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Wrapping up with Rebecca Parnham from Krama &Co

March 12, 2021

We caught up with Rebecca Parnham, the co-founder of Krama & Co. to learn about her social enterprise and the difference it’s making. Rebecca starred in our latest autumn magazine, Hibernate where she introduced Krama &Co. and how Kiwis are wearing krama. Here’s a more in-depth look at what drives Rebecca and how it all began.

 

 

Ryman - Krama and Co Interview (3)

 

Rebecca and Nita, the co-founders of Krama &Co., partner with weavers from rural villages in Cambodia to create stunning hand-loomed krama (pronounced crow-ma). As a social enterprise, Rebecca and Nita’s profits support education for girls and opportunities for women in New Zealand and Cambodia.

 

Rebecca explains that ‘krama’ translates to ‘scarf’. This iconic, traditional garment is the symbol of Cambodia and while touring the country, Rebecca discovered why. Travelling to Cambodia on holiday with her husband in 2010 was a life-changing experience. Following a tour of the Killing Fields and learning about the Khmer Rouge “we went on the bamboo railway and on that particular day, I saw a lady using her krama as a bike seat. So, she had each end (of her krama) tied to her bike handles and she was using it as a bike seat for her child”. Fresh from learning about the trauma suffered by the Cambodian people and the incredible resilience they show every day, Rebecca was taken aback by the ingenuity she saw. And that she continued to see throughout Cambodia – with the ever-present krama.

 

Krama & Co Pic

 

“What I really love about krama is the fact that in Cambodia a krama has over 60 different uses. They can use it for a bike seat, often women turn it into a sling for their baby or they can even turn it into a hammock. Women working in the fields will often wrap it up in their hair to keep the dust out, and men often just wear it around their waist.” – Rebecca Parnham, Co-Founder Krama &Co.


Traditionally woven by women, a krama is an incredibly versatile garment. As Rebecca says, “the way you use a krama is only limited by your imagination … When the Khmer-Rouge was in power, unfortunately, Khmer-Rouge turned (the Cambodian people) back to year zero, so they even used a krama to cook their rice.” Rebecca knew that other New Zealanders would appreciate what she saw in krama. “I could see that Kiwis would really love krama – I think we love ingenuity.” But Krama &Co. was destinated to be more than just fashion, and Rebecca believed that New Zealanders would appreciate the difference she and Nita are trying to make, as well. “I think that Kiwi’s love being able to make a difference in someone’s life and that’s what they can do with a krama.”

 

“It’s got heaps and heaps of really amazing, practical uses and that’s what I really love about krama.”

 

Krama & Co Pic 2


As a social enterprise, Krama &Co. have worked hard to create a partnership that enables the weavers to earn an income while caring for their children. It’s a ‘hand up’ system where the weavers choose to weave and sell their krama to Krama &Co. It’s common for villagers to have to leave their children behind to largely fend for themselves while their parents seek work in the city. Krama &Co. wanted to empower village women to both earn an income and be with their children. “Our vision is that women will be economically empowered to make choices and be able to effect change for themselves, their children and their communities.”


For their part, Krama &Co. pay the weavers well for their krama. And they always buy so that the weavers continue being paid – even in a pandemic when there’s no one to sell to. Krama &Co. also run a Village Fund. This is where they pay $1 USD per krama they buy and use that money however the weavers choose. “And they always choose for us to send doctors out to the village.”


Rebecca and her co-founder Nita are determined to find the good in everything. They want to become a network based on goodness that celebrates, promotes, and encourages the good in everything. In doing so, they’ll be able to provide as many opportunities for good as possible. They describe what they do at Krama &Co, as “Good goods for good.”


The co-founders believe that “when you give to a woman, you give to her child, family and community” and the weavers that sell krama to Krama &Co. have proven this several times over. “We believe that women are the key to change in our communities, countries and globally. We aim to make a difference, so women have freedom, education, resources, and opportunity – as well as their basic needs met.”


Nita has a first-person understanding of what it takes to survive in challenging conditions. She was born in a refugee camp bordering Cambodia and Thailand before growing up in poverty in Phnom Penh. Nita worked hard to put herself through school and university. When a mutual friend put her in touch with Rebecca, she knew she wanted to be involved with Krama &Co. “I wanted to help the ladies making krama, to make a better life for them. Making krama is the only business to feed their family.” When Nita first started visiting the villages, “everyone was so happy that I started to order krama from them. I went from house to house to buy krama. Doing this, every family can earn some money and they can support their family and feed them. My life was quite tough, so I do understand what poor people need to survive from day to day”. Giving back and helping those who are struggling is what drives Nita. “I am glad that I have found Rebecca and Krama & Co. I now can help, give back to society and those poor people to have a better life.”

 

Krama & Co Pic 3

 

And it all started in 2010 on Rebecca’s holiday. “While I stood at the ‘killing tree’ in the Killing fields I learn of the Khmer Rouge. I wept as I learned about the mass murders of the 1970s where even children were killed. Being decapitated and buried without their heads was particularly cruel and the ultimate sign of disrespect to Cambodians, who are Theravada Buddhists. I was overwhelmed that despite such a devastating history and while facing profound poverty, the Cambodian people still showed incredible resilience and compassion.”


Shortly after the visit to the Killing Fields, Rebecca saw the resourceful mother carrying her child in a krama bike seat. “I could see that a way to support women in Cambodia was to use, sell and celebrate their national symbol, the krama.” As a mother, Rebecca found the thought of not being able to feed your children unbearable. And she needed to do something about what she had seen in Cambodia. “Fortunately, being resourceful was part of my upbringing and a necessary part of growing up on a farm in New Zealand. I discovered my krama was the swiss army knife of parenting as I could use it for so many things. I have been overwhelmed by the compassion and resourcefulness of both those in Cambodia and those who have helped me in New Zealand to get Krama &Co. established.”


You can learn more about Krama &Co. and purchase their incredible products. 


Special thanks to Rebecca and Nita of Krama &Co. and the talented weavers they purchase their beautiful krama from.

 

Krama & Co Pic 4