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Cambodia’s First Repair Fair

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Arizonian Sandy Kotan, who found Cambodia her second home, is hoping to organise the first ‘Cambodia’s First Repair Fair’ in July after the event was postponed in April. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia’s First Repair Fair

Having been on a mission to reduce plastic waste by providing environmentally friendly alternatives since 2015, Sandy Kotan – who is originally from Arizona, but calls Cambodia her second home – is hoping to be able to hold “Cambodia’s First Repair Fair” in July after the event was postponed in April due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in the Kingdom.

The primary organiser of the event – now scheduled for July 1– is Kotan. The YK Art House and Clothesline Resale Boutique will be joining as co-hosts.

The Repair Fair will be all about recycling, reducing, reusing and repurposing items that would otherwise go to waste and be buried in landfills, as well as to support local small businesses.

Sandy Kotan founded Only One Planet Cambodia as a social enterprise that imports and distributes biodegradable food packaging and eco-products in Cambodia. It uses its profits to support the community, environmental projects and awareness campaigns.

“We sell a number of items. Our main goal is to find really good alternatives to single-use plastics. We sell almost everything: take-away containers, coffee cups, water bottles - all the things that are typically covered by single-use plastics. We try to find something environmentally friendly that people can use instead,” Kotan says.

Kotan explains that the idea for the fair came about when she joined the Facebook group “Phnom Penh Minimalist and Freecycle” which was started by Irina Chakraborty from YK Art House.

The group is for people who want to give away things that they no longer need and for people to ask for things in case anyone wants to recycle their stuff instead of just throwing it out.

Having noticed a lot of people there posting lots of different things that they were getting rid of because they were broken, Kotan decided to do something about it.

“So the idea is a lot of people don’t have time and they don’t exactly know where to go in order to have an item repaired. They have no time to wander around the market trying to find somebody to fix something for them.

“For the Repair Fair we will bring together a bunch of people who can fix things. Right now we have people who can do shoe repairs, simple clothing repairs, bags, luggage, watch batteries, bicycles, jewellery, phones and more,” she says.

The environmental entrepreneur continued, “People can bring all of their broken stuff to the Repair Fair and get it all fixed in one place. And then they will have a person to contact for future repairs and they will know who can repair which things because they’ll be able to get business cards from everyone. Then they can repair their items instead of just throwing or giving them away.”

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Clothesline Resale Boutique is Phnom Penh’s first and only socially-minded second-hand clothing shop. It works to reduce waste. Photo supplied

Kotan says that there will also be workshops on various topics such as how to repair or recycle certain items yourself in order to reduce household waste. For example, one workshop planned for the day is about composting from food waste and growing your own vegetables on your balcony.

It will be a fun day out where you can get things done at the same time, and it will all be outdoors, Kotan says.

Kotan noted that there will be a $1 entrance fee (children under 12 are free). These fees will be applied to table and tent rentals for the repair vendors and any excess will be donated to Free the Bears NGO. Therefore for vendors it is free to come and set up a booth, but they will charge for the repairs they make.

Clothesline Resale Boutique is Phnom Penh’s first and only social enterprise second-hand shop. It’s goal is to reduce waste within the city by taking donations of unwanted items like clothes, shoes, books and household goods.

The boutique was started five years ago by two friends – Chenda Yen and Amy Von Diest – who wanted to make a difference in the Cambodian community. Both of the co-owners and founders of Clothesline Resale
Boutique say they are delighted about the upcoming Repair Fair.

“Being part of the Repair Fair is perfect for us as it aligns with our mission. Reduce consumption, limit waste by repairing or repurposing, and we love our eco-minded community. By joining the fair we can connect with likeminded people to support each other in making environmentally conscious choices,” says Chenda.

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Broken items from shoes, torn shirt and fans can be fixed for resale. Photo supplied

Diest adds that it’s a great event to build community while encouraging people to reduce waste. They both are proud of the community that have built through their shop and look forwards to seeing everyone at the Repair Fair.

“We will be bringing along our current favourite second-hand items plus a rack of items recently repaired, repurposed or in need of some tender loving care. Come support our social mission and bring along some
donations to drop-off while you’re there! See you all soon,” says Diest.

Nobody has ever done an event like this one in Cambodia before and it will be a lot of work, but Kotan says they’ve already gotten RSVP’s from around 600 people who say they want to come.

Before the coronavirus outbreak started they were working hard to find vendors in hopes of making the event even larger, but they decided early on to change the date to July.

Kotan says that this date is still tentative and it can only take place if the Covid situation gets better.

Kotan says they are still willing to add any vendors with an appropriate focus on being environmentally friendly or waste-reducing who are interested in being a part of the event and that they can contact her via Facebook (see below).

During the lockdown, Kotan has still been very active in posting a lot of activities and ideas to her page for people who’d like to spend some time working on zero-waste projects and also urging people to share their
own “zero-waste lifehacks” via this link: https://airtable.com/shrEf7gSLjT9NVkou.

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Community volunteers sort out donations for resale. Photo supplied

“We’re starting a database of some of our favorite recipes or activities; from how-to make your own citrus all-purpose cleaner to how-to remove labels from jars with ease to how-to make your own chalkboard with two ingredients. I’ve tried many of these and have been quite pleased with the results,” Kotan says.

When asked what her primary reason is for doing what she does, Kotan says plastic is causing serious harm to Cambodia and that its use needs to be reduced drastically to prevent further degradation of the environment here and though the Repair Fair is not about plastic specifically, it’s all about the related issue of waste in general and it will help to educate and show people that they can use alternatives.

“If the event is successful, we hope we can begin doing it twice per year so that people know where to go instead of running around to buy things new that they can fix by repairing or get secondhand by reusing or avoid just tossing out by recycling,” says Kotan.

Cambodia’s First Repair Fair is currently scheduled to take place on July 1 at Odom Garden Park from 9am to 4pm.

For more information about the fair and to confirm the date contact Only One Planet Cambodia via their Facebook page @onlyoneplanetkh.

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