Smateria by Jennifer Morellato

Smateria is an Italian-owned brand that produces in Cambodia bags and accessories hand-made from common and recycled materials. Jennifer Morellato tells us its success story.

To appreciate the beauty of a Smateria bag, you need to know the company’s entire story. This brand was born in 2006 thanks to its two Italian founders’ entrepreneurial spirit and creativity: Jennifer Morellato and Elisa Lion, who produce sustainable bags and accessories using inexpensive or waste materials. Thanks to the elegance, ethicality, and sustainability of the materials used, Smateria grows in popularity at an international level.

The story of Smateria is told by one of its two founders, Jennifer Morellato. She welcomes us virtually in a video call from her office in Phnom Penh. Even speaking remotely, we feel her energy and positivity. Jennifer tells us that her initial encounter with Cambodia was accidental. Originally from Trento, with a degree in Political Science and a background in tourism, she moved to Phnom Penh in 2001 following her husband’s work commitments.

Jennifer, are one of the rare Italian women entrepreneurs in Cambodia. How did the idea of creating a bag company in Cambodia come about? 

In 2006, at a mothers’ meeting in Phnom Penh, I met the girl who would become my business partner: Elisa Lion, an Italian girl who had studied Oriental languages in Venice and had lived in China for several years. The entrepreneurial ferment of Cambodia reminded her a lot of China and the years she had spent there. We had a coffee together, and her entrepreneurial ideas and creativity pushed me to believe in a future project together. Our adventure began in the garage of my house. Today, we are still a solid reality with products created from high-quality materials.   

Starting a business in a garage is in the best start-up traditions. 

Yes, we did start from zero. Elisa and I haggled at the market for a couple of sewing machines. With the help of a patternmaker, who still works in our team, and some seamstresses, we realized our project. In 2006, we opened our first store in Phnom Penh, a second located in Siem Reap, and two more inside the international airports.

The name of a brand is an important choice. Why “Smateria”? 

Smateria means transformation, no material is created or destroyed, but everything is “smaterialized”.

From the beginning, our focus was on sustainable materials.

We have recently launched IKI, our first collection of bags and accessories made with recycled plastic and produced with innovative techniques. We used waste material from a garment factory in Phnom Penh; we processed it and mixed it with our colors and products. 

How would you describe your brand? 

Our motto here at Smateria is: “Bags with a soul” because behind the creation of each bag lies the company’s soul. Everything we do, we do with passion and responsibility. Smateria’s collections want to break boundaries by setting a new standard for eco-fashion and inspiring a new generation of conscious buyers.

Can you give us some practical examples of Smateria being an ethical and responsible company? 

We care about the personal and professional development of our workers.

 80% of them are women, many of them working in production. We offer them annual bonuses, personal growth opportunities, language, and professional courses, and a nursery inside the office to help working mothers. We do not want to offer our employees just a job opportunity but to be seen as a place to grow together. 

Who buys a Smateria bag? 

Our bags aim at a medium-high customer base, both local and international. In the beginning, Cambodian customers didn’t understand the value of our materials. Now, thanks to our marketing efforts, we managed to gain a market share in Cambodia. 

We also collaborate with critical corporate clients. For example, we had the opportunity to collaborate with Viaggidea, an Italian tour operator. Our partnership led to the creation of 58,000 travel bags and clutches offered as gifts for their customers.

Speaking of the present day. How has the pandemic impacted your business? 

Like many brands here, our sales declined due to border closures to international tourists. We had to cope with the emergency by temporarily suspending work for some staff. Above all, we had to rethink our sales and distribution model, moving from almost exclusive sales in Cambodia to third parties buying and distributing directly abroad. The US and Germany are now our biggest distributors. Today, other vital markets are South East Asia, Hong Kong, and Japan. 

The global pandemic in Cambodia has brought a significant boost to e-commerce. Have you also opened an online channel?  

Yes. In January 2020, we opened our e-commerce store to search for foreign markets. We had some difficulties related to payment methods. For example, PayPal is still not present in Cambodia, but we see improvements. Thanks to the development of this digital platform, we have been able to gain substantial market shares like the Australian and New Zealand markets. 

What are Smateria’s plans? 

We want to expand our e-commerce platform to offer our product to a broader range of customers. Moreover, we would like to expand into new markets. 

Finally, what is the outlook for the post-pandemic future? 

We must be optimistic for the future. We are pursuing a strategy based on exports, but when Cambodia reopens its borders again, we are ready to welcome all those who believe in us and our brand. 

📌 To connect with Smateria, visit the Business Directory here.


✍️  Francesca Danni

📷 Smateria

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