Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ Category

A Love Letter to Fair Trade

Posted on: February 14th, 2017 by Lucia No Comments

Dear Fair Trade –

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you! Thank you for bringing attention to the people around the world, who without you, often work in exploitative and unsafe conditions.

Thank you for pointing out the true costs of goods in global supply chains and helping us realize that when it goes to cheap mass produced consumer goods, somewhere, someone is paying a price (and it’s typically the workers, not to mention our planet).

fair trade hearts

We couldn’t fit all of our love for fair trade onto these hearts, so we wrote a letter. . .

Thank you for being a social justice movement and an alternative business model. We don’t believe that capitalism can ever be “woke”, but we love your focus on trade serving the people of this planet. We don’t believe that you can have a more just and fair society or world without you.

You are for everyone! It’s one of the things we love most about you. You empower women. You respect cultural diversity. You help sustain traditional art forms of cultures from around the globe. You help the western world realize the impact of consumerism, and give all people a way to vote with their dollars.

You are even great for kids. You have absolutely zero tolerance for child labor and because you offer fair wages and empower women, families can afford to send their kids to school. Through fair trade employment, artisans and farmers around the world are breaking the cycle of poverty and giving their kids a better life.

thistle farms

Local children celebrating at Damnok Toek

Thank you for standing up for gender equality and saying no to discrimination! Women and men work equally within fair trade organizations and are not discriminated against based on gender, age, religion or other personal orientation.

You respect and love our planet and understand that it’s the only one we’ve got. Fair trade producers maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources and buy local whenever possible. They use production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption and reduce, reuse, reclaim, and recycle materials wherever possible.

Your products are truly amazing! Purchasing fair trade means a high quality and hand crafted item that is often desired on aesthetics alone. There are so many amazing fair trade brands with truly top notch design standards. As more and more fair trade brands find a successful path into the global marketplace our fair trade choices get better and better.

tie dye clutch

Through Feb 20th, you can still save 30% off our Fall Collection with code: fairtradelove

And lastly, thank you for being a sustainable way to provide economic opportunity and hope for marginalized people in some of the poorest communities worldwide. Not only does fair trade employment provide for the basic material needs of day-to-day life for workers in these communities, fair trade jobs create respect, confidence and leadership within these communities. We are so proud to be a fair trade brand and so grateful to experience the positive impact that fair trade has on the lives of our artisan partners in Cambodia. Fair trade, you are the definition of win-win and you forever have our hearts!

The Malia Team

Fighting Human Trafficking with Damnok Toek

Posted on: January 23rd, 2017 by Leilani Angel No Comments

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month which is an excellent time to not only reflect on our brand journey in the fight against Human Trafficking but it is also the perfect time of the year to share a little insight as to what specifically inspires us to carry a cause every day all year long.

fair trade club meeting

Children of Damnok Toek, PC: Amy Fellows

Our fight on Human Trafficking has been going strong for the last 12 years largely due to the endless support from our customers and brand partners that share a similar social mission. We would like to start off the year by highlighting an organization that is very near and dear to our hearts, Damnok Toek. This organization works with vulnerable children and families in Cambodia. Their main objectives are to advocate for prevention, rehabilitation, integration and reintegration into the community. They serve individuals who have survived human trafficking, street working, homelessness, exploitation, abuse and those living with various disabilities.

Damnok Toek is a non-profit organization that has been instrumental in providing rehabilitation for marginalized children and youth by aiding in the development of a brighter future through a variety of nurturing services. This includes access to short-term to mid-term shelter facilities, family tracing and counseling services. They also offer life skills workshops and education that covers basic literacy and numeracy. Art therapy is also utilized as a method for creative expression and healing through dance, theater performances, painting and woodcarving.

fair trade club meeting

Classroom at Damnok Toek, PC: Damnok Toek website

More than 1,500 children per day are given support and care by the 100 employees throughout the three Damnok Toek facilities located in Cambodia. They are able to offer refuge and reformation for these children in need by the continuous support of global partners who have made it their mission to one day put an end to Human Trafficking. Malia Designs is one of many organizations that proudly supports Damnok Toek in their fight against Human Trafficking and other devastating challenges that these children endure. Each purchase with our company directly supports Damnok Toek. The amazing work they do  is precisely why we carry a cause and this is what fuels our desire to connect with individuals and communities all over the world in order to come together and bring awareness to this international crisis.

