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

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

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.

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.”


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


Finding the Perfect Fit: Expat Shopping in Saigon

By: Stephen Coyle

As a Western man living in Vietnam, the benefits are well-discussed. However, what is little documented are the hardships we have to endure: sitting on plastic stools that could collapse under our weight at any moment; hitting our heads on hobbit-sized door frames; or having random strangers plucking the hairs on our forearms while waiting at traffic lights (it’s happened to me on three occasions!). But perhaps the biggest difficulty is clothes and shoe shopping. The indignity of trying on a supposedly XL shirt but not being able to get that bottom button to close, or the frustration of finding a pair of shoes you like but there’s no size available over 42, has been experienced by many a “Tay”, or foreigner.

If you are lucky enough to find something that fits, it’s usually the wrong colour or a terrible design.

men clothesImage source: Men Clothes

I am 185 cm tall (6’1’’) and 85 kg (187 lb). I wear size 44 shoes and my waist size is 34 inches (86 cm). I’m not huge by Western standards, but in Vietnam, I’m a giant. From asking fellow ‘giant’ friends and colleagues, the general consensus is that people wait till they go home or to other countries to do their clothes and shoe shopping, or they go to a tailor and have shirts and trousers made to fit. However, I’m determined to find everything I need in shops here in HCMC at affordable prices, and have been on a mission to scout out what is available for the broad-shouldered, (slightly) portly-bellied, big-footed ones among us.

Shirts, Professional and Casual

For work shirts, An Phuoc (Pierre Cardin) or Viet Tien are popular choices. There are branches all over the city and large sizes are available. Prices usually start at VND 600,000. However, Vietnam is a producer of clothing for a wide range of international brands and some of these find their way into local clothes markets or shops. Two of the larger markets are Saigon Square (corner of Le Loi and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1; and 176-181 Hai Ba Trung, D3) or Taka Plaza (102 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1). There is a wide selection of brands and prices are negotiable; however, the authenticity is often questionable.

men clothesImage source: Men Clothes

If you do not fancy facing the crowds, there are some factory outlet shops that offer the same or better. Garment Factory Outlet sells brands such as Gap, American Eagle, Old Navy and Seidensticker, from around VND 300,000 to 500,000. It has four branches around the city: SD23, Sky Garden 2, D7; 8 Thai Thuan, D2; Imperia An Phu, D2; and E2 0.14 Him Lam Nam Khanh building, Ta Quang Buu, D8. Another option is MQ Shops at 164 Vo Thi Sau, D3. It specialises in shirts from Dockers, Strellson, American Eagle and Zara. But be warned: this website doesn’t have an English language option.


Finding work pants seems to be a challenge for all. What were advertised as large can end up cutting off circulation to parts that traditionally require a lot of blood flow. As mentioned earlier, tailor shops are one option. As with work shirts, An Phuoc (Pierre Cardin) has work pants and khakis from VND 700,000, although finding waist sizes over 36 inches is rare.

men clothesImage source: Men Clothes


Vietnam is one of the world’s top manufacturers and exporters of shoes.

And yet, finding a pair that fits and does not look like clown shoes is a challenge.

Factory Outlet Store sells clothes, but mainly deals in shoes. Prices can be a little high, but it offers a deal of two for the price of one if you recommend it to three friends on Facebook. There are three stores in HCMC – 212B/D90 Nguyen Trai, D1; 540/30 Cach Mang Thang Tam, D3; and 117/3 Tran Ke Xuong, Phu Nhuan District – and one in Vung Tau. Giay Xau Gia Cao is a small shop at No. 158 in the middle of Saigon’s shoe street, Ly Chinh Thang, D3. It offers big sizes from Eur 44 to 47. Prices start at VND 500,000. Brands such as Clarks, Skechers and Caterpillar are available.

Banner image source: Men Clothes


Passion for Fashion in HCMC Part 1: Sinhtolina

By: Jesus Lopez Gomez

Bohemian Rhapsody

Before To Trinh – better known as Leo – started selling Sinhtolina’s line of expressive and unapologetically fun dresses, she was a young woman cutting sleeves and holes in her clothes to create new and original looks. This cultivated a spirit of liberty that informs her fashion practice today.

fashion designer

“It aims to bring the free spirit culture,” Leo says. “We have a lot of fashion brands here but nobody is actually doing, like, bohemian style.”

Sinhtolina’s dresses tend to have a Coachella, music festival vibe. There’s lots of colour and a lighthearted attitude about the clothes, which would look good with a seashell necklace and a folded beach towel, all on their way to some undisclosed good time. The exuberant patterns are like a wearable good mood.

fashion designer

Leo’s fashions are also distinguished by the liberties they take in revealing the human form. Both Vietnamese clothing brands and customers – at least in polite company, Leo says – shy away from clothing that trifles with modesty. Leo’s designs tend to be open at the reverse and display the wearer’s back, a favourite part of the human body for her.

Cultivating the Aesthetic

Leo is an interior designer by training, a practice that she explains makes her approach oriented to the materials rather than design. Traditionally, the hierarchy is reversed and clothing elements will accord to the design. “And then from (material selection), we will come up with shapes, we will come up with designs, function,” she says.

fashion designer

For her, fashion design is fabric and pattern first. Cotton and silk are her preferred media – “Light fabric, as light as possible because here in Vietnam it’s super hot,” she says. “This [method] is completely opposite of a fashion designer.”

fashion designer

Leo began selling her clothes about three years ago in private sales to customers. Today, the Sinhtolina fashion brand of dresses, tops and bottoms is sold at two stores: D2 restaurant-cum-retailer Kokoïs, and a seller in Nha Trang called LIVINcollective. Leo’s dresses start at $40. For $70, she offers custom-tailored pieces.

Image source: Leo HuynhTrinh - Sinhtolina


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