Leather de Luxe

By: Molly Headley

Sidestep Dong Khoi and put down that Burberry bag—whether it’s the real deal or a knock-off.

There’s a new trend in Vietnamese leather accessories and it doesn’t involve paying an outrageous mark-up for a designer name or settling on a copy that will fall apart before you even get it home.

These savvy brands based in HCMC are seeking to change the image of Vietnam-made leather accessories by focusing on the attention to detail and one of a kind customisation that was previously only seen in European luxury houses.

JR Rostaing: The French Savoir Faire in Vietnam

The Brand Story

Maison Rostaing, a family-run leather manufacturer, set up shop in France back in 1789, but the company’s story in Vietnam began more recently when heir to the business Jacques Rostaing decided to bring his family’s knowledge, what the French call savoir faire, to HCMC by founding a tannery in 1994. Since then the tannery has treated and crafted top of the line leather products for many elite French fashion brands.

LeatherImage source: JR Rostaing

In September 2017, the company decided to launch their own product line called JR Rostaing.

Walk into the JR Rostaing boutique and you’ll be met with rows of perfectly crafted handbags and accessories. The leather ranges from the opulent—ostrich, stingray, snake and crocodile skins—to the eco-conscious, leather that is tanned using only tree bark and no chemicals.

Karine Rostaing, customer liaison, has been in Vietnam for 24 years. She interviewed with #iAMHCMC in French about how the market for luxury products has changed. Some people buy a bag just for the brand—they’ll buy a plastic bag if it’s made by a prestigious brand, Rostaing explained. Other brands use leather that is not a good quality and then they spray paint it so that the leather looks perfect. But now more and more people are looking for a high-end bag that looks beautiful and lasts.

The Leather

The animal skins used to make the products primarily come from Europe and are then transported to Vietnam where they are treated in the tannery. Then the leathers are designed, crafted and stitched by skilled artisans. Every haute couture bag the leather artisan makes is lined with a one-of-a-kind French silk scarf and all crocodile skin handbags have an embossed serial number inside the bag, which is the international governmental customs method for proving the origin of the leather. These exclusive touches lift the bag to status symbol level.

LeatherImage source: JR Rostaing

Bespoke

Everything in the store can be customised and tailor made. A sunglasses case might set you back VND1 million, while a custom bag depends entirely on the type of leather and the details. The only limit is your imagination and of course your budget.

Address: 100 Vo Thi Sau, D1

Cincinati / Ne-Yuh: Vietnamese Brands for International Tastes

The Brand Story

The doorway that leads into the Cincinati and Ne-Yuh boutique in D1 feels like a secret passage into a vintage leather working studio. Walk inside and the narrow storefront opens up into a bright shop where customers are met with an array of handbags and accessories meticulously arranged by colour and style. From the M.O.O.N. bag, which is crafted into a zen circle to a mini bag called the Saigon Chic clutch, which could have been inspired by the iconic woven bags from Italian luxury house Bottega Veneta, each piece showcases the beauty of the leather with tones ranging from deep jewel tints, brushed metallic finishes, or soft beige leathers.

LeatherImage source: Ne-Yuh

As a child Huyen Nguyen, the brand’s founder and designer, had a prized possession: a backpack. At this time, backpacks were still scarce in Vietnam and Nguyen knew how special it was. With her line of meticulously-designed leather goods, Nguyen has brought to life that feeling of owning something rare.

Nguyen began her family-run business in 2008, when she opened her first factory manufacturing leather bags. Every piece that comes out of the factory is entirely handmade by artisans. Nguyen has since launched two distinct leather brands.

Cincinati was the first brand to be created and initially focused on a more masculine aesthetic. Ne-Yuh launched in 2014 and embraces femininity and innovative shapes. Nguyen’s companies have risen to the top of Vietnam-made leather goods because of their ability to engage both domestic and international markets—50 percent of their business is for export—as well as being an ambassador for the fashion and lifestyle of a new generation of Vietnamese businesses.

The Leather

Some brands use leather composite, which involves taking leather fibres and gluing them together then coating the resulting sheet of leather with varnish. In contrast, Nguyen’s factory uses only whole leather from India or Italy, which has a softer texture and also ages beautifully.

Bespoke

“We are proud to say that all products are made in Vietnam”, Ngon Huynh, export sales director said. “There are very talented artisans here. That’s why all the foreign customers come in.”

“However, the Vietnamese market is different. The Vietnamese people like things that are from abroad. You have to market things differently to them if you’re a Vietnamese brand.”

LeatherImage source: Ne-Yuh

One of the ways that Cincinati and Ne-Yuh do that is through customisation. In their D1 boutique, there is a “Build a Bag” workshop. Clients can make an appointment with the store and come in to choose their leather, accessories and style. Initials can be added anywhere on the bag. One new concept is the his & her wallets or satchel bags. A couple can select matching styles and then personalise the pieces with each other’s initials.

Address: 60-62 Mac Thi Buoi, D1

Desino: Youthful Elegance

The Brand Story

Ten years ago Huy Nguyen, general manager of Desino, had an idea.

