There’s a new bridal gown purveyor on the wedding scene with a story as unique as the dresses it designs. Enter: Samros, a collection of handmade, hand-sourced gowns fairly made by artisans in Cambodia at risk of human trafficking. As the topsy-turvy wedding world reels in the pandemic, Samros is moving forward full steam ahead and the fashion industry is taking note. Brides have always sought a personal dress-shopping experience, but Samros takes the experience even deeper, connecting the dress wearer to the dress creators. In wearing a Samros gown, brides celebrate not only their nuptials but also the connectedness and betterment of all women. No better word represents the artisans, gowns or mission of empowerment than Samros — “beauty” in Cambodia’s official language.

Samros Bridal Freedom's Promise

The first line of Samros gowns launched a few months ago, and the team could not be more thrilled. Here are two dresses from the collection: The Jillian (left) and The Lydia (right). Image: Tausha Dickinson

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BRINGING A ONE-OF-A-KIND IDEA TO LIFE

Jillian Williams, Director of Operations at Freedom’s Promise — the organization that founded Samros — shares, “Samros is one of the first lines of Fair Trade bridal gowns to provide a life-changing story with every ‘Yes!’ to the dress. In early 2018, bridal gowns came up in conversation as we began to dream about our next pursuit at our sewing center in Cambodia. It was an exciting but intimidating thought, but what could be a more beautiful pursuit than bridal gowns?” After consultations with bridal industry experts, the team traveled to Cambodia multiple times within the next year to source materials, scout a location for a larger sewing center, complete training with the artisans and finalize a line of first gowns. “During our training sessions with a veteran bridal seamstress, we learned our artisans were even more gifted than we realized and had the skills to make any gown we could dream up! All the pieces fell together beautifully, and by early 2020, our first Samros bride picked up her gown,” Jillian says.

Samros Bridal's Cambodia sewing center

The Samros bridal line was created by Freedom’s Promise, an organization committed to the prevention of human trafficking through community development initiatives in Cambodia. Image: TK Chan Photography

GETTING TO KNOW THE CAMBODIAN ARTISANS

The seeds of Samros were planted in 2010 when Freedom’s Promise founded a sewing center to teach at-risk women how to sew. “Having a pre-existing foundation in this community, with a group of artisans we knew had the skills to create bridal gowns, allowed us to get Samros up and running with much less downtime than typically required for a new brand,” Jillian says. The founders have intentionally kept the team of artisans small to encourage individual attention and mentorship … but Jillian says “we would love to grow this team as we continue to scale our business.” As weddings begin to fill calendars in the coming years, and brides regain confidence in their planning, we are confident Samros will flourish, too.

A MISSION OF EMPOWERMENT

The Samros mission is to provide opportunities for empowerment for both the artisan and the bride. “We exist to make every woman on the planet feel honored, elegant and empowered, regardless of where she lives,” says Samros Director of Marketing, Anna Kaufmann. “We empower our artisans by providing a safe working environment to dream, flourish and earn a fair wage. We empower the bride by providing an opportunity to use her purchasing power to impact a story beyond her own, and to showcase her inner beauty as well as her outer beauty.” Each gown is named after a woman the team admires, connecting each individual story to a much bigger one.

Artisans showing off wedding dresses they made

Some of the artisans show off the fruits of their talented labor. Image: TK Chan Photography

The “Bow” gown, for example, is named after an artisan who hasn’t always received the opportunity to thrive in the way she deserves. “Bow left school at age five after her parents got divorced and her mother could no longer afford to pay for her education. It was a monumental challenge for Bow to earn a living with such a limited education, and the temptation to migrate across the border to Thailand or Malaysia for better opportunities hung heavy on her heart,” Anna says. Migration would have left Bow vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, and her family would not have known when she would return. “This is a reality many women in Cambodia must face. Thankfully, Bow heard about the mission of Samros and decided to enroll in our training program at our center. Since the creation of our first line, Bow has come alive in her purpose and continues to thrive without worry of working in a safe and supportive working environment. She’s been inspired by learning to make gowns and now dreams of becoming a fashion designer!” Anna says.

Samros Bridal's Cambodia sewing center

The sewing center in Cambodia provides women with artisan training, a loving support system and dignified employment, setting them up to transform their own communities. Image: TK Chan Photography

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LEADING BY EXAMPLE IN THE FASHION WORLD

“We are incredibly fortunate to have watched many other socially conscious companies pave the way for a brand like ours,” Anna says. “According to a leading U.S. social enterprise, ABLE, fashion is the largest global employer of women, but 98% of employees do not earn enough to meet their basic needs.” Having noticed this major gap in the industry, Samros is now able to alter the lives — quite literally — of their artisans with the purchase of each bridal gown. Anna hopes that “simply taking a different path will inspire other brands to do the same, whether they’re currently in operation or are yet to be born.”

Moni Gown

The elegant, sleek and simple Moni gown. Image: Tausha Dickinson

WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BUY A SAMROS DRESS

When a bride purchases from Samros, she can expect a beautiful, high-quality gown with a handwritten note from the circle of artisans who made it. “Due to the intricate nature of bridal gowns, and for our hope for intentional teamwork at our sewing center, we always have more than one artisan work on each gown,” Jillian says. “During the quality assurance process, we brought our line to local shop owners and an experienced bridal seamstress.” It’s evident that the team behind Samros is immensely proud of that facet of operation.

Another huge plus? Many bridal lines are backed up for a year or more right now, but Samros dresses are available within weeks. “With the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year, we knew it was important to set up an e-commerce platform so we could ship our gowns to potential brides all around the U.S. We offer free shipping so a bride can do an at-home try-on and find the perfect fit. This was a quick pivot we needed to make in order for a successful launch, and we’re grateful for it all coming together quickly and effectively this year,” Jillian adds. “Ultimately, we hope our core mission creates a residual effect of hope for anyone who sees our gowns going down the aisle,” Anna says.

Thanks for this “first look” into Samros’ designs and the impactful stories woven into each.

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