It’s still early enough in the New Year to look back at what 2009 was for Cambodia Knits and what we’ve accomplished.

Back in June, I was lucky enough to find 5 knitters, two of whom were already very experienced, to start up CK. We had many challenges in translating patterns into Khmer, learning new ways to knit (me English style, they continental style) and finding materials. We found two amazing designers Raynor Gellatly and Rebecca Danger who were willing to let us use their patterns to knit up and sell the finished products locally. We experimented with local acrylic yarn, some cotton yarn brought from the US by a friend and a variety of yarns bought in Bangkok, Thailand.

One of the biggest challenges was finding suppliers willing to sell to us at wholesale prices without expecting orders in the hundreds of kilograms. I must have spent literally hundreds of hours online trying to track down factories that accept small orders for things like safety eyes, yarn and needles. Each time I succeeded was a minor victory! Thanks to the following we can import the small quantity of supplies we need: 8Season-Knitting, Beisica Cashmere and New Li Yen.

Next came finding and training new knitters. After meeting with Davy from City Hall, we decided to work with the Toul Sambo community, which had recently been relocated from Borei Keila in Phnom Penh. Over the course of a month in October and November, we trained 18 knitters (13 women, 5 men) in basic knitting skills and taught them how to make the finger puppets. We were able to do this in large part because of the generosity of sponsors from as far as Sweden, Hawaii, the UK and Canada. One major challenge was finding ways to present patterns for those who could not read and making sure the trainers could, well, train! As of January 12th, 2010, all but one of the people we trained at TS are knitting for us and many more are interested in starting.

Finally, and very importantly, we started to sell our products. We started at Cafe Living Room and expanded to four other locations around the city. We participated in several pre-holiday sales and took orders from Canada. The reactions have been very, very positive! Everyone loves Penelope and the finger puppets always get a great response.

So in summary, we:

– Trained 24 knitters from two communities
– Sell products at five local retail locations
– Currently employ 6 full time staff
– Have 27 piece rate knitters producing our products
– Provided health insurance to our full time staff
– Developed partnerships with other local NGOs and businesses with similar values and models
– Found sponsorships for 19 knitters in training

All this has been possible thanks to the generous support of friends and family and all of you out there who have given advice, words of wisdom, connections and links. We recently received two large yarn donations from the Around the Bay Guild and from a Ravelry member in California. We can use these yarns to experiment with different fibers and needles, colours and see what we can create. We’ve also received financial donations from generous supporters (both large and small, but always helpful!) which have helped us make sure salaries are paid on time and that we have the resources to do what we do.

All in all, I think we’ve come pretty far in a short time. Here’s to an even better 2010.