If you’ve ever attended an event of Global Children Cambodia’s, you might know that we tend to give away traditional kramas to attendees. (Though this shouldn’t be the main reason you support Global Children Cambodia, there’s nothing wrong with a little incentive!)
Recently, British crooner Sam Smith was spotted wearing a Krama scarf, and while we were thrilled to see it on a celebrity, we also want to take a minute and focus on the history of the Krama — especially if it’s about to become a fashion trend, it’s important to know where it came from and what a huge part of life in Cambodia it is.
Kramas are worn by just about everyone in Cambodia and have been for much of the country’s history. When they were first being made by hand, the process took several days. First, spun cotton was soaked in rice for a few days and partially dyed in the color of choice before being woven into rows of elaborate squares. Wealthier Cambodians of the times would use silk instead of cotton, not only because it breathed better, but to show that they were not wearing it to soak up the sweat from labor. Kramas were once used to indicate social class, and even today different colors take on different meanings.
The scarves of today, though traditionally either blue or white, come in a variety of shades and are unsurprisingly just as popular among tourists as they are in Cambodian culture. Used to shade wearers from the sun, to cover when swimming or bathing, and in some cases, even for hammocks, kramas can also be folded and tied to make bags to carry groceries or infants. Today, some kramas are still made on giant hand looms, and can provide job opportunities to women in particular. Styles and colors can vary from region to region, and may have great personal meaning to the wearer.
So, even if Sam Smith popularized it, the krama is much more than just a passing fashion trend. Known to many as one of the national symbols of Cambodia, the krama has been present throughout the many phases of Cambodian history and, like the country itself, can thrive in any situation. While anyone can wear a krama, as it does not have religious significance in Cambodia, it’s nice to know that, when doing so, you’re showing support for Cambodia and wearing it with a bit of intention.