In 2005, with a single sewing machine, Vannary San turned her hobby creating beautiful and sustainable silk fashions and accessories into a full-fledged business. Today Lotus Silk, which is based out of a boutique in Phnom Penh, employs 7 women full time in 8 different communities across Cambodia and exports 90 percent of her fashion-forward products to customers around the world.
As her production grew, so did San’s aspirations. An entrepreneur at heart with experience working in the fashion industry, San had grand plans to grow the company and engage members of her community. In 2011 Lotus Silk opened its first shop and a year later began exporting to wholesale customers abroad.
Thanks to internet-enabled tools and platforms, San was able to build a website and connect with wholesalers and retail customers globally from her office in Cambodia in just a matter of days.
She has “found technology plays a very important role” in her business, especially in the past couple of years. She tapped fellow Phnom Penh-based small business Codingate to design her website and uses tools including Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and Verve to update retail customers on their orders, facilitate group chats and end-of-the-day reports from her team, and to increase her visibility online.
Lotus Silk’s global journey was made possible in large part by a project of the International Trade Centre and Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce. “They helped with marketing, planning, creating an export plan,” explained San, adding that they made it possible for her to attend a fair in New York. Today most of Lotus Silk’s customers are abroad in key markets including Korea, the United States, Australia, France, Canada, and Japan.
San continues to rely largely on wholesale customers abroad as she figures out the right option to develop an online e-commerce platform to service retail customers directly. Finding the right solution has been “a big challenge,” she noted.
Her advice for entrepreneurs is to consider that, “it’s about doing what you love.” San explains that her entrepreneurial spirit is about bringing Lotus Silk and Cambodia to the rest of the world, “but you need sustainability, or you will fall down,” she cautions.