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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The history of shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively brief. The country re-opened to foreign investment in the early 1990s, a time in history when inhabitants of numerous major cities in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok were receiving their glutton-like shares of retail therapy via the introduction of mega malls. Investors eyed every possible inch of land in these metropolitan places, effectively holding citizens hostage by nurturing a mall-based retail culture that has, so it seems, never truly hit Vietnam, even until now.
Malls Take Over Valuable Real Estate in Saigon
The first modern ‘mall’ in Ho Chi Minh City, Diamond Plaza, opened its doors in 1999, superseding the antiquated Thuong Xa Tax on Le Loi street, built by French colonialists 136 years ago, as a retail pilgrimage spot for middle class and wealthy Saigonese. The establishment was, however, not very much different from its de-facto ancestor: effectively a departmental store with limited choices of food & beverage (F&B) establishments and recreational facilities such as an arcade, bowling alley and a billiards club.
Fast forward to 2013 where Vincom Centre began operations at the junction of Le Thanh Ton and Dong Khoi street. The arrival of a mall and office tower worthy of presence in even bigger cities signified a rather revolutionary change in retail trends in Vietnam: American apparel brands and fast food chains such as DKNY and Carl’s Jr featured as neighbours beside popular Vietnamese F&B chains including Pho 24 and Highlands Coffee. Between 2013 and 2018, numerous other notable malls such as Saigon Centre, Crescent Mall, SC Vivocity and The Garden Mall began taking over the most valuable plots of land in District 7, District 1 and District 5.
Image source: aeonmall-vietnam.com
A walk in these malls, however, easily sparks a common sentiment: most retail tenants in these places seem to be focused on F&B. In fact, this phenomenon has also sparked the birth of an indie-style retail culture in downtown Saigon, where several colonial-era residential buildings such as 42 Nguyen Hue and 26 Ly Tu Trong are now filled with independent cafes and fashion boutiques, many of which cannot afford the sky-high rental costs at larger malls.
Has the convenience of e-commerce and online shopping already beaten mall-based retail to its own game in Vietnam?
An article in April 2018 by the Financial Times stated that the Vietnamese are one of the largest sources of digital consumers, commanding a solid 35 percent of the total online population, compared to 24 percent in Thailand and a measly 3.2 percent in Singapore. Mr. Tran Ngoc Thai Son, founder of Tiki.vn, began with online sales of hard-to-acquire English language books in 2010 and has now expanded to a huge variety of products including electronics and promotional flight tickets. He shared that Vietnam is a “very young country going through a golden population period”. Incidentally, the youth are the most enthusiastic users of mobile devices in Vietnam, potentially the reason e-commerce could be a success here. Amazon is also set to enter the Vietnamese market shortly, competing directing with Lazada, the most popular e-commerce operation in the country. Chinese giant Alibaba owns 83 percent of Lazada, having injected another US$2 billion worth of investment into the company earlier last year.
Image source: Shutter Stock
However, tales of smuggled and pirated goods on e-commerce sites are not unheard of. An article by tuoitre.vn showed examples of household appliances by popular brands such as Panasonic and Philips being sold at less than 30 percent of their recommended retail prices on sites such as Lazada, Sendo and Shoppe. The origins of these items are hardly traceable. Could such problems spur consumers back to traditional shopping?
The Changing Architecture of Retail Zones
On the other end of the spectrum, the freedom to operate F&B and retail business from almost any property has turned entire residential enclaves into non-mainstream, open-spaced shopping complexes. The best example is the Thao Dien ward of Saigon’s District 2, known for its high density of villas, condominiums and international schools which mainly serve the foreigner and expat population in Ho Chi Minh City. Xuan Thuy street and its immediate surroundings at the heart of Thao Dien is now a respectable foodie haven; from an American burger bar, barbecue diner, craft beer bar to Hakata-style pork ramen, Danish sorbets and even a celebrity-level duck balut joint, a VND100,000 note suddenly becomes rather powerless in a country known for its cheap eats.
Image source: static.asiawebdirect.com
Huynh Van Banh street in Phu Nhuan district is another apt example. Known to young fashionable locals as a mecca for cheap apparel deals, one would wonder why these flamboyant youths would ever bother to sacrifice commuting convenience and low prices to shop at large and intimidating malls. One easily finds similarity to Bugis Street in Singapore, effectively a fashion bazaar built on a now-defunct street between two parallel lengths of old colonial buildings. A feasible strategy would be for the local authorities to designate certain areas in suburban Saigon for similar purposes. Nonetheless, locals may still remain skeptical unless rental rates and shopping can be kept affordable; it is unavoidable that any ‘night market’ or ‘fashion bazaar’ pop-up in Vietnam would quickly be disregarded when compared with highly successful fashion and food bazaars found in downtown Bangkok—potentially leading locals into yet another self-induced bout of inferiority complex.
Perhaps it is time for local mall operators to up the game by identifying the causes of discomfort and local aversion to physical shopping. The reliance on motorbikes as the main form of transportation is a key point that should not be ignored. Parking in malls can be intimidating to some locals; extended walking distances and searching for one’s motorbike in a large parking lot is an uncomfortable experience for many. The purchase of bulky items and groceries is also a challenge: uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.
Thank God for our hardworking ‘shipper’ guys who will stay relevant, regardless of whether malls are here to stay.
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).
Image 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.
Image 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.
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.
Add: Ao Dai House – 107 Dong Khoi, Q.1, Ho Chi Minh city
The search for truly organic food in Vietnam has always been a bit difficult.
