Three Secret HCMC Shops

By: Aleksandr Smechov

There are plenty of shops in Ho Chi Minh City full of amazing items - the only problem is finding them.

Rosemary Cook organises shopping tours in Ho Chi Minh City - taking her clients to little-known shops to discover a world of quality fashion, furniture and homeware unbeknownst to the general expat (and even local) population. We sat down with her to get three superb recommendations every shopping fan should visit.

Sadec District (3A Station, 3A Ton Duc Thang, D1 | +84 9 0384 6281)

Sadec is everything homeware and pottery. Most of their pottery comes from Asia, and it’s really stunning. Amai is one of their major brands - all the pieces were designed by two Dutch ladies who lived in Vietnam for many years, before selling everything to Sedec. Buying things here is quite addictive - you buy one and you keep wanting to buy more and more. The items have natural colours and “organic” shapes, so it never looks mass produced - there are also homeware made of thin but very durable porcelain. You can put items here in the dishwasher and bake things like souffles in their pots - they’ll withstand heat and pressure well. They also do things like hand and bath towels created from natural cottons, which are done in a very eco way - they’re quite thin but dry really well. These are also from Amai.

Photo via Sadec website

Sedec also makes table napkins with maps of old Saigon on them, as well as pillowcases. The shop also has these great cheese knives in the shape of a mouse. It’s a great little gift for someone and it comes beautifully boxed. Additional items at the shop include baskets, interesting bottles, and food covers for outside dining.

Thuy Design House (132 Dong Khoi, D1 | +84 28 3824 8343)

Thuy Design House is on Dong Khoi. Thuy herself is more of an artist - she never studied fashion formally. She studied art in Eastern Europe. Most of her clothes are like artworks. They’re stunning, with very interesting patterns and prints. Thuy has been a big player in Vietnam’s Fashion Week. Her clothes are made to fit anyone - and if they won’t fit she’ll make to order. A lot of her clothes are one-off pieces since they’re painted on, but she also has a standard line as well. She runs a place in District 2 called The Factory, which showcases and teaches about contemporary art. The Factory also runs workshops, has a gallery space, a library and a little cafe.

Kujean by Chuong Dang (47 Pham Ngoc Thach, D3 | +84 9 0886 6161)

Kujean is another unique shop. The owner, Chuong Dang, mostly focuses on making ao dai, but also buys jeans from flea markets in various chic cities, brings them back to Saigon and gives the pairs new life. He adds things like flowers and dragons onto the jeans, as well as various patterns. It’s a really cool shop that’s affordable for what it does. It’s in this little alley in District 3. The reason I found him is I saw a lady wearing his jeans and asked her where she got them. She let me get on her motorbike and led me to the shop. The owner has jeans for both men and women. If you have an old pair of jeans that are falling apart or that you want to customise, you can take them there and “tattoo” something onto them. They always serve you fresh fruit and tea. They really look after you.

Rosemary visits the above shops and many more on her shopping tour. She meets clients, gets a brief on what they’re looking for, takes a look at some of their staple pieces in their wardrobe and then spends all day going to secret shops that match her clients’ needs.


D1 Tattoo Studio Makes Indispensable Art

By: City Pass Guide

Before you take a seat in the chair to get inked at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, before you meet with the artists to draft your one-of-a-kind image, you’ll have to answer to an important first question: why?

“I think tattoo is not fashion”, Quoc “Seven” Nguyen said alluding to the seriousness of putting a permanent image on a person’s body. Whether it’s fashionable, whether the image is in vogue or not, is irrelevant, the 36-year-old tattoo artist contends. Nguyen argued that the most important part of tattoo work is understanding the customer, and what purpose the tattoo serves for them.

“We want to know why you want this tattoo”, the studio’s customer liaison Dean Parker said.

tattoo studio

It’s a time-intensive and, frankly, less profitable strategy than a typical tattoo process, which usually involves little more than walking in with an image on paper and walking out with it somewhere on your body.

This, Nguyen said, is among the reasons his business is called a “studio” rather than a “tattoo parlour”.

“Many people know how to do tattoos, but don’t know how to do art”, Nguyen said.

Done with Finesse, Not Speed

Spade Art Tattoo Studio’s collaborative, client-centred tattoo drafting approach is a contrast to the high-metabolism, attention-light way that people typically consume creative work—marketing and commercial communications teams produce images tailored to an ad campaign that will be seen for as long the message is relevant before it becomes junk. A former commercial artist, it’s a system Nguyen knows very well.

tattoo studio

Before becoming a tattoo artist, Nguyen spent his days working in a sector known for devouring creative people: advertising.

