i-MEGANE: Glasses that Last

By: Keely Burkey

When Shinichi Suzuki, the owner of two eyeglasses shops in Hokkaido, Japan, first visited Ho Chi Minh City in 2011, his intention wasn’t to open a business in Vietnam. However, as he visited local shops to check their wares, he wasn’t satisfied. The quality of the frames and the choices available weren’t what he expected from a rapidly growing city like Saigon.

Rather than expanding his business to Tokyo like he originally planned, Suzuki decided to head south. Today i-MEGANE glasses boasts locations on Dien Bien Phu Street in District 3 and Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1, and more locations are soon to come. There are two reasons for this rapid expansion: i-MEGANE has a huge selection of high-quality frames, glasses and contact lenses, and employees who take pride in customising every pair to fit each customer’s individual lifestyle.

megane
Image source: i-megane

Quality Matters

One of Suzuki’s primary concerns when he first visited Ho Chi Minh City’s glasses shops was the quality of the products. Although frames were cheap, he noticed that there was a reason

for it: the lifespan of many local frames was just one to two years – something that becomes

costly as a customer keeps replacing an easily damaged product.

By contrast, in true Japanese fashion, glasses at i-MEGANE transcend typical spectacles and become works of art and design. The materials are better, stronger and more flexible; the lenses are more precise, durable and thinner; and the frames are elegant, sophisticated and subtle.

Many of the 4,000 frames i-MEGANE has in stock help rethink the comfort of traditional glasses. For example, when a person wears a pair of normal glasses, there are three points that allow the glasses to rest on the head: one on each ear and the third on the bridge of the nose. This model has worked well for hundreds of years, but Japanese designers have discovered that it can be done better.

meganeImage source: i-megane

Some of the premium frames offered at i-MEGANE are made of a new, highly flexible titanium that increases the amounts of “resting points” on the head. For those who wear these new designs, the difference is clear: the glasses feel lighter, don’t shift as often as traditional

glasses and don’t break as easily.

Tai Kitamura, the Assistant Director of i-MEGANE, explains the new technology and adds, “If it’s not made in Japan, it’s probably not made like this. Rather than a lifespan of one to two years, these glasses hold up five or six times as long.”

Here’s a challenge for you: try wearing a premium Japanese brand of glasses like Line Art, Banerina or 999.9 for a month and then go back to your old glasses. Chances are, you won’t be able to.

Finding Glasses for Every Lifestyle

Here’s the undeniable truth: with glasses, one size definitely does not fit all. The success of a good pair of glasses depends primarily on the lifestyle of the person wearing them and what they want to use them for: while a pair of glasses might be perfect for one person, it might be completely unsuitable for another. And when you’re looking to buy something that you use every minute of every day, there’s no room to mess around.

Tai lists the many factors that go into choosing the right glasses for a customer: “Our doctors will ask you questions about your work, your lifestyle, how many glasses you have, what you’ll use the glasses for… If you go to other stores, they can measure the power of your eyes, but they don’t think about your lifestyle. Plus, there’s our lenses. We can order a full line-up of made-in-Japan progressive lenses to make sure you have the best products available.”

meganeImage source: i-megane

At i-MEGANE’s Le Thanh Ton location, English-speaking optometrists and employees have become trusted and artful long-term vision consultants and every customer gets the warm welcome and friendly service that’s become a trademark of Japan. Although i-MEGANE’s Le Thanh Ton store opened in 2015, the professionalism of this company goes back decades. The flagship store in Hokkaido, for example, just celebrated its 86-year anniversary.

“Our customers will buy two or three glasses for different purposes. We often see customers who come back after four or five years just to change the power of the lenses,” he says. “That’s how good our glasses are.”

Contact:

122 Le Thanh Ton, D1 | +84 28 3823 7200  | Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. 

285B Dien Bien Phu, D3 | +84 28 3930 3025 | Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Website: i-megane.com.vn

Email: info@i-megane.com.vn

Banner image source: i-megane

 


A Closer Look at Leather

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Anupa, who has worked with leather for the best part of 14 years, specialises in sourcing, tanning and making her leather bags and accessories.

Her work goes all the way up the supply chain making her unique in her attitude to creating a luxury leather brand. She sat down with #iAMHCMC to give her know-how on this much-loved material.

