Social enterprise

Social Business Provides Jobs for Cambodia’s Women Knitters

Cambodia Knits provides a financial lifeline for women across Cambodia by recruiting them to crochet a series of toys from the comfort of their home.
A team of knitters at Cambodia Knits. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon
A team of knitters at Cambodia Knits. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon

An innovative social enterprise that produces hand-made crochet toys is providing fair and flexible employment opportunities for women in different communities in Phnom Penh and the provinces.

Founder of Cambodia Knits, Polish-born and Canadian-raised Monika Nowaczyk, came to Cambodia in 2006 to work in the education sector and has since made the Kingdom her home. She is married to a Cambodian husband with an 8-year-old daughter.

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Monika Nowaczyk holds an Apsara crochet
Monika Nowaczyk holds an Apsara crochet

According to Monika, the goal of Cambodia Knit is to provide fair and flexible employment for women in different communities.

“The goal is and always was to create fair flexible home-based employment for Cambodian women who otherwise don't have the time, the skills or the ability to work in a regular nine-to-five job.”

There are now about 60 to 70 women knitters in Phnom Penh and the outskirts, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham province, who all knit from home.

The reason she came up with crochet knitting is that it is easy to learn, does not require a lot of tools or machines, and anyone can do it anytime and from anywhere. This social enterprise started as a small-scale project, with only five women, and grew in 2009. Cambodia Knits registered as a business in 2020.

The founder recalls in the initial stage, quality control was vital, as well as finding investments to grow and upscale the social business. Most of the customers at the start were mostly local and expats.

Hand-made products include animal crochets, educational crochet toys, Apsara dolls, and other crochet products for kids.

Monika added that all crochet products are named. For example, the Sleepy animal line product all starts with S. Customers can also order crocheted Apsara dolls, with the recently released line featuring dolls with different skin colors. Besides the crochet animal line, educational toys can help children learn colors and numbers.

Crochet animals
Crochet animals

“Many children have different kinds of sleeping problems, whether it's difficult for them to fall asleep. They're [the Sleepy products] are all named with a combined name that starts with the letter S because S and sleep go together. For Apsara, we have five different skin colors because we want all children to feel that their skin color is beautiful, whether they have dark skin or light skin,” she said.

Rabbit crochet from the sleep animal line. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon
Rabbit crochet from the sleep animal line. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon

Monika added that a major achievement of Cambodia Knits in 2022 is that it registered as a provisional member of the World Fair Trade Organization. This helps build trust and credibility as well as provide more benefits for the women knitters.

“One thing we are really trying to promote is helping the women who work for us who are informal to get them onto a formal work contract with us so that they can have access to NSSF and other benefits as well.”

Apsara crochet
Apsara crochet

According to Soon Sokunthea, head of the production and HR supervisor at Cambodia Knits, during the Covid-19 lockdown, sales decreased and it was difficult to deliver equipment to the women knitters’ homes. Sokunthea said, however, they were able to survive.

She added that providing women with knitting jobs can help as they can work from home and take care of their children without being worried.

You Sokheang, 37, is a full-time knitter at Cambodia Knits. She said crocheting has always been her hobby and she is happy to be able to do what she loves without being worried about her child.

“I have liked knitting since I was young. It is not boring for me as I can do what I enjoy. When I am stressed, I knit and it helps me clear my mind. When I come to work here, I feel safe and warm as my child is upstairs and I also do the job that I like,” she said.

Ros Somalin, a former tourist manager at Kampong Seam district of Kompong Cham province, announces the opportunity for women in her village to work at Cambodia Knits. She said it is a good chance for the women to be able to earn money rather than stay at home and do nothing. They can knit at home.

Monika Nowaczyk (far right) poses for picture with knitters. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon
Monika Nowaczyk (far right) poses for picture with knitters. Kiripost/Samoeun Nicseybon

“They had no work. They wanted to be employed. Now they can earn money and be able to take care of their children at home. Also, they really enjoy knitting,” she added.