Awareness by design – this concept fuels Silong Chhun, the Tacoma-based man behind Red Scarf Revolution, a clothing brand and platform that uses creative design as a conduit for education. Started in 2013, he was inspired to create shirts for himself and friends who lacked items they could wear that was representative of their Cambodian culture. Born at the tail end of the Khmer Rouge, he and his family immigrated to Tacoma’s Eastside, where he grew up seeing jackets that had “Brazil” or “USA” emblazoned on them. Initially, he just wanted a way to showcase his pride and love for Cambodia, but as the brand grew, it manifested into a larger platform where Chhun could raise awareness of Cambodia’s dark history of the Khmer Rouge and its regime.
This Communist period between 1975-1979 brought terrible atrocities and cultural annihilation to the Cambodian people. During this four-year period, an estimated two million people were brutally murdered due to executions, starvation and disease in what is known as the “Killing Fields” – sites across Cambodia where mass graves lay of those who were thought to be connected to the former government, foreign government, professionals and scholars. The regime especially targeted intellectuals, teachers and artists – basically cultural gatekeepers and bearers of knowledge. This cultural genocide, at the hands of a radicalized Pol Pot, erased traditional Khmer culture, arts, religious practices, free markets and more. Soon after Pol Pot’s takeover, he declared it the beginning of “Year Zero”, where all culture and traditions would be completely erased, and a new revolution will arise.
Through Chhun’s shirt designs and art, active social media presence, and community work, he aims to educate others about these atrocities, and re-contextualize its history to showcase the strength and resilience of their people.
One of his biggest goals for Red Scarf Revolution is to bridge Cambodian youth with their history, while providing a sense of self-worth and identity in order to move the culture forward. As a Cambodian refugee himself who was not aware of Cambodia’s history until his teenage years, he feels that it is a part of his calling to pass down this history and to provide a space for Cambodian-American youth to discuss history with their elders.
He explains that, “the concept of awareness by design is to provoke conversation and open the door to dialogue about Cambodia and what Cambodians are all about. The name itself is a representation of the red Kramas, a red scarf that is associated with the Khmer Rouge. The Kramas were a staple of the Cambodian culture before it was a symbol of the Khmer Rouge; we’re taking it back and giving it back to the people.” By recontextualizing the krama, he brings forth a new history to associate with them – a history that he, and other Cambodians can be proud of.
For Chhun, Red Scarf Revolution filled the need of discovering his self-identity, and became a vessel for him to exhibit his Cambodian pride. He hopes that by showcasing his love for his homeland, others in the community will see it too.