Cambodia: The Silk Grandmothers
Cambodian silk-making is a traditional art that has been passed down through generations from mother to daughter. Kikuo Morimoto, a well-known textile craftsman from Kyoto, Japan, who had moved to Cambodia to help revive the country's ancient practice of silk-making, found the craft in danger of disappearing after decades of violence. When a United Nations mission in the 1990s led Morimoto to Cambodia, he met a few of the weavers. Many of the women were in their 70s and 80s and living in remote villages across the country -- they were the only ones left who knew the secrets of the craft.
During his initial research in Cambodia, Morimoto also found that those who still practiced the silk-making were paid just pennies for their painstaking work. As a fellow craftsman, Morimoto found that infuriating. "These grandmothers were so highly skilled, they should be given the chance to do work that matched their skills and be paid for it," he said.
In 1996, starting with seven "silk grandmothers," as the women came to be known, Morimoto set up a silk production studio in the town of Siem Reap, which lies on the main tourist route to Angkor Wat. Today, more than 400 people work there, earning anywhere from $80 to $200 a month. It's a modest sum, but far more than the average Cambodian wage of $300 a year.