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Our3Q – Smateria, Cambodia

Jennifer – owner of Smateria, a social enterprise with two very clear objectives: creating beautiful, high-quality products using ‘bizarre’ materials, and employing Cambodian workers in a fair and sustainable way, giving priority to women and mothers.


Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?

Lately we celebrated our 9th anniversary and it was a really good one. All the people are still with us beside one. And we grow together with them. Together with Elisa, my partner, we put in the initial money, we put our ideas, we supervise, but to be honest, nothing would be possible without our staff, we have amazing people working with us. The biggest success is to see people to be happy to work with us and to grow together. It’s so interesting to see how the girls become mothers, happy to bring their children to the workshop to our school… we can observe as from really young girls they become women.


Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?

Consistency. We were growing so much, we decided to stop now, because it starts to be too big. The challenge is to be consistent with products. We come with one new collection every year. The aim is to do something different than what you can find in Cambodia. Diversity is what matters here. At the same time we want to make sure that products are of good quality. We had people copying us of course, but they gave up because working with material which we use is not easy and quality work is even more difficult. Consistency is what I think is the most challenging. I’ve seen during those years so many shops, restaurants which were closed. You have to always keep going, thinking: which direction we should go with our products, which direction we should go with our team, how to make them happy because happy people work so much better. The truth is if you keep them happy, we are happy, they are happy, everybody is happy. It sounds like fairy tale, of course we also go through very difficult times, it’s challenging but so much worth to continue.


Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?

To be honest, I hope we can stay this size. Or maybe slightly bigger but not too much because if you go too big, you lose control. It was really challenging over the years when we transformed it. When you have 20 people you know everything about the person, about family and now, when we hire more than 100 people it’s not really possible anymore. But we still somehow manage to have control of what’s going on. If it grows even bigger it starts to be impossible. It will require different thing, we would have to hire some specialized manager and we are a little bit jealous of our company, we don’t really want to give it to anybody. We feel free to manage the way we want to manage and we are very happy the way we do it.


Would you like to add somehing more?

The day we decided to open the company, we also decided principles we want to follow. We had to find out what it means good salary, which wages and benefits we can top up. We also discovered that health care is not really working here so we top up with a private health insurance. We offer it to each employee, in case they are sick they can go for treatment for free. We checked also what people consider to be the most important holidays and we give them extra money for those occasions. And then after some time it occurred that there is a big need for some place for children as mothers started to bring them to the workshop, which is not really safe. So we opened a kindergarten free of charge up to the age of 6 as we wanted older one to attend normal public schools. But they are still free to come after classes or when the school is closed. Another rule is that we hire anybody who applies. We take into consideration only skills, doesn’t matter the origin, religion, if the person is disable or not. Saying that… I don’t even think all those things are so social. It’s just normal. If I had a job in Italy or Poland, maybe I would not have a school free of charge for my children but I would have all the other things. We are not doing anything special. We are bringing this model here, to Cambodia, which is just fair.


The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.


Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 7th  December, 2015

ID: 021/100

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