Human Trafficking is defined as, “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the most common form of Human Trafficking is for sexual exploitation followed by forced labor and victims are predominantly women and children.  

fair trade club meeting

Literacy Training at Damnok Toek, PC: Amy Fellows

We are dedicated to  fighting this epidemic, but we can’t do it alone. It is a devastating topic but it is a conversation that we need to continually have in order to create serious and immediate change.  We think Michelle Obama said it best in one of our all-time favorite quotes, “I hope that you will all reject the false comfort that others suffering is not your concern. That if you can’t solve all the world’s problems you shouldn’t even try.”  You can join us in our fight on Human Trafficking just by simply sharing this blog post and continuing this conversation within your communities. We are always stronger together and together we can make a difference.

The Night We Carried A Cause Together

Posted on: December 15th, 2016 by Leilani Angel No Comments

There is something magical that happens when you surround yourself with people that share a similar passion as yourself. We had the privilege of collaborating with the San Diego Style Bloggers for a private trunk show event at Bar Basic in Downtown San Diego and by the end of the night we bonded with our new fellow fair trade fashionistas and sustainable sisters.

fair trade club meeting Blogger babes Laura Neuzeth, Alessandra Gonzalez and Paulina Mo

Trunk show attendees included local taste makers within the fashion industry including bloggers, journalists, stylists, and designers. The coming together of prominent influencers such as Paulina Mo of Lil’ Bits of Chic and bilingual blogger sensation, Alessandra Gonzalez made for a spectacular evening filled with much needed conversation about the importance of ethical fashion and how we can collectively come together to carry a cause.

fair trade club meeting

Local designer, Jessica Cornejo, from Ziur Designs

The guests were able to shop from all of our eco-friendly collections including our hand crafted recycled feed bags and recycled cement bags. Brand Director, Lucia Ruth, was thrilled to conduct a brief presentation about our brand mission and how we can combat Human Trafficking through ethical fashion and business practices.

fair trade club meeting

Guests striking a pose with their new bags

Event attendees learned about our Fair Trade artisan partnerships in Cambodia and how Fair Trade employment opportunities provide a strong quality of life for our artisans and their families. By purchasing a Malia Designs handbag, you are indeed, carrying a cause, that supports proper treatment of artisan workers and lowering our collective carbon footprint on the environment.

fair trade club meeting

Guests learning about the brand mission from Lucia Ruth & Leilani Angel

This inspirational evening included fun photo booth action, cocktails, and tasty brick oven pizza. As the evening came to a close, it was clear that this event was much more than a fashionable night out, it was a call to action designed to spark curiosity about how fashion can be a force for good for both people and the planet.

fair trade club meeting

Cy Chen, Lilia, Tiffany Williams, Reca A’Shauntae, Leilani Angel, Alessandra Gonzalez, Laura Neuzeth & Paulina Mo

*All photos courtesy of Melisa Soriano

Three brands we love that are helping to fight human trafficking

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 by Lucia 1 Comment

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month! All month long we have been posting on social media about various organizations working both here in the US and around the globe in the effort to combat human trafficking. In this post we want to share a few of our favorite socially responsible brands that share our social mission to help fight human trafficking.

The Brave Collection

The Brave Collection was founded by Jessica Hendricks to “celebrate bravery and empower women across the globe.” Their beautiful jewelry is handmade by talented Cambodian artisans, primarily mothers who come from underprivileged backgrounds as well as disabled artisans. All artists work in a fair and dignified work environment where they are paid above average wages and receive benefits such as health insurance and stipends for their children’s education.

the brave collection

Our new travel wallet beautifully styled with bracelets from The Brave Collection

We recently teamed up with The Brave Collection for our Spring Look Book shoot and are absolutely in love with the results. Their unique fashion forward designs are carved and woven by hand in Cambodia using traditional metalwork techniques As well as creating empowerment through economic opportunities, 10% of profits are donated to fight human trafficking in Cambodia.

Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms is a multi-faceted organization that includes a powerful community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Based in Nashville, TN they employ more than 50 survivors through social enterprises which include a natural body care company, Thistle Stop Cafe, artisan studio, and global marketplace called Shared Trade.

thistle farms

Thistle Farms Manufacturing

Their yummy natural body care products are primarily vegan (a few do contain beeswax) and none of the products are ever tested on animals. Along with the body care line, Thistle Farms also operates a global market place—Shared Trade. They offer handmade quality products that represent healing and empowerment. Thistle Farms currently works with 18 partner social enterprises provide dignifying employment and safe workplaces for women artisans in 10 countries.

What’s the best thing about Thistle Farms? Clearly their heart, “Thistle Farms stands for the truth that, in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.” The Thistle Farms motto is love heals and both their successful business model and the women’s lives they have transformed are clearly testaments that indeed it does.

Purpose Jewelry

Purpose Jewelry is a fashion jewelry brand that empowers survivors through employment and financial stability. All of their jewelry is handcrafted in India by survivors of modern-day slavery. All of the proceeds benefit International Sanctuary, a non profit that provides holistic care for young women rescued from sex trafficking. A unique part of Purpose Jewelry’s business model is that they work with human trafficking survivors in both India and in Orange County where their US headquarters is based.

thistle farms

Shimmering Purpose Jewelry necklaces

The International Sanctuary survivor rehabilitation program has been so successful that they have been approached by numerous organizations to expand their program around the globe. They now have a goal to launch 10 sanctuaries around the world where girls and women rescued from slavery are empowered in the restoration of their mind, body, and soul. We have had the chance to attend various events with the Purpose Jewelry team, and it’s been a total pleasure to meet these driven women who are passionate about both their beautiful jewelry designs and the social mission behind them!

Fair Trade—the best business model ever

Posted on: October 26th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

As you may (or may not) be aware, October is Fair Trade Month. What a great time to celebrate and share fair trade with our Malia Designs fans and supporters.

We thought we might answer a few common questions about fair trade, along with our favorite aspects of being a fair trade fashion brand.

fair trade month

Fair trade is most definitely our jam!

Q1: What exactly is fair trade?

Fair trade is essentially a business model—one that focuses on much more than profits and losses. Fair trade businesses aim to combat poverty in the developing world by bridging the gap between isolated producers, artisans and farmers and the western market and supply chains. Not only is fair trade a business model, but it is also

– a social justice movement
– a system of global commerce
– a tool for international and community development

Fair trade is a sustainable way to provide economic opportunity and hope for marginalized people in some of the poorest communities worldwide.

Q2: Who regulates or verifies your fair trade business practices?

fair trade month

Malia Designs is fully committed to our fair trade business model

Malia Designs is proud to be a member of the Fair Trade Federation. The Fair Trade Federation is a community of businesses committed to 360° fair trade. We undergo rigorous screening and strive to create positive change through all of our work: socially, economically, and environmentally. We work with small artisan groups in holistic partnerships built on trust. These relationships go beyond ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions — they empower producers to strengthen their communities and grow their businesses sustainably.

Q3: How do your fair trade practices help to fight Human Trafficking in Cambodia?


Meaningful employment helps to create security for these Cambodian women

Our #1 priority is to empower disadvantaged women in Cambodia by providing economic opportunities through fair trade. In a country where sexual exploitation is commonplace, having access to sustainable income decreases their vulnerability to prostitution and Human Trafficking.
Our goal is to break the cycle of poverty and abuse by providing this income to women and protection and support to children who are vulnerable to traffickers.

Q4: So what is the best part about being a fair trade fashion brand?


