Future of Fashion in Saigon

shopping - Saigon/HCMC: Sept. 29, 2016

Fashion has exploded in the last decade. Reality shows like Project Runway and Next Top Model have intrigued young designers, and a design revolution has been brewing for some years now.

Vietnam Fashion Week is in its third year and is incredibly successful. There is a higher demand for quality products. And with the advent of the new Takashimaya mall, international brands have suddenly poured into Vietnam in droves. But is it all sustainable? One of the country’s most recognised young designers, and founder of Vietnam Fashion Academy, Huy Vo, believes not so much; at least, not yet.

Photo: Edi Luong, Model: Kim Nha, Designer: Ivan Tran, Makeup: Minh Chu

In 2007-2010, the boutique fashion scene was thriving. Shops sprang up like wildfire, and the rich Vietnamese found wonderful new clothes to buy. But after the stock market plummeted, sales slowed, and the short burst of success gave way to a more revealing truth: the trendy young designers who started strong now realised they had little foundation to support themselves. Shops began to close, giving way to big name retail spaces.

Big Brand Dilemma

The fashion scene is still growing, but the question still remains: how can domestic designers and brands compete with the wave of big brands jumping on the bandwagon? Huy Vo mentions three crucial factors for any designer’s success in the marketplace: brand identity, customer service and quality.

Photo via Pixabay

The first two - brand identity and customer service - are easy. Many young designers are inherent digital marketers, and naturally use Facebook and Instagram to promote their products in ingenious ways. Serving their customers doesn’t seem to be an issue either. But when quality comes into question, there’s a noticeable gap. What good is a trendy blouse if it doesn’t look great after two washes? Or a nice pair of jeans if they fall apart after six months?

Vendors in Saigon Square kept producing faker fakes for profit, killing themselves in the process. On the other side, many young designers started out curious and ambitious, but without the foundation of knowledge required to build a sustainable clothing business.

True Domestic Quality

With malls you get the surface - the presentation, the brand, the space - but not what people actually want to buy. Where do people actually shop these days? Social media is a powerful tool for young designers, and chat apps and social networking sites like Zalo and Facebook have everyone from teens to middle-aged adults selling their wares. Then there are the corner shops near home, and online Amazon-like sites like Lazada and Leflair.

 

Photo via Pixabay

True domestic quality comes in the form of passionate designers with sustainable brands - thinkers who think forward. Notable names include Antonio De Torres, Lam Gia Khang, Huy Tran, Do Manh Cuong, Adrian Anh Tuan, Li Lam and Cong Tri, among others. Some examples of good fashion boutiques are Nosbyn, Cashew, Wephobia, Ren, The Blue T-Shirt, Thuy Design House and Annacoco.

Huy Vo says the problem with any industry in Vietnam is that many upcoming players think in trends, not sustainability. When the question is posed, will it last in the next 5-10 years? There are blank stares. When asked whether the brand will ever make it overseas, the question is likely dismissed.

To see what happens next just look at coffee shops: there seems to be a new cafe popping up every day, and another closing the next. Investors pump money into the cafes, the owners sell, the staff are secondary, and eventually the project goes bust. There’s a common thread here.

The Missing Factor

Huy Vo stresses the need for education, how knowledge creates a solid foundation. What if you know how to draw a beautiful piece of clothing, but don’t understand how it’s constructed? And then there is the question of history. Some young designers figure they don’t need to know the history of fashion in order to design - but you ask them what were the styles of the 20s and 40s and they come up with surface-level answers, says Huy Vo. They don’t understand the background of the time, the trends, the political situation, the movements of the era that influenced the style.

World Class

This doesn’t mean the shopping scene in Vietnam, and particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, is lacking in world-class products. Almost anything handmade in Vietnam is beautiful. Lacquerware, embroidery and textiles are of first rate quality. Items like these have much potential, with enough culture and craftsmanship behind them to create an excellent story. In this case, the brand identity is missing, but the quality (and sometimes even the service) is there.

 Photo: Edi Luong, Model: Kim Nha, Designer: Ivan Tran, Makeup: Minh Chu

Marou chocolate and Vietnamese rice - both quality products that come from Vietnam - have reached international attention because of their quality and outreach. Vietnamese clothing can reach this potential, but there is a lot of work ahead for designers and business owners - mainly in the form of education and planning.

Huy Vo heads the Vietnam Fashion Academy at 14 Ton That Dam, 2nd Floor, Hotline: 09 2303 1188.

Header photo via Pixabay