We are back with more of our favourite Fair Trade and Ethical Fashion posts – spotlighting those companies and organizations that are working hard to produce amazing quality products made lovingly and ethically. Real people make our stuff friends! Check out all the other posts in our Purchases That Make a Difference series.

Malia Designs Carry the Cause

 From Cambodia With Love

Malia Designs

Cambodia is notoriously known for trafficking. Men, women and children are forced into labour, the majority of it for the sex trade, both internally and across the border, bringing victims in from Thailand and Vietnam. The combination of widespread poverty and almost non-existent state support systems make the nation’s women and children easy targets for traffickers.

Cambodia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked into sexual exploitation and forced labor. Many Cambodian women and children are trafficked to Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan destined for brothels, factories or domestic labor. Cambodian men are trafficked primarily to Thailand for forced labor in the construction, agriculture, and fishing industries. A significant number of Cambodian children are trafficked to Vietnam and Thailand for the purpose of forced begging. (World Vision Traffick Report)

Cambodia is considered a Tier 2 watch list country in the trafficking industry, meaning the situation there is very bad and growing worse, while the government is doing very little to combat the issue. There are fewer and fewer people that can be trusted as a growing majority of trafficked victims are sold or ensnared by someone they know.

The weight of the burdens these precious souls carry on their shoulders makes my heart heavy – there is so much pain and suffering, what can I possibly do from half a world away?

Actually, quite a lot! I can seek out companies that restore and employ the rescued and support their work and the work of organizations working to end human trafficking with my purchases. It really is that simple!

It’s in crises and situations like these that a company like Malia Designs can offer a breath of fresh air through restoration, a chance at a new life, and a picture of hope for the future.

We had a quick chat with the team over at Malia Designs about why they do what they do, and the impact it has on the lives of the people they’re connecting us with through the purchases we make.

Malia Designs Cambodia

What inspired the creation of Malia Designs?

Malia Designs started as a way to help fight human trafficking. Lia (our founder and president) was greatly inspired by both the Cambodians she met on her first journey to Southeast Asia 15 years ago, and the beautiful textiles that are unique to the region. She thought bringing these products to the western market could make for a viable and profitable business, and also give back by providing economic opportunity to vulnerable populations through employment.

Malia impact

Why is fair trade important and how does it make a difference in the lives of your artisans?

I think fair trade is important for a multitude of reasons, but one of the big ones is the power that it has to not only improve, but transform lives. The idea that the purchase of a fair trade handbag or accessory provides a woman with secure and reliable employment, with fair wages and safe working conditions is one thing, but to also realize that through her work this woman also now has a support system, community and path to realize her dreams is amazing.

Malia Designs Cambodia sewing center

I think of a woman that is HIV positive that works with one of our artisan co-ops in a rural village in Cambodia. Prior to her employment she could not afford healthcare or the drugs necessary for her treatment and suffered greatly from depression, often unable to get out of bed. Now that she has started sewing with the co-op, she not only has the income necessary for her medical treatment, but she has a support group of women who care about her and has found a purpose in life. In the words of the co-op supervisor, “Now she has hope.”

Why human trafficking awareness and why in Cambodia?

It was on Lia’s first trip to Cambodia that she became aware of human trafficking and how prevalent it is in Cambodia. At the time (in the year 2000), there was far less awareness of human trafficking as both an international and domestic human rights issue. Perhaps Lia was somewhat naïve at the time, but she was also very moved and quite enraged that this injustice was something facing many young women and children in Cambodia—that their lives; their entire existence could be bought and sold. The limited options available to many families because of the abject poverty they faced was something that broke her heart.

Damnok Toek Cambodia

We work with an incredible organization, Damnok Toek, which operates three child centers in Cambodia. They provide full time care for approximately 160 children in these centers who have been rescued from situations of trafficking, neglect and abuse. They are very community oriented and also provide services such as vocational education, formal education and treat 100 children a day in Damnok Toek run clinics.

One of the reasons we chose Damnok Toek is they are completely Khmer (Cambodian) run, so they have the cultural knowledge necessary to deal with many of the complex issues these children and their families are facing, and are able to help them reintegrate with Khmer society and their families of origin if possible.

What is the greatest impact or joy you have witnessed through the artisans that Malia Designs empowers?

I think that one of the greatest things about our business model is one of the simplest, and that is the more handbags that we sell, the more people we are able to help. Because of this we have witnessed our artisan partners grow tremendously since we started 10 years ago and that growth is what keeps us motivated. We have a really great relationship with the women we work with in Cambodia and the journey for all of us has not always been easy, but we have certainly been in it together and that has made all of the blood, sweat and tears worth it. These women are actually some of my personal heroes, and witnessing and experiencing their passion is both moving and motivating.

Malia Designs Recycled Feed Bag Cambodia

What would you say to empower the consumer to change the way they shop and instead turn their focus on purchases that can make a difference?

How the stuff we buy is made matters! And it matters a lot . . . especially when we are talking fashion.

Malia Designs Travel Wallet Cambodia

The fashion industry is the most labor dependent industry in the world. By choosing to purchase fair trade or ethically made items of apparel and accessories you are casting a vote with your dollars that supports a fair and sustainable way of doing business.

That fair trade is a social justice movement.

That if everyone incorporated just one fair trade purchase into their shopping habit, thousands, literally thousands of lives would be transformed.

That real people with hopes and dreams and families and struggles are the ones who are paying the price when it comes to fast fashion.

And finally, that the item you purchase will likely be one of superior quality and design and will serve you well in more ways than one.


We want to connect you with the hands and hearts of the people who make the things we purchase. Start here by following Malia Designs and enter to win a Recycled Cement Bag Messenger Bag!

Malia Designs Carry the Cause Giveaway


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