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Design for life

Keiko Aso

Cambodia's economy is growing. But thousands of women still live in poverty and struggle to get a decent education or work. A Japanese entrepreneur is trying to help give these women some financial independence by tapping into their talents.

A project is underway in Tokyo to support women in Cambodia.

Wakana Nukui sells designs produced by Cambodian women to her clients. She pays a 10-percent royalty to the designers for every product she sells.

"If women can become financially independent with creative, exciting jobs, their status will improve naturally without having to loudly demand it."
Wakana Nukui / CEO, Blooming Life International

Nukui toured developing countries before settling on Cambodia as a place where she could be of use. Her experience as a president of a design company helped her see an opportunity.

"My first impression was that there are so many foreign companies and so few creators in Cambodia. The need for brochures and websites was growing. I figured out that most companies ordered designs done in other countries. So I believed I could get into the market and expand my business quickly."
Wakana Nukui / CEO, Blooming Life International

In 2011, Nukui began a local design contest. About 1,000 women have since applied. Nukui commercializes the winning designs. So far, about 45 designs have been sold.

"I am amazed by the yearly improvement in designs. I'm increasingly confident in the talents of these women. I thought it would take 7 years to make a profit but we're 1 or 2 years ahead of my earning plan."
Wakana Nukui / CEO, Blooming Life International

Last year, she opened a store in Phnom Penh. She developed bags and other products in-house. The goods are priced to be affordable for local customers. Nukui tries to motivate the designers by adopting them as models for the company's brochures and posters. And she also plans to launch a design school in the Cambodian capital this year.

"Their dream is to show their designs to people worldwide. They want to work in many countries. I'd love to help their dreams come true, and I also want them to know the level of competition people around the world must go through to become designers. Stimulus like that helps them grow further. If we take action, instead of just thinking about it, we'll succeed."
Wakana Nukui / CEO, Blooming Life International

Nukui says she couldn't ask for a better reward than having Cambodian women shake her hand and say: "Thank you."

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