His more than 10 years creating advertising work included stints at a number of highly-visible firms such as Cheil Worldwide, Dentsu, Y&R, J. Walter Thompson where he was comic artist, visualizer, designer, and then art director. He serves clients such as Panasonic, Samsung, Pepsi ect...

Despite his being a capable commercial artist, Nguyen said it was creatively defeating to see his body of work become trash after it outlived its usefulness.

Inspired by the serious tattoo scene in he saw in Thailand five years ago, Nguyen decided to leave the advertising profession and strike out on his own as a tattoo artist. Four years ago, he founded Spade Art Tattoo Shop in downtown District 1.

Quoc used to host the Saigon International Tattoo Convention in 2016 where gathers the tattoo artists in Vietnam and globally, namely Jess Yen, Tomo Ikarashi, and Josh Lin.

Almost as if in response to the advertising world’s large scale, commodified production and reproduction of single, standard images, Nguyen has trained his staff to work with clients to produce one-of-kind work. The tattoo you get at Spade Art Tattoo Studio will be an individualised, image unique to your body.

Nguyen and his staff have produced hundreds tattoos in this manner so far.

tattoo studio

In the Chair

Spade Art Tattoo Studio sits on the first floor of a building overlooking shady Le Anh Xuan street. Newly inked clients at Spade Art Tattoo Studio can sit on the tattoo studio’s small balcony and get some fresh air while they cool down from their ink session.

Client’s who’ve reviewed the tattoo studio on Facebook find the ambience comfortable and even laud the music selection. The staff is consistently described as friendly, knowledgeable, gentle when needle comes to skin and—most importantly—good.

The reviews praise not just the Vietnamese artist’s ability to communicate in English, but their genuine interest in understanding what the tattoo means for the client and designing one-of-a-kind, original and deeply personal work based off that.

tattoo studio

Nguyen reported the greatest share of the studio’s customers are foreigners.

Together Nguyen and his staff, fellow creatives that he prefers to refer to as family rather than employees, have about 16 years of combined experience creating tattoos.

Through his work at Spade Art Tattoo Studio, Nguyen has gained stature within the Saigon tattoo community with almost no advertising. The positive experiences the studio’s clients have had beget new business.

Phuoc Truong, a tattoo artist with three years of experience, said he decided to join Spade Art Tattoo Studio because Nguyen treats him like a brother and leads as a peer. More than just just doing tattoos and collecting payments, Truong said the tattoo studio’s staff and clients have grown into a community of art makers and those who have committed to keeping some on their bodies forever.

Truong works with another artist at Spade Art Tattoo Studio also named Phuc Truong who has 6 year-experience in tattoo industry, has chosen tattoo as his career and wishes to convince his parents about his choice and will make it success.

“They are together, they’re there to share and learn, build something for customers,” Tran said translating Truong’s comments made in Vietnamese.

Contact:

Spade Art Tattoo Studio | 1st Floor, 41 Le Anh Xuan, D1, HCMC

Phone: +84 947 777 891 | Website: http://spadeart.tattoo/

Email: spadeartstudio@gmail.com | Facebook: /spadearttattoo.studio/

Image source: Spade Art Tattoo Studio


Mangii Custom Made Shoes

By: City Pass Guide

It is not necessarily a well-known fact, but shoes are the most important articles of clothing that you will ever buy.

Most people don’t realise that the health of your feet sets the tone for the health of the entire skeletal system and therefore your entire body. Wearing shoes that fit properly and support your feet is vitally important in order to avoid or alleviate many common foot problems; however, it goes further than that.

Great Looks Bad Back

Many are tempted to simply wear shoes that they find aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, great looking footwear is more often than not the worst choice for either proper foot function or overall health. In addition, about 70% of us have one foot that is bigger than the other by half a size. From that we can assume that literally billions of people are walking around with one shoe that is the wrong size.

Handcrafted Footwear

Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of shoes in the world. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that sees Vietnamese shoes being worn in more than 40 countries. Standards are high, and Mangii has taken them even higher. Using high-class leather, cork for comfort and metal shanks for strength, the shop handcrafts footwear of incredible style and quality.

“The shoes are assembled completely by hand and crafted into exquisite designs.”