Getting to experience firsthand our positive impact is a huge reward

Wow! That’s a toughie. There are so many great aspects of designing and selling a product line that helps both people and the planet through fair trade. I definitely think that one of the most rewarding aspects is getting to experience first-hand how the purchase of something as seemingly insignificant as a hand bag can affect positive change in a woman’s life halfway across the globe.

We started this journey 10 years ago and have been working with some of our producers for almost the entire decade. To see the women grow professionally and personally as a result of the work we provide is so fulfilling. We’ve gotten to meet their families and their children and listen to their stories. To witness their support and nurturing of one another’s dreams, and to know that we had a part in their journey is something we are truly grateful for.

Meet our artisan partner – Thanan

Posted on: July 6th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

Malia Designs was created to provide economic opportunities for vulnerable populations in South East Asia. We accomplish this through partnerships. We link arms with our partners and we believe in them; that they are capable of creating significant changes in the communities where they live and work.

Thanan is a beautiful example of how these partnerships can work. Thanan leads the artisan group that produces our popular cotton canvas screen printed line. She received her educational training at the National Centre of Disabled Persons in Cambodia, and it was there that she discovered that she had true talent, both as a seamstress and as a designer.

thanan in her workshop

Thanan helps us to review and make design choices for our Fall 2015 prints

After she graduated Thanan received a micro-loan and began her own ethical fashion business. Today she employs more than fifty home-based artisans who are also disabled. It is Thanan’s mission and passion to provide secure, consistent employment for these disabled individuals. In Cambodia it’s an unfortunate fact that the disabled are often treated like third class citizens, and their chances for finding gainful employment are very slim. As a whole the disabled population is also more vulnerable to exploitation and to traffickers.

partial rolls of printed fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Reviewing fabric swatches and colors with Thanan’s guidance

Thanan is one of the most compassionate and giving women that we know. Her compassion and dedication to improving the lives of others combined with her design talents truly make her not only a valued partner, but also one of our heroes. Her bright smile, generosity and sharp sense of humor make her one of our dear friends.

Sourcing and Shopping

Posted on: June 8th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

We love working with recycled and repurposed materials. The fact that our products are also eco-friendly goes right along with our fair trade values—being good for people and good for the planet is a double win in our book. One of the coolest things about our cotton canvas screen printed line is that the fabrics we use are often leftover remnants from the garment factories which are so prominent in Cambodia.

partial rolls of printed fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Partial rolls of fabrics line the walls of a market stall

Local markets sell the leftover fabric remnants and rolls. There are several market stalls selling these leftovers and they are all a bit different in what they offer. Some also sell suit fabric and part of their profits are derived from tailoring custom made suits for foreign business travelers.

Reviewing fabric swatches and comparing them to our desired color palette.

Reviewing fabric swatches and comparing them to our desired color palette.

We begin our fabric quest with an idea of the colors that we hope to find at the market. We use paint chips to pick these colors since they offer such a large variety and they are easy to bring along. However, often what we initially had in mind is not available. Although, something great usually is, flexibility is key in this business.

Brightly printed fabrics line the window—next door is a bicycle repair business

Brightly printed fabrics line the window—next door is a bicycle repair business

We rely on our friend and partner, Thanan, to not only help with our color selection, but to also help us to negotiate pricing and to determine if there is more of a specific color available. Thanan leads our partner group that produces our cotton screen print line. Her dream of providing dignified work to disabled populations in Cambodia began with a small micro-loan, and now she employees more than 50 home-based artisans to create our popular designs.

Lucia posing (and sweating)  among the multicolored fabric rolls.

Lucia posing (and sweating) among the multicolored fabric rolls

Once we have landed on the color selections from the available fabrics we will cut swatches so we can create test prints with our new designs. Many times our final selections we be vastly different than what we were initially looking for, and most of the time we will be more satisfied. Kinda like life, many of the best parts are total surprises!

It takes a village

Posted on: May 21st, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

One of the most important parts of our annual trip to Cambodia is taking the time to meet with our different producer groups. Of course we have a huge “to-do” list that includes finalizing print designs and color choices, approving and ordering samples and learning about future expansion or new training programs that our co-ops are planning. All of the groups we work with are independent businesses—Malia Designs is their customer and our role is to create relevant, fashion forward designs and to serve as the bridge to the Western market.


