Fair Trade x Penh Lenh: A Small Business Making a Big Impact
Learn about how one conscious fashion brand is changing the lives of young women around the world.
In early 2013, Rachel left her career in New York City behind to set out and do some good in the world. Her desire to "be the change" led her halfway around the world to Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh. There Rachel saw firsthand the devastating reality many young women in Cambodia face due to extreme poverty, lack of resources, inequality, and human trafficking.
Rachel decided she was going to do something about it and launched a social enterprise called Penh Lenh, employing human trafficking survivors to design beautiful bold jewelry. In Cambodia, a trafficked girl is called Srey Koi, meaning "broken"; hence Rachel named the company Penh Lenh, meaning "whole". Rachel is committed to creating a long-term sustainable impact for her employees through education, empowerment, and dignified employment.
The Penh Lenh girls spend half their day away from work to learn self esteem, basic literature, nutrition, and women's health. Rachel believes that in order to truly break the cycle of poverty, which created their vulnerability in the first place, these women need not only a job, but also a supportive community where they can learn, grow, express themselves, and feel safe.
As Rachel explains,
"We are serious about making a true impact and have developed a series of evaluations that allow us to meet each girl where she’s at. We also monitor development and progress with weekly check-ins and regular assessments. We are in it for the long-run and work hard to make sure our model is one that results in actual empowerment".
A Day In The Life.
You step in from the madness of the Phnom Penh streets, away from the homeless children, people begging for money, and general chaos that is Cambodia, into the Penh Lenh studio/store front and it feels more like you are entering the house of an old friend. There is warmth, love, and laughter filling every corner. On any given day, you may find the most adorable baby boy named Charlie, whose mom is one of Rachel's artisans. Thanks to Penh Lenh, she is not only earning a dignified living, but is also learning how to read and write in Khmer so she can pass that knowledge on to her son. The Penh Lenh girls operate like sisters; taking turns holding Charlie, giggling at inside jokes, singing along to Justin Bieber, sharing snacks, and working side by side. Remember that most of these girls are in the late teens, early twenties, so Rachel has her hands full on many counts. Rachel laughs as she explains how she feels more like a mother most days. She does her best to teach the girls about professionalism and respect, while also building a safe, open environment. She wants to evoke the same sense of security and belonging you would feel in your own home. Most of the girls don't have anyone in their life they can look up to, or talk to, or learn from. Rachel, while running a business, teaching empowerment classes, holding counseling sessions, and managing daily operations, is also wearing the hat of mother, mentor, and friend. She maintains a grace about her that is hard to put into words, as if what she is doing is no more or less meaningful than anything else. She is simply following the path laid before her. Many would say that this is what it looks like when someone is living out their true calling.
A New Standard.
Rachel is setting a new standard for not only young women in Cambodia, but also for social entrepreneurs around the world. Due to her hard work and dedication, she has created an unbelievably cognizant and sustainable model for how business and commerce can help break the cycle of poverty. Her hopes? That future generations of entrepreneurs will replicate.
There are 2 billion people in the world living on less than $2 a day. That means there are 2 billion more people, just like the Penh Lenh girls, whose lives and the lives of their children could be drastically changed if we all committed to better business, buying, and consuming practices.
How do you change the lives of 2 billion people? You start with one, yourself.
We could not be more proud to partner with Penh Lenh and support their empowerment programs. To shop the Penh Lenh collection, please click here.