The New Apsaras

The largest export in Cambodian economy is the garment industry, with most of it being sold to ‘fast fashion’ companies in Europe and the US. Cheap clothes for new trends, while back here the whole system is being supported by around 700.000 to 800.000 workers, 90% of them women. Who will never be able to afford the kind of clothes they make with their hands, receiving less than $200 per month. But that’s how they support their families, with her fingers and a needle.

On the other hand the figure of Apsara is very prominent in Khmer culture, with these semi-goddess entities being considered lucky and masters of dance. One of their most iconic gestures is the way they press thumb and index fingers together and gently move their hand. Almost like a tailor holding her needle, a quasi holy movement that impacts the lives of millions. Repetitive gestures in endless factory assembly lines, with scale and uniformity somehow making us, the consumers, forget the uniqueness of which one of them. This project aims to represent garment workers in their everyday setting, countless women sited side-by-side in long lines, but, at the same time, re-direct the focus to the individual and her gesture. To pay homage to all the tailors maintaining their families afloat amidst economic troubles and pandemic uncertainty, the new Apsaras of Cambodia, the ones who sew the country together one stitch at a time.

Project created in collaboration with Fairsew, an ethical and sustainable fashion brand based in Phnom Penh. In their words: ‘At Fairsew we believe fashion can be beautiful without the human or environmental cost. We are an ethical garment manufacturer that provides a transparent and quality service without compromising a fair and safe work environment. Our ethos is centred in proving that fair fashion can be high quality, profitable, environmentally conscious, and have a positive social impact for everyone in the supply chain.’ My warm thanks to all the tailors who made this possible.