By Lilian Doyle.
Being an artisan and selling your products in the competitive markets of Siem Reap is not an easy task. The difficulties they endure include competing with lower priced imported goods and a saturated market that consists primarily of machine made products.
However, there are many success stories and Seyhak Son is one of them. Seyhak started his business in 2001 when he was just 17 years old. He learned the skill from his mother and sister at a young age and has been perfecting his it, as well as his business savvy, ever since.
Seyhak has adapted his style over the years and uses a mixture of traditional and more contemporary designs. He is also very adaptable and can custom make most orders to suit any client’s taste.
Seyhak comes from Kampong Cham province, two hours from Phnom Penh, and still buys his clay from the village he grew up in, maintaining a connection with the place where he learned his trade. The clay is usually delivered once a year in one huge truckload. The clay itself costs $100 for seven or eight tons, but to transport it from Kampong Cham to Siem Reap costs nearly eight times as much. However, he tells us that this particular clay (of which he mixes half with locally sourced clay) is better quality and worth the extra transport cost to get it to his workshop in Siem Reap.
His business has grown considerably since 2001 and has been so successful because he has worked extremely hard at making it a viable one, by not only selling his products at AHA, but also selling custom made products to various hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Ambitious Seyhak still doesn’t see his business as successful yet, or at least as successful as he wants it to be, and has many plans for the future. At the moment he has 12 employees, but in the future he would like to employ more skilled people. Many of his employees have various skills and he wants to employ more ceramicists who can combine those skills and techniques, which will in turn speed up the production of his products. He says that he would also like to hire a marketing person to help promote his handicrafts to various hotels around Siem Reap.
Many tourists who come to Siem Reap may not realise the hard work and dedication that goes into creating handmade crafts. As with many other artisans in Siem Reap province, Seyhak has to compete with those who sell machine made, imported products that are usually cheaper; he says “Siem Reap is a tourist destination and most of my customers are tourists, so it’s very important to artisans like me that tourists come and buy locally made handicrafts like the ones here at AHA. These are real products that are not imported.”
However, he doesn’t let this deter him and has many ways to show potential customers that his products are genuinely handmade in Cambodia. One way is that he writes Cambodia underneath all of his products. However many fakes can have this, so Seyhak also uses the AHA seal of authenticity which proves that his products are made in Siem Reap.
While being an artisan and aspiring business person at the same time isn’t the easiest task and takes much hard work and business know-how, many simply do it for the love of their craft and to keep traditions alive. Seyhak’s story is an inspiring one and shows that it is in fact possible to do what you love and make a living out of it.