To mark International Women’s Day, model and businesswoman Kongka Chan shares her inspirational road to success.
Kongka Chan looks a picture of perfection as she flashes her signature smile.
Wearing a stylish purple dress that elegantly hugs her figure, she poses in front of a collection of clothing she has designed for her new label, Jasmine & Pear.
“After four years modelling, I’ve worked with many brands and designers,” says Kongka.
“It seemed natural to start my own fashion business and people say modelling is a short career so you need to build something besides it.”
At the age of 26, Kongka has racked up a stack of successes.
In 2015, she was crowned winner of the inaugural series of reality TV show, Cambodia’s Next Top Model.
This launched her modelling career and provided her with the perfect platform to follow her dreams, founding her own fashion business.
But charismatic Kongka’s journey hasn’t been easy.
It has taken hard work, commitment
Catwalk to the Top
From a young age, Kongka would imagine slipping into the glamorous gowns she saw on the TV and in magazines, but she never thought she could turn it into a job.
“I always liked clothes, looking beautiful and dressing up,” she says. “But I didn’t know what modelling was until I got the internet.”
After being accepted for Cambodia’s Next Top Model, Kongka spent months trawling the internet and magazines to learn the tricks of the trade.
And her hard work paid off, with her fighting off fierce competition from 15 competitors to walk away with the top title.
Since then, she has strutted her stuff on international catwalks, represented major brands, risen to the ranks of prominent social media influencer and recently launched Jasmine & Pear.
Understanding that key components to success include creating unique quality products, Kongka hit her first hurdle.
“I could make the clothes in Vietnam or Thailand, where it is much cheaper,” she says. “But I chose to make them in Cambodia because this is my country.”
A major challenge has been convincing customers to invest in quality clothing.
“The market in Cambodia is really competitive,” she says.
“There are a lot of cheaper clothes from Vietnam and Thailand and people here don’t really understand about quality, they only care about the price.”
Kongka also wants to use her business as a way to give back to society by training and employing Cambodians with physical disabilities.
“I wanted to set up a business and help people who cannot work,” she says. “This makes me happy.”
Born into a poverty-stricken family in Banteay Meanchey province, life was hard for Kongka growing up.
Desperate for money to support their six daughters, her parents went to Thailand to work in construction leaving 12-year-old Kongka and her older sister to care for their siblings.
As illegal workers, they were arrested and spent one month in prison, unable to send money home.
“We had no food, money or support,” she recalls. “Every day we worried about safety. I was so scared.”
Kongka reached out to an NGO that was able to take in her and her older sister.
The rest of the family relocated to Phnom Penh to stay with an aunty, who was able to fund food and provide shelter, but not education.
After graduating from high school, Kongka moved to the capital to work long days and nights to finance her sisters’ schooling.
“I came home very tired but happy because I knew they were all safe, could go to school and grow up to be better people,” she recalls, adding taking on Cambodia’s Next Top Model was a risk.
“I’ve taken a lot of risks to become who I am today,” she adds.
As a young female, Kongka says launching her own business wasn’t easy, but her unwavering resilience has seen her push through.
“Many people underestimate women,” she says. “They think women can’t make things happen without a man behind them; that ladies cannot go far alone.”
Aiming to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs, Kongka, who is applying to be the first Cambodian contestant on Asia’s Next Top Model, adds,
“Women can make it happen. Stop underestimating yourself and don’t listen to people who say you can’t. Belief in yourself, and if you want something go for it.”
Having a strong support network has played a major role in Kongka’s climb up the career ladder…
With her family and boyfriend providing her with the strength to overcome the pressure of balancing business,
“It’s great if you have the support but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world. You have to fight a little stronger and find a way to focus.”
Kongka has also ploughed effort into building her own brand, becoming a social media influencer for international names, such as Pandora.
And this has involved much more than pouting and posing in front of the camera.
“Modelling is hard work, it’s more than being tall and beautiful,” she says.
“I have to take care of my appearance and manage my time well, and be nice and kind to the people I meet.”
Today, Kongka is urging her peers to be patient, kind and committed when launching their own venture.
“You have to believe in yourself,” she says.
“Go for your dreams and do a lot of research. I want to be a Cambodian role model for the younger generation to relate to me and see no matter where you are, or which family you are from, you can make thing happen with a lot of hard work.
Look at me, I made it happen so why not you?”