Fashion Boutiques Multiplying in Phnom Penh

Sporting a stylish blue-hooded sweater, tight whitewashed jeans, designer shoes and a carefully groomed head of hair, Sok Salvi­chrou, a 20-year-old student, was roaming the streets of Phnom Penh searching for a new outfit.

“I am looking for some clothes, a shirt and pants for a party tonight,” he said, eyeing a designer shirt at a clothes rack at a new boutique on Street 19 called Xstyle, which opened in December 2009. “I attend a lot of parties, and when I buy clothes, it depends on whether I think my clothes are going out of style or not.”

As Cambodia’s youth move to Phnom Penh to take up jobs or university studies, they are finding a consumerist way of life increasingly important, spawning a plethora of small-scale boutique fashion shops around the city.

Shop owners say large-scale malls largely packed with cheap merchandise no longer suffice for many young Cambodians who are interested in taking care of their appearance.

According to Matthew Rendall, a partner at Sciaroni & Associates, there has been a marked increase in the amount of high-end goods for sale in Phnom Penh in recent years, partly because of a previous lack of local supply.

“A lot of the people who can af­ford to buy these goods were buy­ing overseas, because a lot of high-end goods were not available, he said. “Now, as some people are able to find the cash to open shops on their own, they are realizing they can buy what they want locally.”

In just a few kilometers’ radius, new boutiques are appearing seemingly out of nowhere. On Street 136 close to Phsar Thmei, there are rows of recently opened fashion boutiques, including the new women’s boutique Kamikazy, which opened in May.

On Street 154 on Tuesday, a film crew was on site to shoot promotional videos for the year-old women’s boutique Catalog, just down the street from where another boutique is under construction. Then there is Sihanouk Boulevard, which already boasts five fashion shops and could see another 10 open by year’s end, according to Souven Lee, marketing manager of Sovereign Retail Group, which owns the retail outlets E.pse, Axara Paris and VNC on Sihanouk Boulevard.

“This year we will see tons of new shops open in Phnom Penh, and Sihanouk Boulevard will be the shopping destination for everything-shoes, lingerie, and clothes,” said Mr Lee, who will be opening a branch of the major Spanish brand Mango on Sihanouk Boulevard later this year. “There was a boom in fashion boutiques in 2008, but the real boom I would say happened right at the end of 2010.”

He said the majority of his clientele fall between the ages of 16 and 35, of which around 85 percent live in Phnom Penh and the rest come from abroad.

“We are finding that more and more there is an emergence of a middle class who are willing to spend, and love to shop,” he said. Last year, Sovereign Retail saw 5 percent growth compared to 2009, and still sees untapped market potential, he said. “The average customer at one of our shops will buy one or two items, while some of our wealthier customers buy three, four, or more.”

Ong Sopheak, owner of Xstyle, said that sales at his business have nearly doubled since the shop opened in December 2009. He now makes around $400 a day.

Customers “have their routine money, and then there is the 50 to 60 percent of their savings that they spend on clothes,” he said, adding that for a store like his to work, he has to import clothes and accessories from Hong Kong and Thailand.

Much like the fashion trends of the west, there also seems to be an emergence of people who buy clothes solely for one time use, said Mr Sopheak.

“Young generations like to change their style a lot, buying clothes for the sole purpose of wearing them to one event, like a party or wedding.” he said.

For the owner of VS Fashion on Street 19, who likes to be referred to simply as “Jackie,” the growing importance of style and fashion in Phnom Penh culture stems from the influence of media and television on people’s daily lives.

“People spend a lot of time watching television, like the Korean station MYTV,” she said. “They watch the singers on the television and their style, fall in love with the music and clothing, and want to imitate it,”

She added that the next big step for fashion outlets would be online shopping.

With profits continuing to rise in 2010, and more competition on the way, shop owners and analysts expect the fashion industry to balloon even further.

“I think that in not more than two years we could see another 200 shops will open,” said 22-year-old Korm Marika, owner of Kamikazy. “Our country now is developing and as more foreign investors come to our country with their own styles that will be completely new to Cambodia, people will want to follow that,” she said.

And that is exactly what seems to be happening. High-end clothes boutiques that were originally targeting foreigners are seeing an influx of local customers that mean boutique owners are beginning to accommodate for a new type clientele.

“We are seeing more of local and Asian customers then ever before,” said Sandrine Bury, owner of casualwear and children’s boutique Subtyl on Street 240. “We are selling mostly to foreigners, and a size ‘S’ for us might be a size ‘XL’ for them, so I think going forward, we will need to offer more sizes.”

Ms Bury, who makes her clothes here in Phnom Penh, says that Asian traditional style uses very dense fabric, and can be somewhat uncomfortable, paving the way for clothes with foreign sensibilities.

“It can be very hot. And sticky, and tight,” she said. “Traditional dresses are sophisticated, with lots of flowers. What we offer is much more simple.”

“I think clothes is very important for today’s teenager to keep up to date,” said 27-year-old Tep Kanika, who was at Xstyle shopping for her brother.

“I want my brother to go on dates, so I spend money on his clothes, even though sometimes I don’t want to buy them. But if I find it attractive I’ll just buy them anyway,” she said laughing.


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