How did you get into designing?
I have always been interested in designing ever since I was a little kid. Whenever I could, I preferred to make things myself using hard-to- find fabric with interesting prints that I collected from my travels. I made all kinds of clothes and accessories for friends and family. Whether they liked or not they got it!
Tell us a little about your brand.
VoeurnChea is a vibrant and colourful brand that creates unique, classic accessories for the stylish world wanderer. Inspired by vivid colours and minimalist designs, the perfect accessory we believe takes you from day to night and across the globe with ease. Timeless pieces that invoke the spirit of wanderlust and encourage a life of luxurious adventure. Perfect for travelling abroad and made to match any outfit. VoeurnChea’s designs allow you to travel lightly and simply while staying true to your stylish self. Statement pieces that boldly declare your individuality, who you are and where you’re going in the world.
How did you come up with the name?
My grandfather’s passing was the catalyst for me feeling that I should reconnect with my Cambodian past but there was never a good reason to actually do anything about it. After some sleepless nights I threw out all my research and thought bugger this, I am who I am, granddad always called me Voeurn (in fact he’s the only person that called me by this name and I never liked it, despite its beautiful meaning, it sounded odd). Reminiscing my childhood and the happy times with my Grandfather I finally found the connection gap to my Cambodian past. VoeurnChea is a combination of my Cambodian name, Soksavoeurn, my late Father’s name Savoeurn and my Grandfather’s family name, Chea. My Father, whom I never knew, passed away when I was just a toddler. It all made sense to me that these two men should be a part my journey and the forward chapters in my life.
What were your design inspirations?
The real light bulb moment came when I was fumbling though my oversize handbag at airport customs looking for my passport that had fallen to the bottom of the bag. Through the junk in my bag it took forever to find it and the stress at the thought that I had lost it. The situation carried through at the duty free shops, at the boarding gate and even when I thought I was settled in my seat on the plane. “Your arrival card madam”…heck my handbag is in the overhead locker. The dilemma of ‘shall I swing out of my seat like an orang-utan and try not to disturb my fellow cabin neighbours?’, or do I just wait for an appropriate time. I’m a pretty organised person and usually I would want to fill the form out, to get it over and done with, so I won’t need to bother with it after landing! Wouldn’t it be great to have a small travel pouch that fits in the pocket compartment in front of my seat!
I thought about how many times this problem frustrated me, not having my crucial travel documents in easy reach. I observed other women and their relationship with their oversize handbags at the airport and on the streets of Sydney. I saw potential in my new venture and backed myself with a lot of research for quality leather manufacturers. I produced lots of drawings, designing my ultimate travel clutch for the style conscious women. After some more research and brain storming, VoeurnChea essential travel accessories were born.
Are there any particular idols you’ve got within the industry?
There are so many people I admire. I like my fashion to be different and a little on edge. I love pieces that have combinations of art and architectural silhouettes, yet are classic and timeless. For me, Zambesi, Karen Walker and Oroton do this really well.
What are your personal favorite items out of your collection?
The travel clutch wallet has got to be my favorite. I now use it everyday not just for travel. It carries all my essentials for the day. The golden tone, a dramatic neutral that instantly lifts any dull outfit and blends with any bold print. For casual look I wear it cross over shoulders, for the chic look I wear it draping off one shoulder and for a more formal look I clutch it under my arm. I now rarely wear large handbags and my shoulders feel so much better.
What do you believe makes VoeurnChea different and unique?
Well, the brand name for start. People have double takes on the name and come really close to my face just to hear how I say it. It can be a mouthful to pronounce, but it is simply ‘V e r n-Chea’ and if I don’t tell them that it is Cambodian, they’d say, ‘it’s very French!’
Our tag line is ‘Show everyone your vibrant self on every journey’. VoeurnChea’s design value is about colour and culture, and being true to ourselves.
We take pride in managing our customer experience through personal touch. Each order gets wrapped with love and sent with a personalised hand written greeting card. I’m not a fan of fancy packaging that only looks good on the shelf for show and tell. A lot of thought went in to our packaging. Our packaging is also made to keep and travel with. The dust bags are washable, repurpose-able and you can use them how you see fit. I use them as a jewellery pouch and store small electronic accessories to save space in my luggage and keep them tidy.
Who is your target audience?
VoeurnChea collection is designed with style and functionality for the fashion conscious traveller. Most travel accessories are really made just to travel with. They are usually not that stylish, at least not for that spontaneous night out. Therefore the urge to pack extra accessories for the ‘what if’ situation. My collections are versatile for all occasions, convenient grab and go pieces, perfect for those who prefer to travel light without compromising their style.
What were you doing before VoeurnChea?
I’ve had a few side projects over the years, designing and creating has always been my passion. Three years ago I had that light bulb moment, I decided to take my idea seriously and take it to the next level. VoeurnChea is still very young and a lot to learn.
What’s your background?