A technical engineer with a flair for fashion Nguyen had a taste for quality, yet he had a hard time finding what he wanted. “Either the product was right but the price was too high or the price was right but the quality was low”, Nguyen said.

LeatherImage source: Desino

Instead of waiting around for the market to change, Nguyen found a leather producer that was willing to create products to serve his vision, and Desino was thus born.

The Leather

Using the overstock of the leather created for top luxury brands, Desino is able to make bags out of the highest quality leather but at a reasonable price. The products range from candy-coloured tote bags to buttery beige leather satchels.

“We are not aiming to be the artisanal brand. We are aiming for excellent quality with a more commercial purpose”, Nguyen said. “People who want to buy something for daily use can come to us. People who want identity come to us. We can add on all the personal touches.”

Bespoke

People can use a classic bag as a base and then build on top of that with whatever details they desire. An in-house artist can custom paint any product to the client’s specifications. According to Nguyen, Desino’s clients go wild for a cross-body bag that can be customised with painted graffiti-like slogans, beaded skulls, birds or anything they can dream up.

LeatherImage source: Desino

“Right now luxury is all about identity”, Nguyen said. “Everyone can have the same quality. Everyone can choose to say ‘the more expensive the better’. But we give them something that they can create.”

Address: 10 Nguyen Thiep, D1

Banner Image source: Ne-Yuh


Saigon’s Top 10 Hidden Markets

By: J.K. Hobson

Saigon brims with energy, much of which comes from its abundance of commerce, especially the local markets. Some of them, like Ben Thanh, Tan Dinh and Binh Tay markets, are famous tourist attractions that seem to stimulate every sense at once. There are myriad specialised markets in Saigon that eschew the tourist-trapping nature and are a deep part of local life. Much of Saigon is hidden under its rich layers. These hidden markets are rare gems.

Hidden marketsImage source: blisssaigon.com

Lantern/Decorations Market

Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street in Chinatown is the go-to spot for anyone interested in purchasing decorations and especially lanterns. It is especially frequented by locals looking for decorations during the Tet festival. You’ll find artificial peach and apricot blossoms, models of red carp, gold coins, and red envelopes for handing out the traditional “lucky money”. Tasty snacks like sticky rice cake are abundant on the street. In the month leading up to the mid-autumn festival a variety of traditional lamps are available for the holiday of the harvest.

Hidden marketsCrossroads of Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street and Luong Nhu Hoc, District 5 - Image soucre: citipos.vn

Chinese Medicine Market

The Chinese Medicine Market in Cho Lon (Chinatown) is home to over 180 Chinese medicine stores and clinics. Located on Hai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu and Trieu Quang Phuc, the area boasts the biggest collection of traditional Chinese medicine in the south of Vietnam. The smell of herbs permeates the air as visitors peruse the aisles. It’s the place to go to procure the ingredients necessary for a time-honoured tradition of medicine.

Hidden marketsHai Thuong Lan Ong street and the bordering streets of Luong Nhu Hoc, Phan Huy Chu, Trieu Quang Phuc, District 5 - Image soucre: kingfucoidan.vn

Motorbike Accessories Market

With over 8 million motorbikes and counting, Saigon is the motorbike capital of the world, so it stands to reason that it would have a dedicated market for motorbike accessories. It’s on Nguyen Chi Thanh street in District 5. Hundreds of stores peddle wholesale and retail parts for Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Piaggio motorbikes, ranging from original expensive parts to cheap Chinese knock-offs.

Hidden marketsImage source: spadaforaphoto.com

Thuan Kieu Bird Market

One of the most colourful markets is the lively Thuan Kieu Bird Market, a well-hidden gem at the crossroads of Thuan Kieu, Hong Bang and Chay Van Liem streets in District 5 and nestled under an old tamarind tree. Opening at 6am and closing at 6pm, hundreds of bird cages and birds of many colours, sizes and breeds are displayed. Probably more plentiful and noteworthy than the birds are the stockpiles of insects like locusts, crickets, centipedes, grasshoppers, ticks and termites sold as avian cuisine. Be sure to check the collection of scorpions, snakes and other uncommon creepy-crawlies.

Hidden marketsImage source: scootersaigontour.com

Le Hong Phong Pet Market

Le Hong Phong street is the proverbial place to “see a man about a dog”. It is home to a strip of pet stores. First moved from District 1 to District 5 in 2000, locals refer to it as the Pet Market, and it is is known as the primary place where pets (mostly dogs and cats) of numerous sizes and breeds can be purchased, some of them for thousands of US dollars each. On a more unfortunate note, this is one of the first places that people who are in search of their stolen pets come to in hopes of being reunited with their furred friends.

Second-Hand Items – Binh Thanh

The somewhat poetically-named Market of Unused Things (Ve Chai) in Binh Thanh is the closest thing to a never-ending garage sale. Ve Chai refers to articles that no longer have use. Established in the late aughts, it features used knick-knacks such as watches, Zippo lighters and jewellery. You might even be able to find some vintage vinyl treasures.