All Mangii custom-made shoes are manufactured in Vietnam, close to the Cu Chi area of Ho Chi Minh City. Andy Nguyen, the owner, bought an existing factory with an already highly skilled workforce. It took him three years to train staff to the standards that he demanded. Five years ago he achieved his goal and opened up his first shop. Now firmly established, he has opened a second shop in Hanoi.

Bespoke Every Step of the Way

Mangii has an incredibly high percentage of repeat customers, and most of the clients come by word of mouth. The great beauty of the way they work here is that all patterns and measurements are kept, so even after people return to their homes, wherever they may be, they can and do still order online and receive their shoes by post. A string of 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor has also helped business growth immensely.

Customers can, of course, buy ready-made shoes and walk away with beautiful footwear in one day. It is, though, the custom-made collection that attracts most. The process is unique. Feet are measured and a drawing is made, then individual lasts are made from which the shoes are modelled. In fact, Mangii first makes a fitting shoe that customers can try on. The customer then says which part of the shoe, if any, is too tight or pinching and the shop adjusts the lasts and builds the real shoes. The customer then chooses the design and the leather that they want to use, and from this the process is completed.

This normally takes about two weeks. Clients end up with shoes that are unique and fit perfectly. This has resulted in the large number of re-orders from people who stay exclusively with Mangii. Most of the clients are business people, though increasingly, young people are demanding high class products.

“Half of Mangii’s customers are expats who, of course, often struggle to find shoes that even fit.”

Mangii custom-made shoes are an excellent investment for anyone who cares about their health while at the same time, wishes to look stylish. They are not as expensive as one would expect, and certainly not as expensive as buying similar shoes in the West. Unique, stylish, affordable, made to measure, and right here in Ho Chi Minh City. What more could you want?

Contact information:

Website: www.mangiishoes.com

Email: info@mangiishoes.com

Phone: +84 9 6275 0066

Address:  7/9B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1


Hanoia Boutique is Now Open in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Hanoia, a high-end lacquer producer, has just launched its first boutique in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday July 3 in Ao Dai House (107 Dong Khoi, District 1).

hanoiaImage source: hanoialacquer

The store features exquisite lacquerware, including luxurious and elegant home decor, fine and fashionable jewellery, which combine both contemporary inspirations and traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship. As part of their grand opening, Hanoia boutique will offer special gifts for the early buyers.

Hanoia is the first haute-lacquer house in Vietnam, and its products are recognized by many luxury fashion boutiques around the world. Established in 1997 in an old lacquer village in Binh Duong province, Hanoia specialises in fusing traditional Vietnamese lacquerware with contemporary designs.

hanoiaImage source: hanoialacquer

Hanoia started when a group of European designers teamed up with the most qualified craftsmen from Hanoi, the Vietnamese lacquer capital, to revive a Vietnamese craft that was in danger of being lost. With the love of colours, effects and patterns evoking a sense of nostalgia, they work towards crafting a unique experience in a quality and detail-oriented process using ancestral techniques.

Hanoia owns two workshops in the north and the south of Vietnam with 300 artisans from traditional lacquer-producing villages and talented designers from Europe. Pursuing a philosophy based on innovation, the use of materials, effects, colours and shapes, Hanoia has continuously launched new and unique product lines.

hanoia

Image source: hanoialacquer

Hanoia has quickly gained a following from local and foreign artists, and fine art enthusiasts living in Hanoi, along with visitors from all over the world.

Contact:

Add: Ao Dai House – 107 Dong Khoi, Q.1, Ho Chi Minh city

Tel: +84 28 3827 9383

Website: www.hanoia.com | FB: facebook.com/hanoialacquer

Banner image source: hanoialacquer

 


The Year in Review: Fast Fashion, Big Money

By: Keely Burkey

Dong Khoi got a bit more foot traffic than usual on 9 September of this year when Swedish clothing company H&M’s hallmark opened in Vincom Dong Khoi. Over the course of the store’s opening day, it was reported that some 10,000 fashionistas filed in.

fashionImage source: kenh14.vn

Other highly publicised openings made fast fashion the undeniable trend of 2017, thanks to Zara’s arrival in September and Massimo Dutti’s entry that same month. Uniqlo’s operator Fast Retailing has even been sighted recruiting staff in Hanoi and Saigon last May for a rumoured opening in 2018, and American company Forever 21 is supposedly not far behind.

There’s no doubt about it: fast fashion is taking over the retail market, and the process hasn’t been slow.