In 1979 my family fled Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime. We ended up as illegal immigrants in Thailand. A kind Thai family took the risk and hid us in their home. During this time my Father passed away and my Mother, now a lone and feared of being captured by the Thai border military and the uncertain future for her new born child and a toddler (me), she had no choice but to give up her two children for adoption. My sister and I were adopted out to two different Thai families. Years later my Mother eventually made her way to the Thai refugee camp, where she was reunited with her Father, brother and sisters. They were then selected to live in Wellington, NZ. Upon arrival my Mother registered her two missing daughters with the refugee family reunification programme. It took two years to track me down and reunite me with my Mother. However, my little sister was not allowed to leave her adopted parents till she was 21.
My experience in the fashion industry was many years ago when I was a hairdresser. I did lots of competitions and won many awards. My specialty was avant garde style. I often volunteered to style models for runway shows. But that was only the fun part. The day to day at the salon was stale and tiring. Ever since my first trip to Sydney when I was 18 for a Hairdressing Expo, I couldn’t get Sydney out of my mind. When I completed my apprenticeship I sent my resume to various salons in Sydney and got response from one of the top salons in Paddington. I sold off all my things to buy the airfare. I was 22, alone. About a month in I didn’t like the job and was staying in Elizabeth bay. To get to my flat I had to walk through the then ‘scary and dirty’ Kings Cross. Every weekend at the payphone I would call home and cry. Against my mother’s hope I wasn’t going to come home just yet. By the third month my enthusiasm and inspiration for hairdressing was pretty much dead. With less than $500, I was in a hurry to find a new job to cover the rent. My hospitality experience from a side job during my apprenticeship came in very handy. I was offered a waitressing job at Sailors Thai in the Rocks. From here my journey got so much better. Good job, better pay, moved out of Elizabeth Bay and found a shared flat in Bondi. Through my new flatmate and working at Sailor’s Thai I began to make new friends and truly settled in to Sydney life.
Have you traveled a lot yourself?
Yes, I love to travel. My first plane trip to Wellington from Thailand at age 11, convinced me that I wanted to be an airhostess when I grew up. I liked the idea of getting on the plane and going somewhere new and exciting. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow much taller by the time I was old enough and the height restrictions killed that dream.
So far I have travelled to 16 countries with my most frequent visits being Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand as I still have strong connection with my adopted family and visit them as often as possible. I also enjoy visiting Wellington where my Mother still lives with my wonderful step Father who has been a great support (also instrumental in bringing my Mother and I back together again).
Are there any places you wish to travel in the near future?
Too many to name, we were going to Europe this year for my birthday, however, with busy schedules and VoeurnChea’s commitments we are putting that on hold.
Instead we have a wedding invitation in Hua Hin, a great opportunity to see more places that we haven’t already explored. Last time we were there, we stumbled upon an interesting art museum while motor biking around. It was shut on that day, this may sound boring, however, from the outside looking in you could see it was a fascinating place with lots original pieces and creation from the local artists, so it’s top of my list of thing to see.
I have been back to Thailand many times but never been back to Cambodia. In this trip we are hoping to include and adventure in Cambodia.
Are there any trends in travel wear for 2016?
I’m not one to follow trends. I prefer time less fashion. Trends that I would really like to see, is more travellers considering environment when travelling. My advice travel light and only take what’s really needed, take with you items that are useful and multipurpose.
Who are your dream celebrities you’d love to see wear VoeurnChea?
I think a personality like Paloma Faith would be a great ambassador for VoeurnChea. Her style and values I think align with VoeurnChea, bold and vibrant with purpose. I saw her live at the Sydney Opera House and was fortunate to have a front row seat. When she started to look tired from her super platform heels, I wished I had bought a pair of the red foldable chic about town flats to throw on stage for her.
What are your goals and dreams with VoeurnChea?
So many, where do I start! I’m constantly toying with concepts and I often get carried away. I’m working on staying ‘focused’ with slow and steady growth, one design at a time.
Have you got any style tips for the world wanderers?
Packing for a trip can be a nightmare. I learnt to write a packing list and do the need and want analysis. This will usually shorten the final packing list by almost half.
Minimalist travelling doesn’t necessary mean pack more of black and white, and black don’t always go with everything. Invest in stable collection of clothing that complements each other. Don’t be afraid to experiment with colours; VoeurnChea travel essential range is a ‘neutral-dramatic’ tone that any one of the colours will instantly change any outfits from casual to formal and vice-versa without you having to get change.
Invest in a quality skin care product range, especially make-up that lasts all day. A lip stick should be all you need to reapply during your outings. Buy small sample size collection perfumes – they are the perfect size for your travel clutch wallet. Some strong-elastic hair ties that are funky-stylish as bracelets are also one of my must have on my wrist for my long hair.
Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t mean you have to dress like one. Have respect for the local culture and dress accordingly.
Take along multipurpose items like the VoeurnChea travel wallet which can double as a clutch at night. The matching belts are great for accessorising both low and high waist ensembles. The Chic about town foldable flats are versatile as casual and formal, and it is the ultimate space saving shoes for your luggage.