Elizabeth Kiester grew up in Westport, but she always had the world in mind.
Her father was a Vietnam War correspondent. Her dream of living in Asia was stoked by constant travel in her jobs on the fashion side of magazines, including Mademoiselle, Jane and YM. She had a huge creative job at Abercrombie & Fitch, and served as global creative director of LeSportsac.
When the 1983 Staples grad gave up her high-powered LeSportsac post, she volunteered in Cambodia. She fell in love with the country and its people.
She moved to Siem Reap and opened Wanderlust, a sunny shop selling local goods, handmade art and a clothing collection — designed by Elizabeth and made by local women — in a French Colonial building near the famed Angkor Wat temple.
“Siem Reap was an ancient arts and culture capital, and that creative spirit is still here,” Elizabeth told Travel & Leisure.
The magazine noted:
Kiester set out to create a fashion line that is democratic in its approach (one size that really fits all), affordable (nothing over $60), and universally appealing, with a Palm Beach-meets-Phuket look.
Nearly all her goods are commissioned from Cambodian artisans. A severely handicapped woman weaves $2 bracelets from plastic bottles; children at an orphanage tie-dye $6 T-shirts, and a local seamstress creates $8 scarves.
An admirer wrote on Readmuse, a fashion and culture blog: “She’s giving back to the community, which is still reeling from the Khmer Rouge. In an area that was so ravaged by conflict, she’s begun teaching English to locals.”
Elizabeth says: “The younger generation in their 30s never got the chance to go to school, learn a trade, or experience anything since they were orphaned.
“Cambodia is filleed with relief workers trying to help the people here regain some skills and get a lifestyle back. So that’s why I am trying to keep all of my products local, and keeping 6 young girls gainfully employed and learning about Western sewing and designing techniques.”
A fan wrote: “(Elizabeth’s) sincerity, thoughtfulness, courage is unlike anyone I’ve met….Not to mention, Wanderlust’s designs are awesome. Truly an unexpected, perfect fit of East meets West.”
Elizabeth’s Wanderlust continues. A sister store opens soon, in Phnom Penh.