparks Cambodian Kids’ Curiosity and Creativity

A creative Khmer- and English-language children’s magazine is captivating the imagination of kids in Cambodia while providing a platform for local illustrators and authors to showcase their work
Dorothée Etienne holds Kroojchmar magazine in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Dorothée Etienne holds Kroojchmar magazine in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Kroojchmar is a Khmer- and English-language children's magazine that introduces readers to the realm of creation via hands-on activities and ground-breaking design – the publication features innovative illustrations in a black and white format.

The content aims to spark creativity and curiosity within children about the world around them, with the storyline developing through daily life. There are several important components to the magazine, including activities for readers and opportunities for artists to work on unique illustrations.

French designer Dorothée Etienne, Kroojchmar co-founder and CEO, has been working in Cambodia since 2013. A year-and-a-half ago, she embarked on the Kroojchmar project, with the aim of allowing Cambodian children to be inspired while enhancing their perception of the country.

With expertise in the areas of product design and creative strategy, she began working with handicrafts in Phnom Penh after helping craftspeople to expand their brand by designing products that reflect the creation’s values.

Dorothée said after three years working with Cambodian handicrafts, she decided to relocate to the country permanently to enable her to properly connect with the Cambodian environment and people.

Over the years, Dorothée has also worked in Battambang for Phare Ponleu Selpak Visual and Applied Arts School, Pour un Sourire d'Enfant (PSE) in Phnom Penh, Limkokwing University and a designing agency.

Dorothée Etienne speaks during a recent interview in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Dorothée Etienne speaks during a recent interview in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

The launch of Kroojchmar has two purposes. The first is to introduce activities to spark readers’ interest and see how a physical magazine can engage with children. Through creative design, it aims to help kids develop an inner sense of curiosity at a young age.

The second purpose is to increase the exposure of Cambodia’s creative community by showcasing professional artists and authors, and paying them for their contributions. “Our goal is to build a portfolio of their work and promote artwork design,” she said.

The first issue focuses on Phnom Penh’s landscape, with each issue shifting landscapes to pique the interest of readers.

“The first phase is to give a low-cost resource that encourages children's curiosity and creativity in Cambodia. We accomplish this through looking at Cambodian images and discussing artifacts, traditions, and customs that are of particular identity to the nation,” she added.

“I believe that an example approach for parents is to bring creative magazines for their children as a creative way to guide them since some children are grateful for working with art that is very powerful, expanding their minds and expressing themselves via activities such as play and learning,” Dorothée said.

The Kroojchmar co-founder stated that Cambodia is rich in resource design identity that is rarely valued, and the magazine grew out of her observations in Cambodia over the last few years.

“I decided to group those into a magazine. It is a rare opportunity for kids to express their activity because at school teaching a logical approach is a good way to make kids learn well, but most of it follows master and rules, so I decided to design something extra that involves learning by themselves.”

The first phase of the project ran from March to October and has now been fully launched. Every two months, a new issue of Kroojchmar will be published, packed full of fascinating topics.

Co-founder Prum Kunthearo’s expertise as an operations manager proved critical to improve the traditional publishing process and adapt it to a monthly magazine format.

“Our authors are Cambodians, who write in Khmer," she said, adding that as founders, the purpose to write in Khmer is to preserve the tone and the style of the language and will be translated into English in a second phase. Readers can also scan the magazine to listen and download activities, Dorothée said.

The Kroojchmar magazine business model is based on a collective subscription model which means people/families, schools or companies commit to the magazine for one year (6 issues a year). Then, the second idea is a process; in which the magazine begins with a research phase, Dorothée said.

Kroojchmar's CEO added that the project will incorporate design creation. "We followed, for the past 6 months, a specific process of testing, before our launching. During that phase we learned and improved our contents from feedback. Now we are confident with our content as it has been validated by our readers, children."

Dorothée said that she and her team had also broken people's assumption that children dislike black and white when coloring, saying that while testing the magazine, they realized that children love the black and white as they immediately get they can color it.

In an increasingly digital world, Kroojchmar has opted for print, providing children with a tangible product that they can physically engage with and further push their creativity.

“Magazine designers are creative individuals who can envision local solutions to improve people's lives and comfort. We aim to help this community grow by providing training and promotion,” she added.

A current limitation is wide distribution of the publication, which is hampered by printing costs. Kroojchmar is hoping to increase readership and become a part of the local economy, driving down costs. The co founders are also seeking collaborations with partners and looking at creating regular events for families.

Dorothée Etienne holds Kroojchmar magazine in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Dorothée Etienne holds Kroojchmar magazine in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Additionally, Dorothée said there were challenges taking on a large project with a small team. This included finding a sales team, advertisers and sponsors, covering expenses and paying contributors, and recruiting staff.

“We have a small team and must handle everything ourselves, so I am looking for someone who can help on sales."

As part of its pledge to provide a profitable platform for creatives to thrive, Kroojchmar actively engages the creative community on each issue.

For the issue zero, Dorothée said she had tested with children in real situation for feedback about the layout of the magazine. "We take time developing the idea but also present it as much as possible to get feedback and suggestions from individuals with varied backgrounds. We want to promote creativity as a real skill that can even be a future career,” she said.

In the long-term, Dorothée hopes to see more Cambodian designers enter the market and an increase in creative mindsets.

Authors, who are Khmer, have proposed that the words are creative, memorable, and unique to convey value. Moreover, when asked why she picked the name Kroojchmar, Dorothée said it is a letter in the shape of a suit, a component of daily life, and a word of the Cambodian language.

She added Kroojchmar has a solid strategy to expand its aim to reach out to children and needs investors to develop this vision.

“In the long-run, I hope the project process will be sustainable. Currently, I'm working on a sales strategy and learning from rivals to better my own publications, as well as developing a level of activity design to assist kids’ have more resources,” Dorothée said.