Ines Quoico, owner of The Organik Shop and Organik Da Lat Farm, previously told City Pass Guide that not only are there no certifications issued for organic farms in Vietnam, but the ordeal of getting certified through the European Union, a similar US food safety body or another certifying organisation involves finding land that is not infected with dioxin, then flying in auditors to test the soil, the water, the fertilisers, and to perform countless other trials.
Yet, without these certifications the word “organic” holds no weight. What’s more organic farms are complicated and costly to run as a result.
So where can you go to find products with that little green organic label? Most supermarket chains carry at least a small selection of organic fruits and veggies from Da Lat at this point but the big players in the organic food scene are mainly in well-heeled D2. Nam An Market and The Organik Shop are the places to go for the biggest selection but Annam Gourmet and BlackMarket also feature a nice choice of organic offerings amongst their international imports. D7 and D1 have similar stores.
Image source: ibb.co
But where do you go if you’re interested in smaller businesses, specialty products, or food delivery? Read on.
Farm to Doorstep
Looking for a food delivery service that is a bit more health conscious than Domino’s Pizza? Vuon Rau can deliver boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables right to your door. The organic products are clearly marked across the top with a green banner. The website is in Vietnamese, use Google Translate to navigate. Plus, then you can enjoy reading through some of the blog posts that read like Williams Carlos Williams poems such as this one:
It was a red plastic tray, lined with thick, golden sheets of paper, in which ripe tomatoes were sitting next to each other listening to the car's sound at night.
Image source: happydaytravel.com
Chopp delivery is a grocery delivery service that consolidates all of your market shopping into one easy to use website and app. A quick search of the word “organic” pops up 274 products, from imported baby food to fruits and vegetables that the service will pick up for you at Naman, The Organik shop or numerous other locations.
La Holista is more than just a place to grab healthy food. It’s a one-stop shop for a full body recharge. La Holista focuses on health coaching and meal plans for corporations and schools as well as cooking classes and healthy shopping tours. But most importantly they’ve got great snack options, such as organic cashews, quinoa salad and kombucha. Products can be ordered on their website and delivered to your door in HCMC.
Image source: laholista.com
For more vegan snacks in Thao Dien, check Patty’s Kitchen out. They offer vegan options such as dips, dishes but also meal prep plans and cooking classes. Their best seller is definitely their hummus. They cook MSG and sugar-free food and use as little oil and salt as possible.
Image source: simplyrecipes.com
Where to Get Your Greens
Green Around the Corner (23 Street 61, D2), a light-filled café tucked into the hems of Thao Dien, can be hard to find but it’s worth the search. Not only can you curb your mid-day hunger pangs with hearty vegan salads and nut-based cheeses, you can also buy their products to take away. This is the place to go if you want to do your part in reducing plastic waste—here, you can pick up a set of reusable glass, stainless steel or bamboo drinking straws.
Image source: facebook.com/greenaroundthecorner
The Organik House in District 1 serves healthy vegetarian fair with an international flare. Their juices are organic but that’s not all: this is one of the few places in town that you can buy truly organic wine. Address: 7F Nguyen Thị Minh Khai, D1
Image source: facebook.com/TheOrganikHouse
Sustainable Farming & Accountability
Les Vergers du Mekong does not list their products as organic, however, the company does make available information on how the fruits and vegetables used in their products are being farmed and whether it is sustainable. Les Vergers du Mekong prides itself on its traceability, meaning the consumer can follow the path of where the fruit was grown, what was added to it and how it was transformed into the product you hold in your hand. Ethically-sourced, juices, james, Fair Trade honey, coffee and tea are available.
Image source: image.brigitte.de
Food vendor Maifarmi has a Facebook shop filled with photos of bright leafy greens and branches drooping under the weight of the ripe avocados on their farm. As with Les Vergers du Mekong, Maifarmi does not tout their organic certification but they are part of the farm to doorstep movement that is just beginning to get a foothold in Vietnam and are worth mentioning. You can order by contacting the growers on Facebook and they will deliver directly to your home.
If All Else Fails …
Grow your grub yourself. Saigon’s climate is perfect for balcony or windowsill gardening. Interested but don’t know where to start? Gagaco (So 2, Street 53,D2) is a shop for amateur greenskeepers to get all the gear—wooden planters, water systems and seeds—as well as to gain knowledge. Gagaco offers free gardening advice to anyone who asks.
Video source: FuseSchool - Global Education
Banner Image source: europarl.europa.eu
The Ultimate Buying Guide for Vietnamese Coffee Lovers
Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.
However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.
A dazzling display of coffee beans and powder at Ben Thanh Market - by Mervin Lee
We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java-science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!
Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion
Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.
Saigonese street coffee being mass-brewed using Vietnamese phin drip filters - by Mervin Lee
Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish-sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans.
Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.
Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.
When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset it’s bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.
Enjoying a cup of ca phe sua da on a hot Saigonese day - by Mervin Lee
Advancements in coffee farming has allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalisation and changing preferences has resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filter. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.
Thus, the first item that you should procur is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.
City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminium and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.
Roast Levels and Blends
Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.
“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”
Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade. Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavour compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savoury and intense in flavour, having lost most of its acidity through the roasting process and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.
As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.
Image source: i.ytimg.com
Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50 and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee.
Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.
Arabica - The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.
Culi (Peaberry) Arabica - In normal circumstance, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilisation of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.
Robusta - The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing has improved it’s flavour drastically.
Culi (Peaberry) Robusta - Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.
Liberica and Excelsa - Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.
When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter and fine for espresso).
Image source: caphenguyenchat.vn
If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.
Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms
Bột - Powder Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans
Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground
Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee. Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.
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.
Image source: scontent.fsgn2-1.fna.fbcdn.net
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.”
Image source: scontent.fsgn2-1.fna.fbcdn.net
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