3Strands: Why Sustainable Employment Matters

Perhaps over the last week or so you may have seen Lygia and me tweet or facebook about 3Strands.  3Strands is a fashion brand that is being developed by Agape and a US-based retailer called Apricot Lane. Apricot Lane’s designers have begun to hand over apparel items to our Agape Training Center in Cambodia where a team sources materials for the girls whom we’ve rescued throughout Cambodia to assemble and package for sale in their store fronts (and online) in the United States.  The first items that actually shipped stateside were the bracelets 3Strands and Apricot Lane are now selling. As the girls continue to train and develop a broader skill-set, 3Strands’s item inventory will grow.

First ATC Shipment

Isaac Saur making sure the last box of the first Agape Training Center shipment to the United States is packed neatly.

With this post I want to get into (a little) detail as to why this type of sustainable employment matters.

Having studied the politics and economics of developing countries at university, the question “why do some countries develop while others stagnate?” has come up in my mind a few times. Many people theorize about the reasons and develop complex answers. Some of these answers have merit; others, not so much. Naturally, living in Cambodia for the last nine months, this question has come up many times in my mind.

During our time here, Lygia and I have made several trips to Thailand (for visa runs, McDonalds, Starbucks, and Tesco) by land as it’s only 150 km (93 miles) away. The minute you cross the border, you know you’re not in Cambodia anymore. This realization comes not from the climate, natural surroundings, or the people; instead it comes from the roads, buildings, cleanliness, and development. Thailand and Cambodia share similar boundaries, similar natural resources, and (while they won’t admit it) similar people. Nevertheless, Thailand is decades ahead of Cambodia in terms of development.

Map featuring Siem Reap

We live in the northern Cambodian town of Siem Reap, which makes Thailand (as opposed to Vietnam) the most convenient country to go to when we need to renew our visas.

I cannot hope to breakdown all the reasons for Cambodia’s poor development in a single blog post, but I can say that I have made a rather unpleasant observation during our car rides to Thailand, one which I believe sums up the problem on at least a superficial level: the majority of big, cargo-carrying trucks travel loaded in only one direction.  The direction in which loaded trucks carrying cargo travel is important because it vividly demonstrates the import-export ratios between the two countries. Here is the problem: the full trucks come from Thailand and the empty trucks leave Cambodia.  That means, Thailand is able to produce enough stuff to satisfy their own demand and export to Cambodia.  This means money is traveling out of Cambodia and into Thailand. The same problem exists on the Vietnam border only I don’t live there so I’m not able to see it.

I’ve seen Thai trucks entering Cambodia carrying any range of goods starting from Styrofoam serving trays to tractors.  This is because Thailand has developed industry and a government that is friendly to businesses. If an outside company wants to choose between the two countries to supply their labor force, they will almost always choose Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, Thailand’s government has plenty of issues and they’re certainly not spot on but they have secure land rights, they invest earnings back into their education system, and they respect copyright laws more stringently.

Cambodia's Curse

Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley

If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the problem with Cambodian government, society, economy, etc, you should consider purchasing Cambodia’s Curse. Joel Brinkley does a fantastic job cataloging the problems that exist within Cambodia and the outside forces that play into it as well.

Inevitably, one problem we’re facing after rescuing our girls is reintegrating them back into Cambodian society. Just because we’ve taken them in and provided counseling and put them through school doesn’t eliminate the overarching social factors that contributed to their trafficking to begin with. Without a  stable income, they cannot find a safe place to live and provide for themselves and are therefore prone to falling back into the same societal traps that imprisoned them to begin with.  Thankfully, we’ve had several organizations whom we’ve partnered with over the last few years (Bloom Cafe, Daughters, etc) that offer training and employment to rescued girls but as AIM grows and the number of girls we rescue and reintegrate grows, and so must our ability to find or provide viable employment options.

That’s why we’re so proud of and thankful for Apricot Lane. They are a company who went against all odds and defied business principals to help give these girls another chance at life. Girls whom often times were sold into sexual slavery by their parents can now earn monthly salaries that double the Cambodian national average wage. They are developing the skills and gaining the education through Agape Training Center to overcome all odds and flourish into empowered members of Cambodian society.

You can help AIM and Apricot Lane launch this brand by buying a bracelet from 3Strands to show your support and encourage others to do the same; you don’t even need to leave your house.

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