Asia Lifestyle talks to Maddy Green, Creative Director and founder of Ammo – a company which is empowering families by taking inspiration from Cambodia’s war-torn past and turning it into something very special.
How and why did you start Ammo?
I’d been studying design for four years, and working with silver jewellery for much longer – but in England the costs of running a business and the isolation of working in a small workshop in the countryside started to take their toll.
Ten years ago, I took a nine-month trip to the Far East and was immediately drawn to the contrast between the mystery of the ancient Angkorian temples in Siem Reap and country’s modern-day struggles after the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Like many people I realised I’d underestimated Cambodia. There was so much life, so much vitality, so much creativity – and I knew I’d found a very special place.
And that’s where Ammo was born?
I moved to Cambodia permanently in 2012, and I met a huge amount of talented artisans. They were working closely together, they had an incredible sense of family and togetherness, they were terribly disadvantaged, and they were using very basic tools. The most amazing thing was that they were producing the most exquisite jewellery. And it was jewellery with a sense of history. For around 20 years they’d been using bullets as a base material and what they were doing was incredible. For the next two years I volunteered to help their workshops with production and marketing, and in return they kindly shared their knowledge and skills.
The union of weapons and jewellery is slightly unsettling – how do you feel about that?
Creating beauty from destruction is a really thought-provoking concept. We’re turning a very negative material into a work of art, and we’re making a positive change. The whole point behind Ammo is that it addresses the disadvantages young and disabled Cambodians are facing. We offer vocational apprenticeships in design and production in a safe and positive environment where their talents can be nurtured. And we use recycled brass bullets for our main collections – they’re not from war or bloodshed. They’ve only been fired once for practice and we simply buy them as scrap metal.
What are the greatest challenges you face?
Our main challenge was always sourcing good quality equipment, tools and materials. Happily, the Cambodian people are masters at improvisation, and I’ve seen some truly ingenious ideas in my time here. It’s quite incredible.
And then we had 2020 and the arrival of Covid-19…
Yes – over the last few months we’ve seen all the retail outlets we work with close down (our own workshop has been closed to visitors for the last two months) and that reduced our income to almost zero. The tourism industry in Cambodia is in extreme danger of total collapse, and people are already starving due to unemployment and food security. Incredibly, our artisans have been very courageous throughout the pandemic, and our Khmer manager has really gone above and beyond in looking after our artisans, ensuring their families have rice and food.
Despite the events of this year, what are you most proud of achieving?
Since Ammo started we’ve trained eight young Cambodians to become jewellers, and it’s amazing when you consider we have no less than four female jewellers – there’s only a handful in the entire country! I’ve always loved helping further the artistic opportunities for my staff, and I’ve always tried to create business opportunities so they can be successful as individuals. Their skills and talent is worthy of a fair-trade price, and they deserve a well-paid salary for their efforts.
You seem to have an affinity with working with women…
I do really empathise with our female team members, but maybe that’s because I became a mother myself in Cambodia! To advocate for these women’s rights we joined Artisans Association of Cambodia, and we now offer maternity packages for all our staff – although I should say we also offer paternity packages as well! Our staff are truly talented – when Angelina Jolie made First They Killed My Father in 2017, three of our jewellers worked on the film. We even made a special bullet hairpin for her as a gift.
You’ve achieved so much already. What do you have planned for the future?
I think ethical fashion is the future for the jewellery industry, and we’ve been working for a long time to reach Fair Trade status – we’ve always had strong accountability and full traceability of our unique designs. As the founder of Ammo, my dream has always been that each artisan develops their own personal creative style, and we start to see them producing really unique one-off pieces from their own hearts and minds. I hope the world will support the creative endeavours of these hugely-talented people – which will help them take charge of their own destinies.
And here you are back in the UK!
I came back to support my family, but also to launch our jewellery business online to the UK/US markets. We now have an online store called Fairmade World, where you’ll find our best-selling pieces. We’ve also recently launched our first fundraising campaign to provide tools, equipment and essential salaries to keep our jewellers employed, motivated and looking forward to sustainable futures.
How can people support your work?
We need to do more for these people, and the devastating impact of Covid-19 means we’re really going to struggle over the coming months. If we can raise a mere £1,500 our team will be able to work from home, they’ll be able to stay safe from Covid-19, they’ll be able to look after their children and families, and they’ll keep Ammo’s beautiful jewellery in production – which would be wonderful for them.
People will inevitably want to know exactly how their donations are being used…
And they’ll be glad to learn we’ll be able to supply three jewellers with a toolkit containing a piercing saw, blades, an electric pendant, drill, polishing machine, soldering torch, pump, and hand tools. We’ll also provide three month’s salary to enable them to continue making jewellery for the Ammo collection – but also give them the time and the freedom to design their own jewellery ranges to continue the artistic legacy of Cambodia. This is a wonderful country with a wonderful heritage – and we need to do everything we can to support it.
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Seven years ago today, the glamorous facade of the global fashion industry was shattered following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The catastrophe thrust the subject of ethical fashion into the spotlight, and the public started to ask questions about #whomademyclothes? This sparked the formation of @fash_rev_cambodia – a non-profit organisation committed to enacting genuine change.🧡 As members of Fashion Revolution Cambodia, We share that vision to champion the rights of workers in all fashion industries for a more fair-trade, ethical future! 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 Here our manager @chantrea093, and master jewellers Philit and Kenh from Ammo are honoured to be featured in an interview with founder Madeline Green, about how the current situation has impacted our artisans and business, and what our solutions will be to encourage and support their creativity in a meaningful, ethical way. #whomademyjewellery #fashionrevolution2020 #ethicallymade #fairtrademonth #fashionrevolutioncambodia #sustainable #cambodia #fairtrade
Please click below to donate and support our team:
GO FUND ME LINK: https://www.gofundme.com/f/sponsor-ammo-jewellers
FAIRMADE WORLD LINK: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/fairmadeworld?ref=seller-platform-mcnav
Read about Cambodia’s eco food revolution “Here”
Hailed as the first female firefighter in Britain, Jo joined Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service in 1982 at 17. Using determination and inner strength to overcome prejudice, she proved that women could make great firefighters.
Adventurous and free-spirited, Jo left a promising fire service career to join expeditions in South America and Southeast Asia, founded the Silk Road Design Co in China, and moved to the island of Koh Samui in 2006.
Exposed to huge inequalities around the world, Jo relocated to Cambodia to help a local NGO. Travelling on one of the first planes after Typhoon Haiyan hit, she spent a month in the Philippines writing articles, and as Nepal’s 2015 earthquake struck was commissioned to write for UN Women.
Jo is regularly in the media and published her memoir Fire Woman in 2017.