"Zoco" means "Market" in Arab. It is also a name of popular pret-a-porter shops in Cambodia
Zoco boutiques: theft is the main headache
Interview with Nuria Lopez Conesa, Spanish businesswoman, owner of three fashion boutiques in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
VOC: Nuria, what does fashion mean in Cambodia? What it Zoco Clothes business?
Nuria: Today Zoco Clothes has two shops in Sihanoukville and one in Phnom Penh where I sell prêt-a-porter clothes for women. I try to offer to my customers something really funky and original, a kind of tropical beach style, something very colorful and authentic. If you enter my shop you'll be astonished by diversity of vivid colors, styles and shapes. I don't design clothes by myself; I import interesting, fashionable and quality products from Thailand. Three or four times a year I visit main clothes markets in Bangkok looking for quality, funny stuff and if I find something I really like - I buy it and resell in my shops in Cambodia. I feel what to buy. I always follow my personal taste in this business.
Comparing with other fashion products made in Cambodia, Zoco collections are always focused on quality, authentic wear for foreigners. Foreign tourists and expats living in Cambodia are my major customers, do you imagine - they make 98% of my sales!
VOC: Does it mean that Cambodian ladies don't like your choice?
Nuria: As a rule, most part of Cambodian young women are used to buy simplest dresses on local markets just for $5-10 dollars. My prices start from $20 so they are not always ready for quality, authentic clothes. Furthermore, Khmer ladies love dresses with sparkles and funny pictures - cartoon heroes, bears, puppies and so on, but it is not Zoco style.
Women from rich Khmer families prefer to shop when traveling abroad – they are very proud of being dressing by designers from Paris, Shanghai or Singapore. However, during this year I got many Khmer customers also, specifically in Phnom Penh.
VOC: As I know, you had an idea to launch a new brand Zoco-Man. What it the story?
Nuria: It was an interesting idea but I was forced to cancel this project because of the finance crisis. This year my revenues dropped down to 40% - it is definitely not a right time for new projects! By the moment I don't plan to extend significantly my business. Instead of developing a new brand for men, I decided to open a section with man's clothes in my major Phnom Penh's shop. I don't concentrate on man fashion. It is well known that unlike women, men don't like to spend money for fashionable clothes; they are not too interested in shopping. Man's fashion market is much more narrow everywhere in the world.
VOC: What is your opinion about Cambodian designers and manufacturers? May they compete with Thai or Vietnamese fashion brands?
Nuria: No, certanly they cannot compete by the moment. Cambodian fashion industry is still too primitive. I monitor local industry for 5 years, but there is a small progress during this time. Cambodian suppliers have still a long way to international design and quality standards. Here in Cambodia, local manufacturers have good, powerful production facilities to deploy their own prêt-a-porter industry, but they haven't lunched it yet. Probably they should start with a simplest copying of existing high-quality fashion ideas.
VOC: What are main problems for individual business owners like you in Cambodia? What is your biggest headache here?
Nuria: Local staff of course! Generally they are not enough qualified and you have to put many efforts to train and educate them. A very common problem in Cambodia – the employees often steal cash or products from shops where they work, Generally they even don't have shame to steal from barangs – it is some kind of a national sport here. So you have to constantly control each their step. It is really difficult to find reliable staff you can trust. Fortunately, after years of trials I succeeded.
Don't forget that Khmers are not like Europeans when they work – Khmers just do things they are paid for, but they have never a burning desire to do any least extra job. The main problem is a lack of desire, lack of interest, lack of spirit. You cannot change it.
VOC: how much tax do you pay from your business?
Nuria: The business license for a private shop costs $80 per year in Sihanoukville. It sounds crazy but presently all city shops have to pay equal license taxes, regardless the size of their business. In addition, you have to buy a tax registration license; it is around $50 per year plus current operative revenue tax. I didn't pay it before, but now I need to set up electronic credit card machines in all my shops, and my bank requires an official tax statement, thus I'm obligated to record and pay all relevant income taxes.
Business in Cambodia