In 2009 I found myself being made redundant twice in the course of six months due to the recession in the UK. Taking what little savings I had, I hopped on a plane and started working my way around the world, working and volunteering as I went along. I was lucky enough to visit New Zealand, Australia, Japan, before landing in South East Asia. After travelling by road through Vietnam, I found myself in the beauty of Cambodia, and I fell in love with the people and the country instantly.
I spent some time doing as most backpackers do, trying to dodge making eye contact with the many street children with their well rehearsed puppy dog eyes, and visiting a few of the hundreds of orphanages. One orphanage that stuck on my mind was in Siem Reap, and I felt compelled to donate teaching equipment to them, as they lived in inhumane conditions with very limited money and resources.
Giving back to local people and places I’ve visited
After continuing my travels through Asia and Africa, I returned back to my home in the UK 14 months later a different person. I had a new appreciation for how lucky I am to be born in the UK, and I knew I didn’t want to enter the rut I left behind.
Being out of work, I enrolled myself onto a course run by the Princes’ Trust called The Princes’ Trust Enterprise Program, without really too much of an idea of what it is a wanted to do… I knew I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny and be my own boss, but I also wanted to give back to the people I had left behind.
After completing the course and spending a lot of time completing market research, I knew I wanted to start a unique charitable jewellery company. The seed of Vurchoo was planted in my mind.
I wanted to create a jewellery range with a difference. I wanted to show people the emotion and stories of those in need.
I got in contact with an orphanage I met in Siem Reap, Cambodia and pitched my idea. I wanted to create a jewellery range with a difference. I wanted to show people the emotion and stories of those in need.
I simply asked the children of the orphanage to draw anything that means a lot to them, the results were wonderful seeing their favourite tress, toys and patterns.
I used these drawings as my sole inspiration for a contemporary jewellery range made from gold silver and stones.
Six months down the line, however, I was contacted by a French organization, and to my shock they asked me to stop any business with this charity. In disbelief that the disabled owner who run the place on his own would be running a fraudulent charity, I demanded evidence – something of which they, in turn, were happy to supply.
My heart sunk… What happens to these children? Where do they really live? Why would the manager not really want to help them? So many questions I had, and none I was likely to get answers too.
One thing was for sure, though, the six months of design work and money invested was a waste.
The Hun Pitou Range and funding from the Princes’ Trust
I then set about looking for UK registered charities to work with and this is when I came across Harnessing Opportunities through Play and Education (HOPE). With years of experience on the ground in Cambodia, they were happy to share their experiences and assist me in making Vurchoo a reality.
I first started working with Jays School. Unfortunately, they had to close their doors which was another set back, but HOPE did not give up and put me in contact with Salariin Kampuchea. Working closely with Jo and Thomas, The Hun Pitou Range was born.
The Hun Pitou collection is inspired by Hun Pitou’s life and the importance of rice in Cambodia. Those of you who have been to Cambodia might have heard a friendly greeting that sounds something along the lines of ‘Nyam bay reu now?’. This is a normal greeting in the local language Khmer and roughly translates to ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’
I used this as the inspiration for the Hun Pitou range, using rice grains to capture the essence of Cambodia.
As Hun Pitou’s drawing dictates, nothing is as it seems, nor is anything perfect. You will find that the rice grains and other aspects in the collection are not uniform shapes.
Two years of work later, I was lucky enough to receive funding from the Prince himself… When I say the Prince, I mean the trust. When I say himself, I mean his charity. Have you seen the TV show Dragon’s Den? It was just like that.
Launching another range inspired by Caleb from Rwanda, Vurchoo started appearing in the shops. I have also received great media coverage being in the Sun, Radio 2 and many other papers. More recently my designs have been worn by Caggie Dunlop from Made in Chelsea, and her mother.
All purchases will provide a contribution back to the projects that inspired the range and Vurchoo currently contributes to various teaching programmes. Donations to Salariin Kampuchea will assist in sustaining their ongoing work with children and youth from disadvantaged families in Siem Reap. This means the money is invested in people’s education, as well as fair and ethical working conditions. I’m very pleased with the progress so far and, in the future, I hope to expand the collections and offer the unique Vurchoo proposition to even more charities around the world.
Inspired by the importance of rice and day-to-day life in Cambodia, The Hun Pitou Collection is available to order online and purchase at selected jewellery shops in London and throughout the UK.
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