4,000 Years of Leather 

One of the most interesting facts about leather is that it has experienced widespread popularity since 3000 BC. During the Roman Empire, it was widely known that sails used on boats were made of leather. Other common uses included household furniture, tents, weapons, and body armour. Approximately 1000 years later, leather started being worn by fashionable Egyptians; originally it was recorded that men wore leather before women. In the 17th century, having the walls of your home covered with stylish leather was the rage in Florence and Venice, Italy. By the early 19th century, wooden golf balls were replaced with leather ones.

It All Comes Back to the Cow

Leather is quite special - it has the ability to maintain and absorb humidity, and provides proper ventilation. Leather also has the unique ability to regulate temperature, which can insulate us against the cold but also ventilates excessive heat effectively.

Look at your belt, your shoes, your bag - you’re probably wearing at least one or two leather items at a given time. When we talk about leather, we begin at the source: the cow (or whatever animal) that gave us its skin. How was the animal treated? If you imagine someone being whipped and beaten, you can guess how skin can change under stress and cruelty. When a baby is born, a mother has stretch marks. Animal leather is no different, and everything from a calf being born to sickness shows up on end product.

When Anupa creates a leather product, there are several factors she considers:

- Where the raw leather skins come from (purchasing from meat farms where cattle is raised for food consumption is key).

- What makes leather usable in the manufacturing process comes down to the mechanical and chemical treatments used during tanning. The main factors to consider are: texture, durability, comfort, grain, maintenance, water resistance, weight, strength, scratch resistance, pliability, and softness.

- And the final part is the appearance. There are dozens and dozens of shades of black, whilst white is the hardest colour to tan. So creating the final colour, which is part of tanning process, is a big decision to make.

Big Brands: Not Your Enemy

With so many steps, one can imagine how much time and effort is put into producing quality leather; we can thank companies like Nike and Adidas who have undertaken extensive R&D to advance the tanning process and what we can do with leather. Some may dismiss these big brands, thinking they manufacture for a buck and sell for a hundred. But thanks to them (and mounting pressure to improve R&D) we now have found more effective ways of tanning animal skin.

Now we get to the final stage of the process, which is using the best materials to finish the leather product. Thread plays an integral part of the quality of the finished product. If a bag uses good thread, and is stitched properly, weight will be distributed appropriately, no matter how many things are crammed into your bag. This keeps your back and shoulders safe and makes the bag last.

Getting the Perfect Tan

So how do you know your leather bag is quality? To ensure the best tanning practises have been used, testing in a lab is the true way to really know if your leather meets standards.

Ultimately, the consumer isn’t expected to know the tanning process - they just see the bags on the shelf, with no idea if the shop went to the extent necessary to ensure the quality of the leather. So trusting the brand owners (designers) to make sure quality materials is what you can expect.

Anupa stresses the fact that buying copies of genuine leather items is bad practice and doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a quality product. It also disrespects the producers who are behind the R&D of the modern leather process. Buying quality leather also ensures the product will last - and this is one item we want staying with us for a while.


Diminishing Space for Vietnamese Designers

By: City Pass Guide

Why are all of HCMC’s boutique shops disappearing?

In the past, HCMC was a boutique shoppers paradise, hosting hundreds of artisan shops all over what is now the corporate-dominated walking street. But where have all these gone and what is their future amidst the globalisation of this hot spot? In order to find answers I sat down with Christina Yu, founder of the prestigious multinational accessory line Ipa Nima, and Quentin Axlerod, founder of Bliss Magazine. This discussion brought about many thought-provoking topics within Ho Chi Minh City’s rapidly evolving retail market. Since 1997, Christina’s Brand Ipa Nima has been handcrafting some of the best accessories,handbags and wallets for thousands of mid-high end consumers alike.

Although there are a handful of established designers like Christina still finding success in Vietnam’s fashion scene, the numbers are certainly lacking.

“Less emphasis has been put on quality and personalisation by many designers as many just follow European trends.”

Perhaps there is not enough trust from consumers in Vietnamese produced goods, but why is this? From Christina Yu’s point of view this boils down to a shortcoming of education regarding local support, a shortage of affordable and centralised space for local designers’ to promote their work, and an almost non-existent platform for local designers to evolve.

Although the thought that there is not much hope for local designers to compete with the big names leaves us feeling a bit bleak, there is certainly some light at the end of the tunnel.

“There are plenty of young intellectual designers out there taking risks, and consciously crafting new items with first rate materials.”

As a result of iconic designers like Christina Yu, and Ipa Nima’s groundbreaking approach to production, some have come to value and appreciate the importance of using quality materials to meticulously hand make each item. Taking the time to passionately create your own merchandise can be rigorous, time consuming and intimidating in light of major international names.

