From Kampot to Myer: the journey of Cambodian fashion label Dorsu


To a slow fashion apparel brand in rural Cambodia, Australia’s sophisticated fashion capital of Melbourne seems a world away – and not just geographically. Yet Dorsu, which positions itself as an ethical and sustainable clothing maker, has overcome geographic and socioeconomic barriers to establish itself in the Australian market. Earlier this year, the brand made a debut inside Myer’s Bourke Street Mall flagship store and became the first Cambodian apparel brand to be stocked by the Aussi

ssie retailer. 

Dorsu’s Melbourne connection began with the 100 per cent Khmer-owned company supplying corporate clothing to an Australian tech company Atlassian for many years. Hanna Guy, the former Australian CEO, and Kunthear Mov established the brand as a social enterprise. Two years ago, Vanna Sann bought the business and committed to upholding the same ideals, commitment, and concentration as its founders.

In Khmer, the national language of Cambodia, Dorsu means “persistence” or “resilience”. 

“Dorsu is a very powerful motivating term and concept that’s often used to describe a difficult situation,” said Sann, who is also GM at Dorsu. 

“So it’s kind of like […] keep going in the face of really hard, difficult circumstances. And for myself, it was a word that my mother always motivated me to [get] through any challenges. So it’s very much a symbol of hope from Cambodia.” 

The company was established on the tenets that clothing should be made in a way that embraces people and harms the environment as little as possible.

Dorsu purchases remnant fabric, often known as deadstock or waste, from local vendors in Phnom Penh. The excessive supply of fabric for lengthy fashion runs is a major contributor to the 92 million tonnes of waste Greenpeace estimates is created annually by the world’s fashion industry.  

In Cambodia, the Dorsu team comes to the warehouses to buy rolls of fabric by the kilogram which are then burn tested to make sure it has very few or no synthetic fibres.

“Better for people equals better for planet”

As consumers worldwide are becoming more aware of the waste produced through the fashion industry – both in production and through fast-fashion being worn only a few times before it is discarded – sustainability is becoming more of a concern to major brands. From luxury makers like Dior and Gucci to fast-fashion labels like Zara and H&M, the industry is working towards cleaning up its sustainability credentials.

To Sann, sustainable fashion encompasses both consumer behaviour and the resources used in materials. 

“The most sustainable garments are the ones that you’re going to use for a long time, not the ones that you buy explicitly because you want to take a photograph posted on Instagram and then throw it away the next day,” he told Inside Retail. 

When it comes to fashion, people typically think of trends, seasonal collections, or simply what well-known celebrities are wearing, which makes sustainable fashion seem “contradictory” to the fundamental concept of fashion.

But for Sann and Dorsu, fashion is about individual expression and creativity through clothing. From the outset, Dorsu has followed its own direction, which is free from fashion trends and demands to produce numerous collections annually.

“We are a part of the slow fashion movement, which means we want all of that – including the production – to slow down. I’m not saying stop making clothing, but let’s do it in a way that’s mindful of the impact that it has on the planet and on the people who make the clothing. I’m not against trends,” Sann said. 

The impact on the environment from how the company operates is a top priority for Dorsu, across its entire supply chain. This includes incorporating salvaged surplus fabric into its designs and employing packaging made of fabric scraps. The brand uses vegetable ink on its swing tags, which are made from 100 per cent recycled cardboard. Chemical-free cleaning supplies are used in the factory, and the production studio primarily runs off collected tank water.

“So rather than importing virgin textiles, or adding to the demand and pressure for more resources, and resource extraction, our philosophy is just to use what’s available,” Sann explained. 

Sustainable workforce

The working conditions for garment workers in Cambodia are frequently subpar and occasionally deadly, with lengthy shifts, minimal compensation, and risky transportation. In addition to providing employees with a different, respectful work atmosphere, Dorsu pledges to manage a secure and inclusive garment production facility.

Staff work 40 hours per week and workers are paid a livable wage when they first start out – 30 per cent more than the minimum wage required by Cambodian law for apparel workers. Additional benefits include secure contracts, safety training, and a generous leave policy that includes breaks for parents. 

Kampot is a riverside city in Cambodia’s south, known for its pepper plantations and salt fields. It’s relatively isolated and a world away from Australia.

“The community that we’re in, Kampot, there’s nothing. There are no jobs, no businesses, no companies, there are just some casino developments and other kinds of things. 

“For us to have a business in that community, where we employ 20 to 25 people, women are often the biggest breadwinner in their family. We’re supporting their families, which means supporting their communities. It’s really helpful to build that social sustainability through the community. I think that is the key emphasis of our workforce.” 

Australian expansion

Australia has always played an important role in Dorsu’s development, according to Sann, and the brand has a close connection with the community there with people who really believe in its mission. 

Sustainable fashion is in growing demand and there are numerous sustainable brands emerging in Australia. However, Dorsu believes its distinction from other labels is that it is made in Cambodia. He says the company wants customers to be proud to purchase products created in Cambodia – and confident in their quality.

“I think we really lean into being a Cambodian brand and that’s a very unique position for us to have in Australia since people are [more] familiar with Australian products. We believe locally made products are wonderful as well. But we also think there’s value in products being made fairly in a place like Cambodia.” 

Sann added that one of the best things about sustainable and ethical enterprises is that they function as a community where members can help and support one another.

“We don’t really see each other as competitors,” he said.

“I think in the traditional sense, we’re not trying to fight over market share. We’re trying to grow the overall market together. The sustainable fashion industry is still quite small, compared to the larger industry. And I think there’s much more [of a] community mentality and thinking about how we can help and support one another.” 


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