Rachel Dodson from Penh Lenh
It’s always so amazing to learn more about a brand, and why it exists in the first place. This Beyond the Brand interview with the beautiful Rachel is no different. Penh Lenh is a business that I fell in love with when I first came across it. The products are super stunning, they are affordable (a huge bonus) and on top that, they do good. Lots of good actually.
If you want to learn more about Penh Lenh and it’s mission is to empower marginalised and at-risk women in Cambodia to pursue their life goals through quality education and sustaining employment you can read my earlier blog post here. Otherwise, grab a cuppa and enjoy learning a bit more about the story behind Penh Lenh.
What made you start Penh Lenh?
After several years of working as a modeling agent and owning my own agency in Nashville, I moved to NYC to work at an agency and climb up the proverbial ladder. I had been aware of the issue of sex trafficking and exploitation, however, once I moved to New York I spent time educating myself further on the issue. As I learned more about these issues and the lack of opportunities for marginalised and at-risk young women I literally hit a point where I HAD to do something. In college I studied business and marketing, so the idea of creating a social business was something that made sense to me and felt more sustainable in the long term.
Penh Lenh truly became a reality and necessity after I traveled to Cambodia and felt the weight of the need for a program like Penh Lenh.
What is something others wouldn't know about Cambodia and creating work there that you think they should?
Cambodia is full of talented, creative, hardworking, joyful people who often just lack the opportunity. I came in as an outsider, who did not know the language or the culture and was welcomed with open arms. After four years of being here, I now know the language and have developed deeper relationships. Everyone we have created partnerships with here is Cambodia is incredibly talented and kind. Not to mention, there is an endless inspiration in this beautiful country.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
The typical pressure that comes along with owning a business is a feeling I had known before, however, there is also an emotional stress that comes with running a social business. Working with the specific demographic of young women that Penh Lenh employs comes with new challenging I was unfamiliar with in the beginning. Not only did I feel responsible to keep the business going for each artisans’ financial security, but I felt a responsibility to their emotional wellbeing, health and future. After four years, I am able to balance these pressures and recognise that it is because of these challenges I am able to stay motivated and passionate to give my all day after day. But this has definitely been the most challenging part of the work.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question we ask which is 'who made my clothes?', In the scope of Penh Lenh, who made your jewelry? Can you tell us a bit about them?
Our artisans are strong, vibrant, hilarious, persevering, and straight up champions. Each has their own unique story of triumph. Through all of their struggles and challenges, they are the most resilient and inspiring young women I have the privilege to know. I could name a million things that make our artisans special. From the way they care for another and have each other's backs, to the way Srey Vin sings at full volume when she has her headphones in, or how Heng has an unending love for Justin Bieber, or how Srey Ya laughs in a way that it is impossible not to laugh with here. SongLy is always up for a good prank and even when Srey Mao is the receiver of the pranks she is selfless to her core and only wants to serve the artisans with all her heart. I have found that most people expect there to be a sadness in working with young women with backgrounds similar to our artisans, however, the opposite could not be more true. There is a hope and joy that far outweighs the despair.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
I purchased my first business when I was 20 years old; one of the oldest and most respected modeling agencies in Tennessee. The women I purchased the business from encouraged me to be confident and respect myself. She told me that I would likely be going to meetings with (mostly men) much older and experienced than I was, but if I held my head high and led with bold confidence not questioning my own authority, others would follow suit. I took her advice and anyone who ever did question me and my ability I simply used as motivation to prove them wrong.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
I would have to pass on the same advice that I was given! Believe in yourself and be confident. People will only believe in you (and your product) to the degree that you believe in yourself nd the value you give yourself.
Where do you envision Penh Lenh in the future?
My mission for Penh Lenh has always been to empower marginalised and at-risk women in Cambodia to pursue their life goals through quality education and sustaining employment. I never want to lose sight of this. My goal is simple -to continue to grow as a business so we can empower more and more women through education and job opportunities.
We have some awesome community outreach programs that our artisans lead as well, so as we grow as a team, our outreach grows as well. This is something we are really proud of and our artisans love making an impact here locally in their communities.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
Honestly, day to day life here in Cambodia with our artisans is what inspires me and keeps me motivated. Peoples’ needs are so evident and instead of seeing it as a hopeless place, I see the opportunity for change and impact. I’m inspired by our artisan's desire and perseverance to work hard and change their own lives. I’m inspired by so many Cambodians who are champions for change here. Anyone who sees a social justice issue and cannot stay still or silent inspires me.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
The absolute first thing I do is make coffee. I am a coffee addict and I can freely admit it. I usually drink my coffee as I get ready. I’ll also watch Youtube as I get ready; typically clips from the US late night shows like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallow. It helps me still feel connected to my home country and a lighthearted way to catch up on the news. I have a Bible app on my phone, so before I leave for work, I read the “verse of the day.” I’ll read it a few times until something stands out to me in a new or different way and then I take time to pray before I leave for work.
One book everyone should read? Why?
Love Does by Bob Goff.
This book will encourage you to live a fully engaged life! You’ll be motivated to love better and live fuller after reading this book!
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
One of our partners at Penh Lenh is The Little Market and I LOVE everything they are doing. They have amazing fair trade products and a blog highlighting great work around the world. Also, Catherine Harry is a video blogger here in Cambodia who is doing huge work empowering women and raising aware about important topics which you can check out here.
If you want to purchase your own little piece of Penh Lenh and help impact the lives of women in Cambodia you can do so here.
Follow along on their journey via their socials on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.