Japanese expat celebrates 10 years of ‘SuiJoh’ brand made in Cambodia

Founded in 2012 by Japanese entrepreneur Yusuke Asano, SuiJoh is a modern boutique that designs high-quality custom clothing and accessories handcrafted by Cambodian tailors.

SuiJoh comes from the Japanese words for “on the water” and Asano – who first visited the Kingdom in 2002 and settled here in 2010 – says the meaning comes from the fact that 70% of the planet is covered of water and this enabled the earliest examples of world travel, so it is meant to evoke ideas like exploration, adventure, curiosity and hope.

“There are waves that come into everyone’s life and whether it’s a couple or a business, you have to be able to ride those waves or they’ll sink you,” Asano told the Post.

Bankrupt and on his way to Cambodia

Asano, 41, says that years ago his family ran a successful auto parts business and his grandfather always told him he was the future CEO of the company, so growing up he took for granted that his destiny was to take over the family business.

However, life changed following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The attacks indirectly affected their business – which relied heavily on exports to US markets – and they went bankrupt and became very poor when Asano was 20.

“We had eight family members: grandfather, grandmother, my parents, three younger sisters and me. But we only shared two packed lunches between all of us. We had to move from our big house with a garden to a very small one after the bigger house was seized by the bank.

“At that time, I finally realized that I had to find a way to create my own future. I decided to be independent. I got a job to earn my own money, then I traveled through Southeast Asia to get to know the world and say goodbye to my old self,” he says.

It was during his first visit to Cambodia as a backpacker in 2002. He was invited to dinner at a villager’s house in Siem Reap and he found that there was no air conditioning, television or refrigerator at home. she. The meal was simple and everyone was friendly and smiling.

He says that at that moment he felt the warmth of the Cambodian people and realized that was what he missed in Japan, where everyone he met seemed tired or stressed and never smiled. like the people of the Kingdom do.

A Cambodian tailor working with a boss at SuiJoh. Photo provided

“This trip gave me the power to live independently. I appreciated Cambodia for giving me the confidence to be myself. After the trip, I went back to university and then I started working for a company full time.

“But I never forgot Cambodia and I missed my Cambodian friends and I missed things like the very sweet latte. I went back and visited the same Cambodian family in Siem Reap two years later They are like my second family now,” he says.

However, he was not yet fully motivated to make the switch and move to Cambodia. He was earning a steady income with the company he worked for and was hanging out with his friends when one day he inexplicably passed out and doctors then told him he had a condition called AVM, which involves blood vessels. tangled blood in the brain and can be life threatening. .

Fortunately, his treatment was successful and he recovered after a few months, but this contact with death changed his outlook on life.

Inspired social entrepreneur

Asano returned to Cambodia to live there full-time in 2010 while earning his Masters in Development Management at Norton University. He founded SuiJoh two years later.

He got the idea for the store from his own experiences buying custom clothing in Cambodia as well as the experiences of Japanese tourists he spoke with.

“I love shopping for clothes, especially shirts. My classmate recommended going to see his friend who ran a sewing shop. I was very happy with the results,” says Asano.

However, when he visited other tailors, he found that the quality could vary greatly. Some shirts were too tight, others were tattered and it was hard to ask for adjustments and the number of shirts he had paid for but couldn’t wear in his closet started to swell.

Asano says he knew from visiting the first tailor that it was possible to get high-quality work in Cambodia, but it was obvious from his later experiences with other tailors that this was not guaranteed in all stores.

Starting around 2010, many Japanese were visiting Cambodia and looking for business opportunities, especially in the garment sector. One of Asano’s acquaintances decided to open a factory in Phnom Penh and he had the opportunity to meet and talk with the CEO, engineers and a Japanese designer in the field of clothing that his friend employed, and he got advice.

“Some skills like model making seem to be lacking in Cambodia. Here, the tailors draw lines directly on the fabric without any adjustments being made before cutting. However, their sewing skills are good – so I think they could make good clothes if they had good patterns,” the Japanese pattern maker told her.

The modeler not only explained to Asano how it all worked, he offered to teach Asano the intricacies of the craft in their entirety. It wasn’t long before Asano could create good patterns on his own, so his next goal was to find a good tailor.

SuiJoh’s Ten Year Journey

Asano says he once overheard two Japanese tourists wandering around the Siem Reap night market disparaging certain products marked “Made in Cambodia” as likely to break or wear out soon after purchase and that made him upset to hear this said about his adopted country. and he decided to prove them wrong.

He says he also remembers many products advertised as charitable donations because if you buy that item the money will go to a poor family or similar.

“I thought I wanted to create something that people want to buy because it’s cool or trendy or cute so they can show it off to their friends and family, not just because it’s for charity.

“This is also what I heard from my Cambodian friends, who said that Cambodians always talk about Khmer pride but if they get very sick, they will go to Ho Chi Minh City for treatment and they seem to prefer many Thai or Vietnamese products to Cambodians when they go shopping.

“I could see that no one here really believed in the quality of products made in Cambodia, but as one of Cambodia’s biggest fans, I wanted to encourage Khmer pride. So I decided to produce ‘handmade in Cambodia’ items, of good quality and made by Cambodians so that people here can be proud of them,” says Asano.

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A few local SuiJoh staff members in a group photo. Photo provided

Asano says he visited as many tailors as he could, biking around town every day with his own shirt patterns in hand, trying to find the right people to work with, but everyone refused, except for a store where he found skilled tailors willing to take on the job.

SuiJoh’s Tailored Future

Today, SuiJoh celebrates a decade of doing business and providing jobs for Cambodians in the Kingdom. Their head office and workshop are located on 294 Street and at the Himawari Hotel. They had branches in AEON2 and two in Siem Reap, but unfortunately these had to be closed due to the economic downturn related to Covid-19.

“I wanted to create jobs as a social entrepreneur, but I feel the locals help me way more than I helped them and I hope we can continue to grow the business together,” says -he.

Asano says he is most satisfied when he receives feedback from his customers, who are mostly foreigners from places like Japan, China or Europe, and they say positive things about the clothes. SuiJoh and how much more durable and durable they are.

“I think I helped make people reconsider people’s ideas about Cambodian products and prove that handmade products in Cambodia can be great too. We also try to make changes based on feedback from our customers to keep improving and we are happy to see a lot of repeat customers,” he says.

Currently, the store offers bespoke and ready-to-wear shirts and dresses, bags, wallets, accessories and krama. The store is also willing to ship items to other countries. Pricing for tailored shirts starts at $39 and tote bags start at $29.

Asano’s vision for the future of SuiJoh is ambitious and he wants to take SuiJoh international as a Cambodian brand.

“In order to fulfill my dream, we are planning to renovate the interior of our stores to attract more customers, especially Khmer people. And we would like to open stores in Boeng Keng Kang and Tuol Kork, as well as reopen in Siem Reap,” says Asano.

For more information on SuiJoh, check out their Facebook page: @SuiJoh

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