With little government support towards a proper platform for talented locals to display their work, it seems that we may need to rethink how the boutique shops will manage to be profitable without having a prime establishment that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In lieu of this insight, there are a handful of innovative artists working to circumvent big brand takeover by utilising retail space in a new way. Considering the price of rent for ground floor space, most shop owners have been forced to move up to the second or third floors. This results in less traffic, as many shoppers will often just stick to the ground floor shops for convenience. Some shop owners, like Floralpunk have been successful in finding alternative locations. Floral Punk strategically placed her small boutique at 40E Ngo Duc Ke, between the famous walking streets of Dong Khoi and Nguyen Hue, making it quite easy for people to stumble upon by foot.

Photo by Lam Minh Khang, Model: Phi Phuong Anh, Fashion designer: Lam Gia Khanh, Stylist: Mi Goi, Makeup: Quan Hoa Nguyen

Ly Tu Trong is one area that is quickly becoming home to various well known fashion names opening shops above ground floors. L’Usine offers a whole different kind of experience as it’s both a boutique shop and restaurant. This duality is the perfect model of how to utilise space in a more effective manner. As people enter for the bistro-style French cuisine, customers are unexpectedly pulled into the boutique shop as well. This kind of arrangement is ideal, and a creative way around the high prices of the centralised shopping locations.

“HCMC is booming with international brands which leaves many boutique artisans at a loss.”

As the industry develops, local designers are going to have to do what they do best - be creative, in order to keep up during this transitional period. Considering the amount of passion, dedication and resourcefulness of Vietnam’s top designers, we hope that they will successfully manage to find their place to compete with some of the world’s most powerful brands. And for you shoppers - don’t be shy. Take a trip up those rugged looking staircases, and open the doors to Saigon’s true fashion scene.

Photos by Lam Minh Khang


Future of Fashion in Saigon

By: Aleksandr Smechov

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


SIR Tailor: Top-Class Fashion in the Heart of Saigon

By: Patrick Gaveau

I love living in Vietnam, but as a foreigner there are some things that have always been a struggle. Case in point: tailored clothing. With my bigger frame, my body build is different from most of the men around me. During my 10 years in the country, I can’t count how many times I’ve gone to a tailor for custom clothing and left feeling disappointed.

SIR Tailor

Often it’s not just the fit that’s the problem, it’s the style. Growing up in Europe and travelling the world has given me an appreciation for the elegance of European clothing. Many tailors in Vietnam, though technically excellent with details, are comfortable working only with a limited set of styles.

SIR Tailor

SIR Tailor, as I learned, offers the customer a completely different experience. The shop, nestled between the brand-name clothing stores on Ho Chi Minh City’s Nguyen Hue street, immediately made an impression. The store was spacious, the displayed clothes were impeccable and the ambience was calm and elegant. It was clear from the start that SIR Tailor was remaking the idea of the Vietnamese tailor.

Suited to Perfection

When you see a good suit, what do you see? The measure of a good suit lies in both the broad strokes and the details: the buttonholes can matter as much as the cut; the lining can be on par with the fabric; the corners of the pocket must be as perfect as the width of the collar. All of these details ultimately add up to the most important elements of all: balance and proportion.

SIR Tailor

It’s this idea of style and balance that is central to the philosophy of SIR Tailor. And thanks to the founders’ incredible knowledge about these intricate details, SIR Tailor succeeds on all accounts. With a team that specialises in all forms of men’s clothing (suits, shirts, pants, chinos and polos are just some of their in-shop offerings), along with shirts and suits available for women, the minds behind SIR Tailor pride themselves on being able to give their customers the very best.

SIR Tailor

First and foremost, providing the best means sourcing world-class materials. Around 95% of the cloth, buttons, thread and other sartorial elements are imported from Europe, mainly from Italy.

SIR Tailor is able to use over 1,000 different types of the world’s highest-quality fabrics, from linen and wool to silk and many more.

A Tailor-Made Process

SIR Tailor isn’t just rethinking the way suits look in Vietnam: it’s altering the process of making them as well. In most tailors I’ve been to in Vietnam, the experience is generally the same: I go into the shop, tell the tailor what I want, and the tailor takes my body measurements. In a week or so, the suit is made and I return for a fitting. Final adjustments are made and I receive the suit soon after, whether it’s exactly what I want or not.

SIR Tailor

The attention to detail the workers at SIR Tailor pay to the clothing is also noticeable in the customer service. Rather than simply telling the tailor what I would like, I met with an experienced and knowledgeable consultant rather than the tailor himself. I discussed what I had in mind (a pair of casual trousers) and my consultant offered his opinions based on my body type and his experience with different styles.

