Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
Travel

Secrets of the Silk Worm: Inside a Factory in Cambodia

Cambodia’s silk industry dates back to the 13th century Khmer Empire, when it developed along the Mekong and Bassac rivers south of Phnom Penh. The ancient art was disrupted during the 1970s with the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide that followed. In the 1990s, the silk-making industry slowly began to make a comeback and today it employs as many 20,000 Cambodians, 98 percent of whom are women. Silk is essential to the Cambodian garment industry, which contributes about 10 percent to the nation's GDP. Photographs by Brent Lewin for Bloomberg

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    Mulberry trees grow at the Artisans Angkor silk farm in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Artisans Angkor is one of the estimated 46 silk-producing companies in the country.

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    Silkworm larvae feed on mulberry leaves.

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    Silkworm cocoons are placed in a threshing basket. When it spins a cocoon around itself, a worm secretes a filament and gum to hold it together.

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    Laborers boil the cocoons to loosen the gum. Artisans Angkor employs more than 1,300 workers, including about 900 artisans. 

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    A warning sign cautions against burns in front of a work station where raw silk is dipped into dye.

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    The cocoons are fed into spinning reels to unravel long fibers of raw silk.

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    A spinner reels silk.

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    Workers twist silk on a throwing machine.

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    Threads of silk are twisted on a throwing machine.

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    A weaver operates a wooden loom by hand to produce reams of lustrous fabric.

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    An artisan creates a silk design.

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    Silk scarves hang on display at the Artisans Angkor showroom.

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    An employee arranges silk pillow cases at the Artisans Angkor showroom. The Cambodian silk industry faces numerous growth obstacles, including limited promotions to tourists and the lack of a global brand.