ShoppingImage source: thanhnien.vn

Trang Tu Fruit Market – District 5

If you’re looking for affordable fruits and veggies, go to the produce market on Trang Tu street in District 5. Next to the Cho Lon coach station, sellers bring delectable delights directly from the Mekong Delta and other farmlands in Vietnam. Fruits like mangosteen, tamarind, sapote, soursop, dragon fruit and rambutan can be found here. You can peruse and purchase produce without even having to get off your motorbike.

Hidden marketsImage source: media.foody.vn

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

Ho Thi Ky Flower Market is the premier wholesale flower market in Saigon. It is a mere 500 metres, but along its kiosks, everything necessary to create ornate floral arrangements can be purchased. The array of flowers make it one of Saigon’s most beautiful (and exquisitely-smelling) markets.

Hidden marketsImage source: stacieflinner.com

Electronics Market – District 10

Ly Nam De, Tan Phuoc, Vinh Vien, Ly Thuong Kiet Street in District 10 are where you’ll find the largest conglomeration of electronics shops in Ho Chi Minh City, including items that may be seen as outdated to some but are very well-priced. It features an abundance of smartphones, laptops, adapters, headphones and other electronic accessories, displayed on plastic sheets spread out across the pavement.

Banner Image source: media.dulich24.com.vn


Apartment Boutiques in HCMC: Fashion that Fits Just Right

By: Emilio Piriz

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

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

Young Spirit

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

boutiques in saigon

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

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

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

Facebook Power

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

boutiques in saigon

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

Entrepreneurial Drive

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

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

boutiques in saigon

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

 


Vietnam’s Rising Ecommerce Industry

By: City Pass Guide

Vietnam’s ecommerce industry is increasing at the second highest rate in the Asia-Pacific region, and growth is clearly expected to continue throughout the next five years, raking in an estimated $10 billion by the year 2020.

What does this mean for the retail market, and how will it affect local and international shops in the future, if at all? According to the Vietnam E-commerce Association, the online shopping industry is expected to rise around 30% or more each year throughout the next decade. As of now, a huge portion of the revenue made from online shopping has been highly concentrated in Hanoi and HCMC. However, once ecommerce hits the outer provinces and countryside areas, this could mean unprecedented growth in the online shopping sector.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade claimed that there are currently around 220 fully functional online shopping websites, all of which have combined to generate about VND1.66 trillion to date. One of Vietnam’s most prominent online retailers for clothing and accessories is Leflair.vn. I sat down with their CEO, Loic Gautier, to get some insight on the current state of the ecommerce market, the struggles of start-up, branding and the direction ecommerce is headed.

leflair.vn founders Loic Gautier and Pierre Antoine Brun

Who is Shopping Online the Most and What are They Buying?

Most might light heartedly joke that, yes, women do the most online shopping and the statistics show that this is in fact true. Overall, females aged 35-44 make the most online purchases and Leflair.com states that about 80% of their purchases are made by women as well.

MasterCard surveys have stated that the top three shopping categories for Vietnam are airline tickets, home appliances and electronic products. It is estimated that more than 50% of consumers are shopping from their mobile devices like iPhones and tablets, and, as expected, the peak time of day for purchases made in Vietnam is in the morning (before work) and the evening (after work).

Branding/Foreign Investment

There are a limited number of international brands available for sale in Vietnam due to the fact that foreign investment is a tricky subject. Obstacles like high taxes and inadequate information result in less foreign interest in the market. As a new online shopping company, big name brands can be hesitant to trust your website due to a lack of established online shopping sources in the past. Since ecommerce just kicked off five years ago, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to establish a trusted industry model. As long as online shopping continues to offer a sound alternative to retail shopping in regards to products, brand options and convenience, ecommerce will certainly continue its upward ascent as it gains the trust of even bigger brand names.

Competitive Market

Although there are a lot of online websites currently functioning in Vietnam, the competition for sites that sell globally recognised brands is limited. Despite the fact that there are many regulations currently in place, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has realised the economic potential and has decided to spend more time promoting ecommerce. They have initiated numerous training programmes, as well as launched several of their own enterprises geared at vamping up the market. Currently, some of the most widely used websites are Leflair, Hotdeal, Lazada, Muachung and Chotot. However, as entrepreneurs become more educated, and more expats integrate into Vietnamese markets, we can expect an increase in competition as well. Those who survive will be the ones that keep one step ahead of the game. Ecommerce requires a depth of technological insight and a marketing savvy both online and off. Social media is clearly another key component to success and it will, in my opinion, make or break future ecommerce sites.

What’s Next?

There is no debate that this is a booming industry. However, it is difficult to predict the direct effect it will have upon the retail market scene. Will they evolve together, or will online shopping steal the crown? Perhaps ecommerce will be a way for local independent designers to platform their designs and avoid the ridiculous rental prices in prime shopping areas. Whatever the outcome, it certainly rings true that everything digital is advancing, and taking place of more antiquated industrial avenues.

Sources: Thanh Nien News, AmCham Vietnam, The Saigon Times, Vietnam News
Header photo by: Robbert Noordzij


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


The Rise (or Fall) of Mall-Based Retail in Saigon

By: Mervin Lee

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.

Malls in SaigonImage 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.

Malls in SaigonImage 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.

Malls in SaigonImage 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.

Banner Image source: livinglocal.triip.me

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