International brands are suddenly touting their commitment to conservation and fair labour practices. Marketing companies are pasting words such as “ethical” and “sustainable” across their product packaging.
But how do we sort through all the claims and get honest info on where to shop in HCMC to make a positive impact on the environment and local population? Here are a few companies where you can feel good dropping some cash. These firms have jumped ahead of the curve by aligning their values with the ethical crusade.
From Organic Fabrics to Community Outreach
Metiseko’s website (www.metiseko.com) features photos of models clad in lush silk dresses posed alongside villagers from the mountainous minority regions of Vietnam. Other companies might use this contrast as just imagery in a simple marketing campaign but not Metiseko.
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Ethical work conditions are a central part of Metiseko’s brand philosophy. Employees are paid higher wages than the minimum authorised by the government—the current government imposed minimum wage for a non-state owned company in HCMC is VND3,980,000/month (USD175). Though according to reporting in 2017 by VNexpress, there are still issues with the minimum wage structure, most notably the fact that “the wage level is is not enough to live on.”
Metiseko employees work reasonable hours and are provided with health insurance and holidays. Language courses in French, English, Chinese and Vietnamese are open to all employees for their career development. Clothing that is unsold in the stores is donated to minority villages around Hoi An.
The fabrics used are either 100 percent organic cotton sourced from India, or 100 percent mulberry silk from Vietnam. They are dyed with low impact environmental dyes.
Sadly, according to Oceane Bataillon, Marketing & Sales Manager for Metiseko, “We are facing a disappearance of silk producers in Vietnam.” She said that as these producers disappear so do their crafts that have been passed down through generations, such as hand-screen printing and dyeing techniques. Chinese suppliers are providing cheaper and lower quality silk, or “fake silk” and this is hurting some Vietnamese suppliers who strive to create a quality product.
The market price for fake silk is very low and Metiseko prices may seem high in contrast but, according to a 2015 Nielsen report, younger generations are willing to pay more for goods that are created with a conscience. Both Millennials surveyed and Generation Z respondents (15-20 years old) said that they are more likely to buy from companies committed to “positive social and economic impact”. Marketing geared towards sales and discounts for the consumer didn’t even make it into the top five reasons to buy from a company.
“For those willing to spend more, the findings show that personal values are more important than personal benefits, such as cost or convenience.”
Ariane Desaedeleer, co-owner of the brand talked about how she and her partner Virginie Nocquet run an “inclusive business” that directly benefits low-income communities by working with an NGO called FFSC (Friends for Street Children). The company raises money that contributes to a school that FFSC runs for migrant workers’ children unable to attend school.
“I worked for a decade in China where I've witnessed first hand the deplorable working conditions of women in factories. Here in Saigon, we work closely with our workshop located at the top floor of a bright, well-ventilated building and where workers work at their own pace and can have as many breaks as they wish”, Desaedeleer said.
Image source: blueberrynightconcept.com
Blueberry Night products are in the "middle-high" price range in the Vietnamese market. “The slightly higher price tag is simply the result of fair wages paid to our seamstresses and of the high quality raw materials that are used.”
Artisanal Does Not Always Mean Fair Trade
The word “artisan” connotes” a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. The word “skilled” may give the impression that the worker will be paid well for their abilities. However, “artisan” has become a favorite term for marketing. The workers creating the “artisanal” products can still be underpaid, overworked, and subject to unsafe conditions.
Jacques Blanchard, the owner of My Way Deco (www.mywaydeco.com), a luxury lacquerware company in Vietnam, spoke to us about why respecting artisans matters.
“There are fewer and fewer artisans in Vietnam”, Blanchard said. “Vietnam will lose this beautiful tradition because the demand for it is weakening. Real lacquer is expensive. Cheap lacquer is just painting.”
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For the degree of work that he and his clients expect, Blanchard said he needs the best artists for the job, and to do their detailed work those artists expect more than the bare minimum per month. The high level of skill of these artisans means that if they aren’t paid properly they won’t stay. Blanchard designs the pieces but he says he owes much of his success to the experienced hands of his workers. For example, for a recent creation for client Petrossian Caviar hundreds of beads were hand rolled out of yarn, wrapped in paper, lacquered an inky black and then glued individually onto a box. This is the kind of detail that Blanchard said is impossible to recreate with a machine.
Above My Way Deco’s main showroom in District 2 there is a workshop where the artisans work together. It is a light-filled room with soft music playing in the background. They work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and have weekends off. Perhaps the strongest testament to the working conditions at My Way Deco is the fact that most of Blanchard’s team has been with him for 15 to 18 years.
Zago Furniture has an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certification for eco-friendly products. FSC is an international NGO that sets the environmental and social standards for responsibly managed forests.
Rostaing Tannery, mentioned in the article “Leather de Luxe”, was the first in Vietnam to introduce renewable energy in the form of solar panels. Water used in the process is collected through rain harvesting and treating wastewater. Rostaing Tannery was also awarded the Ecologic Innovation Golden Award in Paris in 2011 for their chemical free tanning method.
Now, How Do You Get Your Ethical Purchases Home?
Evolve Mobility (www.evolvemobilityintl.com), owned and managed by Hoa Vu, is a moving logistics and warehousing company in Vietnam with a eye towards innovation. Annie Hansen, founder of Evolve Mobility, said that “The global packaging industry is a major contributor to the waste problem that the planet faces. Moving companies are notoriously traditional and generally do not proactively seek [sustainable] solutions … ”
Image source: evolvemobilityintl.com
Evolve Mobility has incorporated a reduce, reuse, recycle policy and all of their boxes and paper materials are made in Vietnam from 100 percent recycled materials. Next on their radar is finding an alternative to bubble and plastic wrap, for which they are in the early stages of product development. The company also seeks to create the best environment for their workers. One way Evolve does this is by giving end-of-year bonuses to supervisors and the staff rather than shareholders.
“We believe that moving and logistics companies must evolve just as the consumers and clients we serve have evolved”, Hansen said. “What was important 20 years ago was profit. That thinking is now redundant. What we must now consider at each turn today is profit, people, planet.”
Metiseko 157 Dong Khoi, Ben Nghe, District 1, HCMC