Slightly Less Air

For Carey Zesiger, Manager of Business Development for the HCMC-based international fashion distribution company Havang, the openings are interesting, but also a bit worrying. “It’s a limited market, and I think that these big openings [...] may be sucking the oxygen out of the room a bit, and maybe making things harder for some other retail players, especially in the clothing and apparel space,” he said.

fashionImage source: vincom.com.vn

The fast growth of retail in Vietnam, focused primarily on the growing middle class in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, has caused companies to scramble to appeal to a market increasingly looking to consume. The Ministry of Industry and Trade said that 183 foreign brands were already established in Vietnam, filling the market for food, beverages, business services, hotel sectors and fashion. This number will no doubt increase in 2018.

However, urbanisation has put a crimp in the expansion plans of a few brands. “There’s a lot of construction in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, and that’s tying traffic into knots and making it a little difficult to get around. I think that’s discouraging some people from going shopping,” Zesinger said.

With increasingly affluent residents moving farther away from the CBD, the story isn’t what brands are coming in—it’s where they’ll be located.

It’s a Vincom World

Large-scale retail developers are looking less at Saigon’s increasingly congested downtown, and more at Districts 2 and 7 and provinces outside of Saigon. Companies like the Japanese Aeon, Korean Lotte and Vietnamese Vincom have been spreading across the cityscape and, slowly, the country.

In particular, Zesiger is keeping a close eye on Vincom: “They’re definitely leading the way in terms of new retail developments, and everyone’s eager to see how that plays out.”

According to a presentation given by Vincom to attract potential investors, it differs from Aeon and Lotte primarily thanks to its all-tier distribution strategy. While Aeon’s target market is currently people who make approximately US$5,000-US$20,000 per year, and Lotte’s market is geared towards earners who take home over US$20,000, Vincom provide retail opportunities for consumers at all pay levels, from below US$3,000 (Vincom+) to over US$20,000 (Vincom Centres) and everywhere in between.

fashionImage source: vincom.com.vn

Vincom estimates that could account for US$100 billion in potential retail revenue. It currently operates 41 shopping centres around Vietnam; in 2018, it plans to expand this number to 56 in a variety of different provinces previously untouched by this level of retail.

Vingroup’s retail group solidified its dominance in November this year, when Vincom Retail made its debut on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange with record-breaking sales of US$709 million, ultimately placing the net worth of the company at US$3.4 billion.

“Clearly, [Vincom has] been successful at securing locations and also quite successful at funding those developments, and doing that on a rather large scale,” Zesiger said.

Banner image source: vincom.com.vn


Best Eco Friendly Cosmetics and Skincare in Saigon & Vietnam

By: Laura Nalin

Coconut Religion

Herpas

The Queen

A Banker’s Secret

Stone Hill

The Organik Shop

The Herbal Cup

Skinna

Within the past year, it seems that consumers throughout Vietnam are becoming increasingly interested in spending a little extra on eco-friendly products, in Saigon and elsewhere. A number of restaurants throughout Ho Chi Minh City are now providing metal or bamboo straws, stores are hawking reusable goods. People are collectively beginning to care more and more about the environment, and skincare is no exception to this movement.

As the demand for sustainable consumption continues to rise, so does the public’s desire for environmentally friendly cosmetics. Several Korean outlets throughout town such as Innisfree and Skin Food offer them and, more interestingly, plenty of local companies are making their way into the market, too.

Typically, all kinds of sustainable beauty products are clustered together under the umbrella of being “green,” or “organic,” but the products on this list go above and beyond. Each of these companies based in Vietnam source their formulas sustainably, use all-natural ingredients and offer eco-friendly packaging.

For those of you interested in buying some environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare products in Saigon and beyond in Vietnam, look no further: here’s a list of some of my favourite brands, as well as a couple that I’m keen on trying.

Coconut Religion

coconutreligion.com

The Coconut Religion brand instantly made a name for itself in both the expat and local communities in Saigon and Vietnam in record time. It has been in operation for just a few months, but this travel-friendly, certified organic, raw cold-pressed coconut oil has become a staple in every recent market and event and also maintains a killer social media presence.

