Fashioning Futures

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Fashioning Futures

Phnom Penh , CambodiaPhnom Penh, Cambodia
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$5 million+
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

To provide poor parents of marginalized kids with vocational skills-training to produce apparel using recycled material. Product sales provide fast income & a chance for employment (perhaps in the apparel industry) so parents can place kids back into public school (and keep them off the streets!).

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we empowered all parents to care for, protect and educate their children? Could they lift their families out of poverty?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

78 million kids in Asia work instead of study because poor parents need help to support the family. 3 million Cambodians live in extreme poverty, largely because marginalized mothers need access to market-linked skills-training & decent employment to meet their children’s needs. We target: unemployed parents/caregivers of out-of school children; disabled/HIV+/chronically-ill parents; those with substance-abuse issues; or can’t access formal work.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We work with caregivers unable to secure gainful employment. First we teach them hard/soft skills (material sourcing, quality control, transport, business management) with a tailored training curriculum to make garments/accessories from our fashion line. We teach them to source recycled materials (tires/rugby balls, forks/spoons, newspaper, magazines, packaging). We give them equipment (sewing machines, etc.) to make the products in their homes, on their own schedules. We buy the product and sell it in our social business shops or internationally. Then we help them find work using their skills–possibly in the apparel industry–or help them start their own business. This provides a dignified alternative to the garment industry in Cambodia.


AGFund International Prize-Pioneering Human Development Projects|Schwab Fnd Award-Social Entrepreneurship|Skoll Award-Social Entrepreneurship|Gold Medal-Cambodian Government-Reconstruction of the Country|Order of Australia-Service to Humanity
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

I am Sotheavy* (name changed). My son met a Friends social worker while scavenging in the street. I told her that after my husband died from AIDS, I was too ill to work. My 12-yr-old daughter also dropped-out of school. Friends helped me access health care, personal & group counseling. When I was healthy enough, they enrolled me in the Home-Based Training program, teaching me to make products in my house when I felt well enough to work. They taught me advanced sewing, and I began making high-quality products, which Friends sold to companies overseas. Now I earn enough to support both my children. I bought a new home for my family, and have re-enrolled my daughter in school. When my health improves, they will help me get a job at a company.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

This program builds futures for caregivers, & most importantly, their children. We supported 213 families in 2014 in SE Asia–178 in Cambodia–impacting about 1,000 children & family members. The average income of each beneficiary is $130/month–that’s 270% above the extreme poverty line! Scaling-up this project will reach more impoverished, unemployed & unskilled caregivers, providing the poor with opportunities to learn useful skills, enter the apparel industry or create a small business across SE Asia. Products are made from recycled materials, positively-impacting the environment. Increasing overseas sales will provide beneficiaries with more work, experience & revenue. Improving income means improving quality of life for these families; a participation criteria is that all children are reintegrated, and remain, in public school.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Friends piloted the program in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2005, and has already replicated it in Lao PDR and Thailand. Plans to scale-up existing projects in all three countries will reach more beneficiaries. We also plan to train local NGOs within our partner network to replicate Home-Based Production training among their beneficiaries, expanding our reach into other countries. Friends has recently secured a new Product Designer to keep on trend and increase sales, and is implementing a new Online Catalog to increase overseas orders, and thus beneficiary income.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Friends is an award-winning social enterprise that is 38% financially self-sustainable. In 2014, our social businesses generated US $3.1 million (increase of 16% from 2013). Close to $600,000 of this was generated from product made by Home-Based Production beneficiaries; this is injected back into our programs to sustain continued training & support. Our Fund Development team sources/matches interested investors to fund any remaining gaps.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Smateria (trains/employs displaced women); Nomi Network (at-risk/survivors of human trafficking); Senhoa Foundation (handcrafted jewelry by vulnerable women); Carpets for Communities; Cambodia Knits; Watthan Artisans Cambodia (a coop of people with disabilities & home-based producers/woodcarvers/weavers); Colour Silk Enterprise (supporting silk-weavers). Our innovation differs as we match the market need to the skills need to deliver products demanded by consumers around the world, whilst building on our caregivers’ existing skills to make them more employable.

Founding Story

In 1994, I came to Cambodia & was shocked to see dozens of kids sleeping in the markets while luxury cars passed. I began feeding them, but soon realized other expats were doing the same; I realized I was helping keep them on the street. I talked to the kids about their needs & used my savings to rent & furnish a classroom & dormitory. I opened a drop-in center to 17 street kids, but after 10 days, all had left. I set out to find them & soon realized they were not orphans; they had families, and to help the kids I had to help empower their parents to support them. That's when my mission grew from supporting kids to working with the entire family & larger community to create real change.


The existing team consists of local staff with the expertise listed below who deliver our specifically-tailored training curriculum and run the program. We constantly build staff capacity through skills-building in the following areas: evolving trends in fashion, customer orientation, understanding the job market, sourcing materials, etc. We are growing the team as the project grows (i.e. adding staff in new geographic locations). Cambodia: 2 Home-Based Production Managers (Bachelor Degree qualification) 1 Home-Based Production Assistant Manager 10 Skills Trainers (varying practical skills requirements, including: non-sewing machine accessories; hand embroidery; machine sewing; general home production; screen printing and welding. Some skills trainers have social work qualifications for case management purposes) 1 Home-Based Production staff Thailand: 1 Skills Trainer Laos: 1 Home-Based Production Team Leader 3 Skills Trainer (including 2 former beneficiaries)
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]


Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Designer, Non-profit Staff, Retail Representative - Department Store.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Consumers, Corporations, Designers, Factory Owners, Retailers - Department Store, Retailers - Specialty Store, Retailers - Mass-merchandise Chain, Sourcing Manager / Supply Chain Manager, Women, Youth.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Conscious Consumerism, Environmentally Sustainable Practices, Gender Equality, Recycling or Circular Economy, Physical Working Conditions.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Capacity Building, Training.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?


If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

Education, Economic development, Poverty alleviation, Sustainable development.

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?

By focusing on fashion trends and demands, and matching skills to markets.

Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

We co-founded/host the Annual National Conference on Social Entrerpreneurship in Cambodia to engage social entrepreneurs.

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

8 regional artists designing new t-shirt range; fair-trade sellers in Europe; local orgs to source recycled materials