Helene Ang wants to remind people that Cambodia has a rich history of silk weaving. Helene was born in Cambodia in 1979, her parents survivors of the genocide perpetrated by the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge regime that killed an estimated 1.87 million people between 1975 and 1979.
My mum was pregnant with me while she worked clearing landmines,” says Ang, referring to the millions of landmines laid during this period. “It was a crazy time. When Vietnamese troops liberated Cambodia in early 1979, my parents escaped to the Thai border – I can’t remember a thing.” After time in a refugee camp in Thailand (her brother was born there), the family immigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1983. “My parents had to start from scratch,” she says. “They worked two jobs so I could go to school.”
It was some vintage Cambodian silks that her mother had salvaged after the genocide that inspired her to follow her creative dream.
That is when KBEN & HOL, a luxurious and ethical home decor and textiles brand that fuses traditional techniques with contemporary designs, was born (kben is a traditional Khmer garment, while hol is the Khmer name for Cambodia’s resist dyeing technique, used to create patterned silk designs). The name was inspired by our first cushion design, where a vintage kben and hol were paired to create a one-of-a-kind silk cushion,” Helene says.
The brand sources high-quality natural materials (silk and cotton), rare Cambodian golden silk and natural dyes where possible. All pieces are handwoven and hand dyed. “I work directly with the artisans,” says Helene. Maintaining a sustainable income for the female artisans is a key element of the brand’s ethos, she adds.