Rare is the enlightened consumer in Cambodia who buys brand names expecting them to be of first quality or to be the designers’ true product.
Whether toasters or t-shirts, the goods can be counted on to be fake. In the case of electronics and appliances (and, for that matter, pharmaceuticals), it can be hard to separate the counterfeit from the genuine, the factory supplied or the criminal contrived, seconds from firsts.
Consequently, those who can travel themselves, know international travelers or possess the means to have merchandise shipped in at a cost of approximately $50 per package (naturally depending on the size, weight and carrier) rely on sources outside Cambodia for peace of mind.
We simply don’t trust what we buy here, though certainly it is possible to shop with a degree of confidence at an insignificant number of reputable retailers that what we are buying is what it is supposed to be.
That said, I now understand how easy it is to pass off counterfeit clothing, which is everywhere, as the real thing in Cambodia.
I recently had the opportunity to visit a street of shops in the sprawling Toul Kork neighborhood. There, I passed shophouses in which I could see women bent over sewing machines or hand-sewing items in what seemed liked semi-darkness sheltered as they are from the glaring sun in the open façades.
Such are not the infamous clothing factories in which women work unholy hours in equally unholy conditions for a pittance. Yet I wouldn’t say that where and how the women I saw working must be better.
Other shophouses were selling all manner of sewing supplies, from trim to fine fabric. They line the street for a distance of a long block or two.
Within a double-wide shop, I had to make my way around an automobile parked virtually in the middle of bolts and plastic bags of supplies, a feature that is not uncommon in Phnom Penh’s storefronts. At the rear of the store, I glimpsed a child playing and other members of the family that owns the enterprise in their kitchen. I wandered around stacks of trim, mounds of ornament and rolls of fabric, most of it used for linings, so it seemed to my uninitiated eyes.
Then I came upon hillocks and hanging rows of labels — among those I recall, H&M and Champion — waiting to be cut and sewn into clothing. Anyone can buy them, attach them to shirts, skirts, trousers, dresses and sports outfits.
Just snip, sew and scam.