After visiting our most remote village co-op and spending time with the artisans there (and some of their adorable children), I got to thinking about the familiar saying, “It takes a Village.” It’s usually used in relation to raising children, to emphasize the importance that many different individuals can have in their upbringing. I think it also perfectly describes our fair trade artisan partners and all of the individuals that come together to make the Malia Designs business model work.

There are many different roles and positions within our artisan groups and they are all integral in producing a Malia Designs handbag, so it’s pretty easy to draw this correlation. These cut and sew artisans, weavers, pattern makers, book keepers, production managers, sourcing experts and customer relations managers are much more than their respective job titles. They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, survivors, students and community members. And the co-op provides much more than economic opportunity for them.


The best part about the time spent with our artisan partners isn’t actually checking the numerous items off of our “to-do” list, but getting to experience the special relationships and familial environment that is fostered among the artisans. They are actively involved in one another’s lives. There are several mentors within the group that offer advice and a caring ear to listen to both work and personal challenges. They work together and celebrate together—laugh together and cry together.

Some individuals entering the co-op are facing significant obstacles, often times this is in the form of an illness or disability. Their employment provides not only a secure and reliable income, but a support system. Their role within the co-op is a natural way for their self esteem and sense of pride to grow. A source of hope. . . that is made possible by your willingness to “carry a cause.”

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Posted on: April 21st, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

It’s another GIVEAWAY WEDNESDAY, and this one is just in time for Mother’s Day! To celebrate, we’re giving away your choice of any one of our Signature Collection designs, along with one for you to gift to Mom! Choose a color and a print that represent your Mom’s signature style, and let her know how her Mother’s Day gift is “designed to carry a cause.”


Our Signature Collection is created by an artisan co-op that got its start by offering training and jobs to women in a rural Cambodian village. The idea was simple, by bringing economic opportunity to these women, they could stay in the village with their families instead of leaving to seek employment in a larger city where they could be vulnerable to exploitation. Over the past several years, this co-op has experienced substantial growth and on our recent visit, four of the artisans were out on maternity leave, a benefit that would not be available to them in many other circumstances.


Here’s how to enter this month’s GIVEAWAY WEDNESDAY:

1) Finish the following sentence in the blog comments section below: “My mom’s signature style is _______________.”

2) Head over to our Facebook page and our Instagram feed for additional chances to enter. The more platforms you like or comment on, the more you can increase your chances of winning.

3) The contest ends next Wednesday when we will have a random drawing to determine the lucky winner and make the announcement on social media.

Good luck everyone and Happy Mother’s Day!

the Malia Designs team

That bag is made out of what?!?

Posted on: March 9th, 2015 by Lucia No Comments

We get this one A LOT, and since our upcycled cement bag collection just keeps growing in both popularity and available styles, we thought it would be fun to show off how the upcycling process works.

The photos below show cement bags lining the streets of Phnom Penh.  Fun Fact: Cement is the most used material in the world! All of the artwork is already printed by the manufacturers onto the bags.  It’s fortunate for us that the cement companies in Southeast Asia create such fun and vibrant packaging.


First, we work with our talented designer to come up with new and original design options for the line.  After concepts and sketches are agreed upon, she creates a detailed pattern that we provide to our artisan partners.


Next,  it’s time for the bags to be thoroughly washed and dried, since well they used to be full of cement!  The cement bag material is lightweight, strong and water resistant which makes it perfect for upcycling.  To upcycle means to “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.”


Finally, the bags are cut into specific patterns and sewn into an awesome new tote, wallet or messenger bag by our talented artisans. These funky and functional designs work overtime to “Carry a Cause” since they not only provide meaningful work to our artisans, but help our planet by keeping waste out of landfills.


We’d love to hear from you about your favorite upcycled products and to know what styles you would like to see added to our ever growing upcycled cement bag collection!