When driving around town these days, if you happen to see a PassApp-style tuk-tuk that looks like it’s got a camper on it like a pick-up truck with “Penh Lenh” painted on the sides you may want to follow it to its next stop and take a look at what it’s carrying if you’re a big fan of jewellery.
Penh Lenh is bringing women’s handcrafted Cambodian jewellery to clientele throughout the capital who appreciate their unique and high-quality accessories that empower the female artisans who make them.
When the mobile jewellery shop makes a stop the tiny shop on wheels unfolds to reveal the magic inside of it. It has a brightly-lit wooden interior with a glass box full of fascinating handmade jewellery in front of a mirror that allows people to see how they look when trying on accessories.
Shopping for jewellery from Penh Lenh is a one of a kind experience that grew out of the unprecedented challenges posed to businesses by the pandemic. Many once-thriving shops were forced to close month after month due to dramatically lower revenues – but it was a blessing in disguise for Penh Lenh – because the proprietors came up with a creative and low-cost idea to keep things going with their mobile shop.
“During the lockdown – after we closed our retail shop – we really tried to find inspiration. Even in challenging times for businesses we wanted to keep moving forward and stay innovative. I find a lot of inspiration in musical artists and I was watching a documentary on Taylor swift and I learned about how she continued to make new music during the pandemic,” Penh Lenh’s founder Rachel Dodson tells The Post.
Dodson – a former modelling agent from New York – founded Penh Lenh as a social enterprise in 2013 relying on her self-taught DIY skills for jewellery design and crafting.
“I was awestruck and inspired by [Swift’s] dedication and work ethic. At the same time we had a customer asking to check out our jewellery even though the shop was closed. So I came up with the concept of the mobile jewellery shop and started making sketches for what it could be like and how we could use it to better serve our customers,” she says.
The Penh Lenh mobile jewellery shop is a convenient, fun, easy and Covid-safe shopping experience. It is essentially just a smaller version of Penh Lenh’s now shuttered retail shop, but now each time they stop to see a customer they have the selection tailored to that person’s interests.
“Each customer tells us what kind of pieces they want to see and we sometimes add in some additional pieces to show them based on their preferences. It is a totally private and personal shopping experience,” Dodson says.
The Penh Lenh mobile jewellery shop is meant to bridge the gap between the need for a physical shop and the abstraction of online shopping. Dodson says she understands that moving their business completely online would be hard for some customers who still want to see and try on the jewellery before purchasing it.
With the mobile shop option, customers still have the opportunity to interact with the products and see their quality and style before purchasing them. It is a great way to engage with customers and maintain a connection while also teaching customers about their online platform for future purchases.
There are a few ways that customers can use their mobile jewellery shop. You can book a private pop-up shop appearance for you and five or more friends at home or work. Penh Lenh will curate items for the customers’ group and offer a 20% discount for the entire group’s shopping experience.
The second option is the individual shopping experience. Customers can choose up to five items on the web at www.penhlenh.com that they would like to try on at home by putting them in a shopping cart as if they were purchasing them and then at checkout they can use the code TRYONPP and the total will be $0 if the location selected is Cambodia.
The mobile shop also takes bookings on their instagram page @penhlenhdesigns. Once a customer has made a request their team will contact them to arrange an appointment time.
Rachel and co-owner Srey Mao have been popping-up all around the city bringing jewellery to customers.
“We’ve received great feedback and we’re having so much fun! For the first month, anyone who books our shop will be meeting both owners. We are personally driving our shop around town so we encourage customers to book now,” says Dodson.
With a small team of less than 20 people, Penh Lenh always comes up with marvellous designs regardless of the pandemic situation in Cambodia.
“Lately our newest designs are Pearl and Bead necklaces and bracelets. These designs are trending with influencers and celebrities and they are so fun to wear! We also love our new phone charms. We think these will be great Holiday gifts,” Dodson says.
Although the country is now re-opening for tourism they do not have plans to re-open their physical retail shop. Dodson says one of the strengths at Penh Lenh is consistent innovation and they want to be at the forefront of change.
Dodson says that their goal is to build a global company with an online sales focus, but until they reach that point their priority will be their local customers who they serve through the mobile shop and also via social media and their website.
Dodson says the goal of Penh Lenh is to help women by providing them with long-term, sustainable employment and training.
“We believe that by prioritising women’s economic empowerment we will see greater impact not only in the lives of the Penh Lenh staff, but in their families and communities as well. Statistics show that women invest twice as much of their income into their families as compared to men,” she says.
Dodson says that all of the current staff at Penh Lenh began with no prior jewellery making experience or skills and they are now all flourishing and not only crafting the jewellery but also coming up with their own designs.
The women learn how to make each piece of jewellery as well as how to process orders and fulfil retail and wholesale orders, package items for shipment and do the first round of quality control.
Dodson says that there is an immense amount of detailed work that goes into jewellery making and learning the difference between gemstones and materials for each piece is required in order to make them.
“We are proud of how incredibly skilled our artisans are and how they continue to advance in their skillset,” she says.
The Post spoke with two Penh Lenh staff members – Theary and Chanthol – who both expressed their contentment with the company and gratitude for the opportunity to work there.
“I learned the skill of jewellery making at Penh Lenh. I had no prior experience or skill in this at all before coming to Penh Lenh. Penh Lenh has helped empower me to become a woman who is educated and skilled at all things in life,” Theary says.
“One thing I love most is that we have coined the phrase ‘Women are Gold’ to counter the sexist Khmer proverb that says men are like gold because it is valuable and if it gets dirty you can just wipe it away, but women are like silk – also valuable, but if it gets dirty it will be stained and ruined,” Chanthol says.
Rachel says that they will continue to pop up around town with their mobile shop, so keep an eye out for announcements on where you can catch the mobile jewellery shop by following them on social media.
For more information Penh Lenh can be contacted via their Facebook page: @penhlenhdesigns