Friends 'n' Stuff champions transparency in the production and supply chain. Let's put a face to the fashion and meet Mr. Sam Art, our lead skills trainer!
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Mr. Sam Art. I have been working at Mith Samlanh* for almost 10 years as a skills trainer.
*Mith Samlanh is the local name of the NGO that powers Friends 'n' Stuff.
Describe what you do on an average day.
In the morning I focus on training the [home-based] parents how to make the Friends ‘n’ Stuff products. I also make samples for the product development team, so I work with the designer’s dimensions from the paper drawings and give feedback. Sometimes I will suggest different materials to use to make construction easier. In the afternoon I visit the [home-based] parents’ houses to check on the quality of their work and make sure it is correct.
How did you end up working at Friends ‘n’ Stuff?
I used to be in the army. I worked on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, but I injured my leg after stepping on a landmine. In 1995 I came back to Phnom Penh and met a teacher from an organization that taught disabled people how to make wallets and bags. This is where I first learned how to make products for sale.
In September 2007, I started working at Mith Samlanh. I left my old job because I could earn more money here, but the main reason – and this is really the main reason – is because Mith Samlanh works for the children and people living in poor communities. I became a skills trainer so I could teach others.
What is something you’re most proud of at work?
The first is that I can teach unskilled parents how to earn money and improve their [living situation]. By doing this I help the children. Also, I can show that recycled products will sell all over the world. The final thing is my skill – I love my skill.
You work with recycled materials. Why do customers respond to that?
I like the way we have innovation, and I think customers buy [because of that]. We start with things with no value and make [them] into products that can be useful, and customers know when they buy they also help the people in Cambodia.
Who are you outside of work?
After work I go home and listen to music and the radio. I have four sons and a wife, but only one son lives in Phnom Penh with me. The rest of my family lives in Kandal province. It is only 40km from Phnom Penh, so I visit them on the weekends.
Tell me about the last time something surprised you at work.
I never thought I would have the ability to fly to Thailand, but in 2012 Mith Samlanh asked me to visit the program in Bangkok and supervise the skills trainers there. Bangkok has so many more raw materials than Cambodia! I bought a lot to bring back.
As you know, garment factories employ a lot of people in Cambodia. What’s your impression of this industry?
For me, I worry about the health [of someone] working in a factory full of chemicals. I also think [the factory employees] learn only certain skills. They sew only small parts, like a sleeve, but that is all they learn. Families will come into training at Mith Samlanh and say they know how to sew [from the factories], but they only know the simple parts.
Last question: I like your ring. Where’d you get it?
[Laughs] It’s a present from my wife. It is a dragon.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Thanks to SIM Samphas for translating from Khmer.