Kokovenice has grown out of working for the last 18 years in Cambodia organizing hand weaving projects and sewing workshops and in this capacity, the owners Marianne Kooimans and Steve Wood have worked with many independent weavers who produced silks by weaving on individual looms that are usually sited under their bamboo stilt houses.
Initially these weavers were very poor and often wove mosquito nets or bright plaid scarves sold cheaply at the market. Steve and Marianne went to these fairly remote villages seen in these pictures and asked the weavers to work together on bigger projects. This turned out to be a good idea, as it kept alive ancient hand-weaving traditions and created within the predominately female weavers a sense of pride and personal worth that had been lost during the many years of brutal civil war.
In order to use these fabrics commercially and create a market for these textiles, Marianne Kooimans called upon her training, both as a fashion designer and a highly skilled seamstress to compose unique creative garments. This activity has allowed her to pass this knowledge on to two extended families of tailors and sewers in Phnom Penh Cambodia. In this regard, Marianne has trained a number of women to sew in very exacting couture fashion and also encouraged a number of their children to become computer literate and improve their language skills and organizational abilities.
Eighteen years on, beautiful fabrics are still being woven and a new generation of Cambodian women is learning to create beautiful garments and fabrics. This business is by all regards sustainable, with the information and training being passed along to countless other independent businesses in Cambodia. Kokovenice is where these items, made by well-paid independent craftsmen together with a talented designer, find their market in a beautiful setting. Virtually everything is hand made and it shows.
Marianne called and said she had found the most extraordinary thing at Premier Vision (the bi-annual textile show) in Paris. I asked her what that might be and she answered: Fish Leather. I was a bit stunned. I asked, thinking of my recently devoured salmon dinner. “ You mean really, like fish leather?” She assured me that she had many kinds of fish leather. Not only salmon, but tilapia, perch and cod among others. She had veritable bouillabaisse of fish leather! Later, looking the skins over in our studio I could see that they were textural, beautiful and exceptionally strong. Initially her suggestion was to use this leather as accents for some clothing she was designing but within a day or two, I noticed two greenish fish skins lined upon on the design table and she asked if I thought there were any shoemakers left in Los Angeles. I nodded in the affirmative and could see the direction she was headed. Shoes. Unable to locate a shoemaker in Los Angeles, she soon found a French trained-Vietnamese Cambodian family who were able to work with her drawings and make a pair of fish mules with a delicate heel from a combination of Italian cowhide and her fish leathers. This was the beginning of her shoe “project.” Now, many hundreds of pairs later, Marianne Kooimans has developed hand made shoes so comfortable they feel like you are wearing slippers!