The Coconut Religion founder, Maggie Shen, is an Australian genius who not only sources the products from the fertile Mekong Delta region, but has made sure that the product stays thick and creamy despite the tropical heat. How cool is that? The ‘jungle to jar’ products have gained a cult following for a reason. The products come carefully packaged in all-natural fabric and I recently purchased her lavender coconut oil as well as the lip balm. Take my money, Coconut Religion.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Coconut Religion

The Queen

The Queen on Facebook

I attended a workshop at The Hive, in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City, that promoted eco-friendly products last year. At that workshop, I and several other attendees created our own organic lipsticks using beeswax, organic argan oil, Vitamin E, coconut oil and natural pigments. I’ve been a fan of lipstick for most of my life, but I’ve become turned off at the thought of animal testing.

I wear my lipstick from The Queen daily; it’s not as thick as standard brands, but I enjoy that. While I’m not sure this brand has taken off quite yet throughout town, I stand behind the quality and thought that goes into the process to create such environmentally friendly cosmetics.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Queen

Stone Hill

stonehill.vn

Another local brand in Vietnam making a name for itself is Stone Hill, an innovative business that produces natural products from Vietnamese cocoa plants. The company sources all of its cocoa from its own farm in Dong Nai Province, all of which is grown to quality standards and helps make the Stone Hill soaps and skincare products stand head and shoulders above less sustainable options.

I have a jar of Stone Hill’s cocoa butter, and I swear by it as it’s one of the only products that makes my chronically dry skin feel silky smooth. In addition to my favourite product, Stone Hill also offers cocoa-based scrubs, scented body butter, hand cream and a handful of scented soaps. Definitely check this one out if your skin needs some nourishment!

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Stone Hill

The Herbal Cup

The Herbal Cup on Facebook

I haven’t tried any of these products yet, but The Herbal Cup, based in Ho Chi Minh City, has certainly been on my radar. One of the more interesting things about this company is that it provides a free consultation to decide which of its products are most suitable for your skin.

Each of the environmentally friendly skincare confections include organic ingredients such as gac fruit oil, centella, tomato, sesame and the ever-popular tea tree leaves. Consumers have the option from a number of creations such as scrubs, masks, lipsticks, cleansing gels and body lotions. Everything is locally sourced, so there will be no regrets after purchase.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Herbal Cup

Herpas

Herpas on Facebook

The plant-based products created by Herpas’ owner Ha Truc Le were originally intended to encourage Vietnamese consumers to purchase locally-made products. Truc’s concoctions are formulated through her extensive knowledge of natural healing properties, which is what makes Herpas such an interesting, environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare line. Her lotions, scrubs and oils are intended to lock in moisture and reduce the effects of ageing, ideal for the amount of toxic chemicals our skin is exposed to here.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Herpas

A Banker’s Secret

A Banker's Secret on FB

Have you ever read stories about people who were living traditional lifestyles, working in high-income positions who ended up quitting their job to follow their passion? That’s precisely what Quynh, the founder of A Banker’s Secret did. Before catalysing the concept of A Banker’s Secret, Quynh was working as, well, you guessed it: a banker. She spent her free time creating handmade scented soaps for her loved ones, and soon realised that’s what she would rather be doing full-time.

Quynh quit her job in 2012, and has embarked on an exciting journey since, turning her labour of love into a thriving environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare company in Vietnam. Although she simply sold just scented soaps at the start, Quynh now offers masks, scrubs, essential oils, cream oils and pomade as well.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: A Banker’s Secret

The Organik Shop

organik.vn

Located in the heart of Saigon’s District 2, on the busy Thao Dien Street, sits this store, which is known for carrying some of the highest quality, environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare in Vietnam. Not only that, but it’s a one-stop-shop for those of you who are also keen on revamping your entire lifestyle into a more sustainable, eco-friendly, non-toxic one; there are plenty of food, household and skincare items available for your ethical shopping needs.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: The Organik Shop

Skinna

Skinna on Facebook

I think it’s safe to say that many people across the globe would agree that grandmothers encompass some sort of mystical wisdom. More interestingly, Skinna was derived from that notion. Over a decade ago, Christine Ho was talking to her grandmother when she realised the matriarch of her family had some pretty interesting beauty secrets up her sleeve. Ho’s grandmother provided some ancient Vietnamese beauty tips that were passed down from the Hue royal lineage; some of the holistic recommendations include household ingredients such as eggs and turmeric as natural exfoliants.

Cosmetics and Skincare in SaigonImage source: Skinna

Each of Skinna’s products cater to varying skin types and conditions. Items sold include lipstick, serums, creams, cleansing products, sheet masks and body wash, making Skinna one of the most prosperous environmentally friendly cosmetics and skincare providers in Saigon and Vietnam!

Banner Image source: nyscc.org

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