Interview: Godie Van de Paal & Martijn van Rijnsoever, Founders of Kingdom of WOW

This week, we had the pleasure of interviewing Godie Van de Paal & Martijn van Rijnsoever, Founders of the Kingdom of Wow. Read the interview to learn about how the company has found their niche and how they have built up an admirable track record in terms of sustainability, from purchasing carbon credits to recently attaining B Corp certification.

Kingdom of Wow was founded in 2015, started with exporting crochet wool slippers to Europe. In 2019, they've grown to offer espadrilles and cater to the US market, while maintaining a focus on ethical, sustainable production and local sales in Cambodia.

EuroCham: You have been a longtime member of EuroCham (and participated in our exporter success stories in 2022) and we’re so happy to see your company growing. What’s been your secret to success? Also, has your advice to companies wanting to export changed since your exporter interview? 

Godie: I don’t think there is a particular ‘secret to success’, rather a combination of persistence, some luck and having a great team to work with! There are constant challenges, in any business, so being adaptive and flexible is key I suppose. For example, we were focusing on expanding our B2B component of the business. Until external factors such as the war in Ukraine and the subsequent economic downturn influenced retail in Europe; we then had to move our focus back to B2C and put all effort into reaching our sales targets in that segment. 

For other companies considering exporting, my advice has not changed. I still think it is wise for Cambodia-based manufacturers to find a market outside of the country. This will improve resilience and will help deal with unexpected changes in the world that you cannot mitigate. Lower tourism figures or the economic downturn in one area can seriously impact on a company. For example, while we were dealing with a decrease in sales in Europe, we did not experience the same trend in our North American sales. That can soften the blow a bit and make all the difference between success and bankruptcy. 

EuroCham: Congratulations on your B Corp certification, there’s not many companies in Cambodia that have achieved this! Could you tell us briefly about the process of attaining this certification and why you’ve made both environmental and social sustainability a core part of your business? 

Godie: Ethical and sustainable manufacturing were our core drivers when starting the company. We did not want to contribute to current wrongs in the industry, or to more landfill and ecological damage. But claiming this is one thing; today customers rightfully want some proof of these claims, considering all the greenwashing. It has taken us some time to apply for the certification, because of our small size. Going through an audit for certification requires a significant commitment in human resources, and for a long time we simply did not have the capacity. With the help of EuroCham’s Export Grant and Khmer Enterprise’s EDMG grant we have been able to free up capacity to go through the certification procedure. From start to finish, it took us about 2 years as we spread out the work to fit in with other activities. A large component of the work was to formalize practices we had already in place: in a small company a lot of the culture and procedures are communicated verbally. We needed to formalize those in policies and procedures. It was a good exercise which helped us professionalize as a company, as well as providing an analysis of the things we can improve on as we grow. 

EuroCham: You will also soon be releasing your 2023 Carbon Footprint Report, something you’ve done since 2020, putting you well in front of the trend, as companies are now scrambling to sustainability reporting requirements. What’s the process like for measuring your carbon footprint?  

Martijn: The first step was analyzing our full supply chain. We need to understand and account for our carbon footprint starting upstream with our raw materials and all the way downstream to when our customer throws out our footwear at the end of their usable life.  

When that was in place, we did a materiality analysis. Looking at the size of the impact and the ‘measurability’ from our side. For instance, we measure and calculate the impact of the sizeable amount of wool we buy but may exclude a bag of 250 buttons. This way we mapped out the impact for all scopes, upstream and downstream.  

EuroCham: You offset your footprint with carbon credits, a much talked about but sometimes misunderstood concept. Why was it important for you to take this route and what are your thoughts on carbon credits overall? 

Martijn: As a small company in Cambodia, we are not part of any compulsory carbon offset program like large corporations in the EU. So, we are in what is called the ‘voluntary carbon market’. To be honest, we find it difficult to get a full grip on the ins and outs of every credit option available in the market.  

We acknowledge that it is a fast-developing market, that we are in a steep learning curve, and there sometimes is some abuse of the system,which we have seen in the news. So, in this imperfect marketplace, we have decided to buy carbon credits from accredited programs. Like REDD+ or the Gold Standard. We want to be on the right side and heading in the right direction. We also prefer to work with programs in Cambodia as this is where we operate. For the last few years, we have chosen to buy carbon credits from the REDD+ project here. Besides reducing emissions from deforestation, the REDD+ approach includes the development of local communities and promoting bio of biodiversity in general. ike that too. 

EuroCham: Last but certainly not least, congratulations on your partnership with impact investment companies, in the Netherlands and MS Beteiligungen in Germany. How did this come about and how does it help achieve your goals for the short-term future? 

Godie: About two years ago we were at the point where we were somewhat ‘stuck’: we did not have the funds to grow without external assistance, and we had also not reached our desired ‘economy of scale’ yet. Finding an investor was really the only way out of the impasse. The whole process was very new to us though, so we collaborated with a Dutch company that specializes in guiding impact companies through investment rounds. They helped us create a solid pitch deck, and they introduced us to potential investors.  

There are always pros and cons to attracting investment: you get money to grow, but you also lose part of your ownership and will have to answer a Board. To us this meant it was essential to find the right partner: someone who shares our values and believes in the company’s potential but does not want to co-captain the ship. We need our freedom to run the business as we see fit. But investors can be very useful in practical terms in additional to the financial input: our new German partner for example can provide us with a network and advise on expanding into the German market. And our current US-based investor has made it possible for us to import and start selling in North America. 

For the short term, the new investment is being used to grow the team: we are building a new and much bigger workshop in Siem Reap to allow expansion of our production team. Our current location had reached its capacity a while ago, and we were adding extra buildings for warehousing etc. That was not an ideal situation, so we hope to move into the new facility in August and will be able to expand the team then. We also welcomed two new colleagues in the sales and marketing department, because making the products requires capacity, but selling does so as well! 



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