Spotlight on Fashion in Phnom Penh
The Magic Zone
Jungle & Jardin is an ethical fashion label reimagining Cambodia’s problematic garment manufacturing industry. By Emily Hickey
French fashion designers, Charlotte and Hani, sit in the petite courtyard of Jungle & Jardin (J&J), located in a residential street of Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh. Surrounded by tropical, brightly green leafed plants, they sip rich, dark coffee and discuss the day ahead. There are big plans and changes to come for J&J, which was established by Charlotte in 2015. Hani, moving to Phnom Penh earlier this year to be as Charlotte describes, her “complementary brain”, was the catalyst for the restructuring and expansion of J&J from small bespoke boutique to a ready to wear and custom design ethical fashion label.
Charlotte wanted to own a business that combined both workspace studio and innovative boutique, which above all values humane working conditions. Inspiration came after working as a fashion designer at a clothing factory in Vietnam. Seeing thousands of young girls huddled in factories copying clothes was not her ideal job. Charlotte realised that she needed to make a positive impact on fashion by supporting human rights. She decided to create this change by relocating to Phnom Penh and setting up an ethical business in the heart of the unethical garment factory industry.
She wasn’t the only one to notice the problem in Cambodia. The violent January 2014 garment worker protests in Phnom Penh highlighted their inhumane working conditions to the international media. The Cambodian Garment Manufacturing Industry Overview, 2011-2020, indicates that Cambodia has over 600 registered garment manufacturing companies, which count for 95% of all Cambodian exports, equating to $6 billion a year. Organisations, like Better Factories Cambodia and Human Rights Watch, monitor this problematic industry, but progress is slow.
Charlotte dislikes the popular trend “fast fashion” where clothing is mass-produced in garment factories and cheap to buy. According to Charlotte, consumers “don’t understand the value of how long it takes to make (clothes), from the concept to sales” or even the origins of where your clothes come from. J&J is a proud member of fashionrevolution.org, a global movement advocating a “fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure”. Charlotte believes that you should understand “who made your clothes”.
Charlotte and Hani have known each other since studying at the prestigious design school, La Cambre Mode(s) in Brussels. Both are inspired by nature, particularly green, vibrant landscapes. There is a simplistic European flare to the designs, which embrace rich bright colours and breathable fabrics reflecting the tropical vibe of Cambodia. Warning! Don’t go to J&J with your favourite dress to be copied. Instead, Charlotte advises taking an idea to J&J and together “something really cool and different” can be designed and made.
J&J is ever evolving. Charlotte sees Hani enriching creativity and adding spice to the brand. A “classic but different” ready to wear collection is in the design stages to accompany the existing “made to order style”. Hani states: “In the end you know it’s just clothes. We are not curing cancer, but the feeling when you wear something comfortable and beautiful can make you feel like a confident woman.”
Charlotte and Hani have together found their “magic zone”. Charlotte clarifies this by explaining their three zones: the “comfort zone” is the easy life, living in Europe; the “risky zone” is setting up a business and moving to Cambodia when your friends and family are against the idea; the “magic zone” is where it all comes together: “not working for other people is scary but very cool and satisfying. We are building our own happiness”.
Jungle & Jardin