Over the course of two weeks I returned for three fittings to make sure the pants were perfectly suited for my image and lifestyle. While this is a longer process than I’ve experienced at most Vietnamese tailors, when I received the pants I ordered, I was completely satisfied.

SIR Tailor

However, the customer’s relationship with SIR Tailor doesn’t just end when the clothing is delivered. The company’s business model includes a guarantee that, should the customer lose or gain weight, the tailor will alter the clothing to the client’s new specifications. Simply put, this is a company that prides itself on building strong relationships with every customer, so they can look and feel their best during every part of their life.

SIR Tailor’s philosophy is simple: Dress As You Breathe. And as I learned, with my clothes in SIR Tailor’s qualified and stylish hands, I can certainly breathe easier.

Contact:

85 Nguyen Hue, D1 | Phone: EN: (+84) 90 690 8585 - VN: (+84) 90 252 8585 | Email: info@sirtailor.com.vn | Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. | Website: sirtailor.com.vn

 


Apartment Boutiques in HCMC: Fashion that Fits Just Right

By: Emilio Piriz

Many colonial buildings are being renovated and turned into hip-looking coffee shops, workshops, co-working spaces and fashion boutiques. They mix the old and the new to cater for the new generation of Vietnamese who love the fresh ambience in these places.

We met up with three fashion designers who own their boutiques and design every item that’s sold there. They all share a young spirit, a deep love for fashion and an entrepreneurial drive.

Young Spirit

Nguyen Anh Thi (24) is the youngest. She has been running her “BeUnique” boutique on the 2nd floor of 42 Ton That Thiep for two months and, despite her brief experience, feels confident about her decision. “I have always loved fashion and truly felt the need to design clothes for young Vietnamese like me,” explained Thi, who taught herself everything she knows in design. Most young designers who embark in a small business consider their family’s and friends’ approval a must for their journey, and so does Thi.

boutiques in saigon

“Every time I am about to release a new design, I ask my friends for feedback. My parents supported me from the very beginning because they thought I was capable of succeeding,” she says.

While talking to her, the shop gets a bit crowded. “People coming to my shop range from the age of 18 to 26. This apartment is well-known in Saigon among youngsters, that’s the main reason why I chose this place.”

Rent tends to be the deciding factor for these young entrepreneurs. “I pay between VND 10 and 15 million every month. Even if my sales grew considerably, I wouldn’t consider moving the shop to a street-level location because then I would have to spend more money on rent and cut costs on materials.”

Facebook Power

Originally from Korea, Lee Seohyun arrived in HCMC when her husband relocated for work. She opened the Elephant’s Closet (2nd floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong) a year later. Getting settled in a new place plus having two babies probably felt like a full-time job. However, shortly after, she started designing women’s clothes and hired a tailor. Now she caters for Vietnamese moms who look for unique designs for her kids’ closet as well as for theirs. Seohyun’s matching outfits for moms and kids give her a unique edge.

boutiques in saigon

Generally speaking, customers in these boutiques tend to be awed by the affordable clothing but also by the cosy atmosphere. The visually striking setup represents one side of the business; the other part plays on social media. “I make great use of Facebook to showcase my newest creations, and then the word-of-mouth does the rest,” Seohyun says.

Entrepreneurial Drive

The first apartment boutiques in HCMC appeared about five years ago. Tu Anh opened hers, Thank God I’m Fabulous (1st floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong), four-and-a-half years ago, a pioneer in the business. “The concept sprung off of L’Usine, so, based on that idea, we tried to convey a similar shop experience while dealing with the constraints of being an entrepreneur.” Although most of these shops are in the heart of the city, the owners prefer apartments where rents are cheaper than a street-level shop.

Tu Anh studied fashion design in Australia 10 years ago and then enrolled in a business course in Singapore, which probably provided the vision she exhibits these days. “I spent nearly a year in planning out the business. Branding took up most of the time, since I really want to serve my clients’ needs while matching my desires for designing. I would say that’s my vision,” she recalls when asked about her first steps with the shop.

boutiques in saigon

Nowadays, Tu Anh has eight people, including tailors and pattern makers, working at her workshop, which allows her to release a new collection every three months. Her clothes are mainly office outfits for women who have a stable income. “I target ladies who prefer to pay a bit extra for high-quality clothes.” Tu Anh is currently searching for a location in D1 to open her second shop at a regular store space instead of an apartment.

 

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