Purses with a purpose

Written by LISA BRITTON, Baker City Herald October 01, 2008 12:00 am

The business Bob and Kay Petrik of Baker City started in Cambodia  is thriving, and helping dozens of women


Khmer Krafts, a Cambodian business founded by Bob and Kay Petrik to offer employment for women, has signed a five-year contract to provide purses for Great American Fundraising, which works with 25,000 schools across the country. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
Khmer Krafts, a Cambodian business founded by Bob and Kay Petrik to offer employment for women, has signed a five-year contract to provide purses for Great American Fundraising, which works with 25,000 schools across the country. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
The seamstresses of Khmer Krafts are busier than ever these days crafting purses for Great American Fundraising, which works with 25,000 schools across the nation.

Khmer Krafts was established in 2005 by Bob and Kay Petrik of Baker City to provide jobs to women who graduate from Cambodia’s Battambang Trade School.

The company tagline is “Purses with a Purpose — Fashion that Makes a Difference.”

Cambodia is still recovering from The Killing Fields, the period from 1975-1979 when the communist guerilla group Khmer Rouge swept through the country and forced city dwellers into labor camps. More than three million Cambodians were killed.

The Petriks first visited the Asian country in 2004 with Musicianaries International, and that’s when they met the Rev. Setan Lee, founder of Kampuchea for Christ (KFC) and a survivor of The Killing Fields.

Lee’s sister-in-law, Chhevan Yos, manages Khmer Krafts and designs the purses, wallets and book covers.

At first, the business employed 20 women, who in 2006 sewed 2,800 purses.

Now the employee count is at 47,  and the women have produced 34,000 products so far this year.

“We had to move to a new location,” Bob Petrik said.

To make space for the new orders, the Petriks had Yos ship all the excess purses to Baker City for storage.

“It ended up being 6,000,” Kay said.

The Petriks outfitted a storage room to accommodate the stock, and members of Baker High’s National Honor Society helped unload and organize.

“They were a huge help,” Kay said.


Back in Cambodia...

Khmer Krafts’ new building is located on five acres near the outskirts of Battambang. It was originally designed as a motel, so each room is outfitted with a cooking area and bathrooms.

“Everything was new — they’d just built it,” Petrik said.

The women use treadle machines, which are essential for those who work at home without electricity.

“We give them a machine to take home,” Bob said.

At the center, each room is used for a different process — sewing, packaging, shipping — which has helped the business handle the larger volume needed by the fundraising company.

Khmer Krafts is featured in Great American’s “Helping Hands” catalog.

The page for Khmer Krafts offers five products: two purses, an ID wallet, a checkbook cover and a book cover.

The challenge to fulfill Great American orders is to find enough fabric so customers receive the exact product they order.

Prior to this, purses were made with whatever material was readily available.

Now the Petriks and Yos are working with a broker in Bangkok to secure mass quantities of fabric.

“In Cambodia they sell (fabric) in pieces — a package with the same print in four different colors,” Kay Petrik said.

Sales of Khmer Krafts through Great American are going so well the company has ordered at least 40,000 for next year.


Purses available now

In addition to Great American, Khmer Krafts purses are available in Baker City from the Petriks at their Ag Insurance office, 2119 Seventh St. (Call ahead at 523-2414 to make sure the Petriks are there.)

Also, Soroptimist International sells the purses year-round at the Baker County Chamber of Commerce gift shop, bazaars and gift shows.

Proceeds from this project fulfills the club’s national mission of helping women around the world.

Locally, purse sales help support the Soroptimist mission to prevent domestic violence because half the profits go to MayDay and the other half is put in a community chest fund, which is used to fill requests that better women and the community. (The club aims to donate $100 per month from that fund.)

“Soroptimist has been very supportive,” Kay Petrik said.

She said other groups are also welcome to use the purses as a fundraiser.

Across the country, the purses are being sold in churches, hospital gift shops and bookstores.

The company’s contract with Great American is a five-year commitment.

“They have just been wonderful to work with,” Bob said.

And just when the Petriks were adjusting to the Great American deal, an opportunity came up to develop an outlet for the purses in Cambodia.

That project, however, may be handled by a club at Washington State University called SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) who will develop a marketing and business plan as a project.

For more information about Khmer Krafts, call the Petriks or visit the Web site, www.khmerkrafts.com.