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Shopping For Someone I Like

January 20, 2020
For Someone I Like

For Someone I Like

Nestled on the corner of St. 135 and St.460 in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tompong district sits the whimsically named boutique, For Someone I like.  This little shop is a treasure trove of beautiful trinkets, quality homegoods, and finely crafted jewelry. But what makes the items on offer truly special is their deep connection to Cambodia.  That connection is the soul of the shop. Shop owner Leakhena goes to great lengths to ensure that the products she features are crafted with Cambodian materials and/or forged by generational artisans. This is no easy task, as Cambodian craftsmanship was decimated during the Khmer Rouge, and youth today show little interest in reviving the artisanal methodologies of days past.  Yet for Leakhena the motivation to build partnerships with local artisans and showcase their wares in her shop is deeply personal. When her mother passed away 7 years ago she realized she knew little about Cambodian culture. To remedy this, she made the bold decision to move to Cambodia and get to know it well enough to be able to call it “home.”

When you visit  For Someone I Like and delve into its meticulously curated goods, you immediately feel that there’s an intention to showcase Cambodia’s artisanal history.  I sat down with Leakhena to talk about her Cambodian roots and how maintaining a connection to her mother evolved into a meaningful curio shop.   

 

For Someone I Like

Shop owner Leakhena (right) and assistant Manovong

 

Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you started For Someone I like?

I am Khmer, born in Phnom Penh, raised in the U.S. My family made the arduous journey to the refugee camp when I was nine months old and remained there until I was four.  Naturally, this shaped so much of my identity. 

I studied International Relations at an American university in Paris, with the hope that I could join the United Nations or the handful of organizations that were so pivotal in the lives of people like myself. I even spent an entire summer interning for an NGO in Phnom Penh.

After my studies however, I moved to New York City and fell into private sector work and there started my actual work experience in marketing for a big French luxury group.  Although, at first I was disappointed at not landing a job of ‘service’, I eventually came to appreciate and love my job and started to build out business skill sets that would become important as an entrepreneur.

For Someone I Like

Limited-edition art prints and woven goods made in Cambodia are available in the shop

What was your intention when starting your business? 

After eight years in NYC, I moved to PP four years ago with the intention of setting up the infrastructure/manufacturing for my own brand and commuting between both countries.  

The ethos that governs the shop today has always been there, even in those early days, which was to create a socially-minded business that helped to preserve the heritage of Khmer handicrafts.  

After a year or so of research on the availability of raw materials and local artisan capabilities, I met so many wonderful people and also came to realize that so many creative products/brands existed in Cambodia; and yet what a shame that there was not one permanent place you could find all these unique locally produced goods, with the exception of a few seasonal bazaars.

The idea of a brick and mortar shop, showcasing local, creative, handmade work from the community, began to form and overtake the personal brand I had prior envisioned.

It was my Khmer pride that took over my well thought out business plan! 

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A hand-carved Buddha is just one of many special finds at For Someone I Like

Why do you feel it’s important to feature Cambodian artisans?

My number one goal in opening the shop is to have an inspirational cocoon for the local community and to help re-instill pride for Khmer-made ideas and products. We have long looked outside to other countries and cultures for inspiration. I want Cambodia to also be a source of inspiration and pride for the community, especially for Khmer youth hoping to work in the creative space. 

For Someone I Like

Leakhena goes to great lengths to source items made by generational artisans.

Who are your customers?  What brings them to your shop?

My customers are mostly all local. A much bigger percentage of expats versus local Khmer, but we are starting to have more and more young Khmer creatives coming in now, interested in the space, concept, and products. I believe everyone that is drawn to the shop is looking for unique quality goods that are locally produced. They are looking for goods with soul – the opposite feeling of mass consumption.

For Someone I Like
Who has influenced you as a business owner?  

My personal heroes are my parents for many reasons. The more obvious reason is that they were both artists and therefore influenced my love of art, design, and culture. My father was a painter, sculptor, and jeweler in his youth, and currently has a career as a lighting designer. And my mother, both a Royal University of Fine Arts graduate and teacher, was a traditional dancer and film star. I have been dancing and touring Cambodian classical and folk dance before I could walk. Exposure to Khmer culture started at a very young age for me. The appreciation and pride however, came much later (thank you, mom!).

For Someone I Like

This unbeatable duo is a wealth of knowledge.

What are some of your favorite items that you carry in your shop?

My favorite items in the shop are mostly vintage, antique, or specialty objects like the numerous hand-carved silver vessels. Things were made with such care before and that is something that I truly appreciate and am passionate about.

For Someone I Like

So many beautiful treasures!

Why do you place a great emphasis on ethically made/sustainable items?

I don’t think there’s any other way to do business these days. Before the days of social media sharing, perhaps there was a lack of information and therefore a lack of knowledge. But these days you are equipped with knowledge of the negative consequences of doing business at the expense of people and the environment. Not to mention there is a great overall feeling to participate in a movement of positive impact.

Perusing rare vintage items juxtaposed with ethically crafted modern trinkets, it’s easy to see that Leakhena has a passion for Cambodia’s past as well as for its future. Next time you need a gift for someone you like, you now know exactly where to go.

For More information please visit:

Instagram For Someone I Like

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