basik 855: Kickstarting Cambodian ikat textiles

It’s not often you see a Cambodia-based company show up on Kickstarter, so when we did, and it was basik 855, we were delighted. We’ve been admiring basik 855‘s collection of bags, scarves and pillows made from gorgeous Cambodian textiles for a while now, so we took this opportunity to catch up with Leigh Morlock, the company’s creative director.

basik 855’s heathered scarf is one of the rewards you can get via their Kickstarter campaign.

MTC: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in Cambodia?

LM: Of course! I’m a Jersey girl who studied Theater Arts & Political Science at Drew University. I always dreamed of becoming a theater director, until I found myself working as a creative coordinator at a fashion handbag brand in New York City. I found myself in a new industry using the same creative skills I’d honed in regional theaters in the Northeast.

As I learned more about designing prints and patterns, choosing colors, and identifying key styles for the fashion accessories industry, I found myself more and more at home.

During the very beginning of the recession in 2008, I lost my job, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Nine months later, when my mentor called to tell me about a job opening in Cambodia, I had no obligations keeping me from saying yes. In late 2009, I moved to Cambodia to incubate a small textile weaving business, which over the years has evolved from Push Pull Cambodia into basik 855.

One of basik 855’s local weavers in Takeo, Cambodia.

What’s the idea behind basik 855?

Our weavers and artisans inspired our business. When we first visited Takeo, we were struck by the poverty in a region where nearly everyone is trained in an intricate and complex art form.

The initial challenge was to see if we could connect our artisans, who are masters at what they do, with a global market. Luckily, we received an order very early into our exploration that proved we could market and sell Cambodian ikat textiles and products.

basik 855 isn’t a souvenir company. We make fashionable, everyday accessories for women who appreciate the detail and care that goes into handcrafted items. Our approach utilizes the talents that have been passed from generation to generation of weavers while also imparting our patterns with a modern, global aesthetic. Each season we take into account the newest and most exciting design trends and colors; because of this, our product is equally at home on the streets of New York and Los Angeles as they are in Phnom Penh and Sydney.

The basik 855 weavers are paid a living wage for their skilled work on the looms.

How is basik 855 different from Cambodian garment factories?

Our weaving center is based in Takeo, Cambodia, the hub of Cambodian weaving and the homeland of most ikat artisans.

The biggest difference would be that our artisans are paid a living wage and provided an extensive benefits package that includes medical reimbursements, annual ophthalmology exams and glasses, paid time off, and maternity leave.

Compared to traditional garment factories, our weaving center also operates on an intentionally smaller scale. This fosters a more creative and open environment, which helps our design team sketch on their own schedule and enables us to hold bi-weekly status meetings with our employees.

One of the basik 855 weavers creating a spindle.

What is ikat and what is its significance in Cambodia?

Making ikat is not fast, nor is it simple. It is intricate, time-intensive, and an art unto itself. The process involves dyeing individual cotton threads, which are eventually woven on traditional looms into full bolts of fabric.

Ikat has been practiced in Cambodia for over 800 years and is easily recognized today in the sampot hol skirt that women wear to ceremonies and as pidan, tapestries that decorate pagodas.

After the Khmer Rouge, the knowledge of weaving ikat was nearly lost in Cambodia. basik 855 hopes to revive the industry and show the world that our artisans are masters at what they do. Their skilled hands tell a story with each bolt of fabric and infuse our items with both personality and tradition.

Made in Cambodia, but stylish enough for New York.

Why are you doing a Kickstarter campaign and how can we help?

Our company is young. We’re small. We’re also innovative. Crowdfunding is a great way to raise capital; however, it’s also a way to create a sense of community and forge connections with like-minded people. We need both – funding and a basik community – in order to expand our business.

There are three very important ways that you can help. First, visit our project on Kickstarter, all incoming traffic inches us closer to becoming a popular project and ultimately a Staff Pick. Secondly, if any of our gorgeous rewards appeal to you, then please back our project. Third, will you share this campaign with … everyone you know?

You can see more of basik 855’s products on their website, or learn more about their Kickstarter campaign (and help fund it!)

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