Thirty years ago, Kikuo Morimoto was a craftsman who specialised in dyeing hand-painted Yuzen kimonos, a treasure of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. Today, he is producing silk fabric in Siem Reap, Cambodia. 'I am stubborn, I just do what I believe in,' he said on a recent visit to Japan where he delivers his products directly to the customer. The self-proclaimed 'silk fanatic' began his quest to revive the traditional silk textile business in 1983, after moving to Thailand in order to teach locals the techniques of natural silk dyeing and hand-weaving. In 1995, as a part of a Unesco project, he visited villages in war-ravaged Cambodia, where the traditional art of silk production was facing extinction. Those people in their 30, 40s and 50s - who should have been learning the skills from the previous generation - had become victims of the bloody conflict. It was during the Khmer empire - which prospered from the 9th to the 14th centuries - that silk production became more and more sophisticated. Fascinated by the high standards, Mr Morimoto launched his own private project to restore the 'yellow cocoon' silkworm culture. He established the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles, a non-governmental organisation, in Phnom Pen, before moving to Siem Reap in 2000. Mr Morimoto travelled around the nation, meeting elderly Khmer women who had learned how to weave silk in the traditional manner. He provided the facilities for them to pass on their skills to the younger generation. 'People think that I am only interested in reviving the tradition,' he said. 'But I would like to demonstrate a new model of revitalising impoverished rural Cambodia that once had its own economic viability.' He launched a project, entitled the Wisdom of the Forest, to promote the entire silk production process. Mr Morimoto reforested parts of the barren countryside to provide the silkworms with the mulberry leaves they need to eat to produce silk. Meanwhile, workshops for spinning, dyeing and weaving were built. The results were elaborately patterned fabrics - '100 per cent natural, 100 per cent handmade' - and about 500 villagers involved in his operation who would have otherwise been jobless and trapped in poverty. Mr Morimoto recently received this year's Rolex Award for Enterprise, set up by the Swiss watchmaker for 'recognising pioneering concepts and innovative thought'. The US$100,000 prize will be used for further marketing of his team's products - and also for more development of his operations in Siem Reap, which, he says, he now regards as home.