Sustainable Shopping and Other Ways to be A Good Person

By: Molly Headley

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.

ShoppingImage 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.”

Blueberry Night (www.blueberrynightconcept.com) is another brand with ethical values. Their signature vintage cotton and linen fabrics are used for bedding, pillows, handbags and even yoga mat carriers.

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.

ShoppingImage 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.”

ShoppingImage 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.

Recycling for the Future

Other notable ecologically-minded companies are Zago Furniture (www.zago-store.vn) and Rostaing Tannery (www.rostaingtannery.com).

ShoppingImage source: zago-store.vn

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 … ”

ShoppingImage 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.”

Contact Details:

Metiseko
157 Dong Khoi, Ben Nghe, District 1, HCMC

Blueberry Night
Available at The Closet  
Address: 81 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC
Phone: 090 838 40 85
www.blueberrynightconcept.com
www.facebook.com/blueberrynight.homedecor
www.instagram.com/blueberrynight.homedecor
Email: Blueberrynight.homedecor@gmail.com

My Way Deco
51 Street No.19, An Phu Ward, District 2, HCMC
Tel:+84.8 62960608
Email: sales@mywaydeco.com

Zago Furniture
49 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC
Phone: 028 2253 4248

Rostaing Tannery
Số 8, Tam An, Long Thanh, Dong Nai
Phone: 0251 3514 133

Evolve Mobility
16 Street, 19A, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC
Phone: 028 6281 8266

Banner Image source:noipictures.com


Saigon’s Secret Organic Food Suppliers

By: Molly Headley

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.

ShoppingImage source: foodsafetycertifiers.com

Yet, these challenges don’t change the fact that there is a demand for safe, well-made food in Vietnam. When people read another news story about a food scandal such a battery acid allegedly being used to darken coffee, or formaldehyde extending the shelf life of noodles, they turn towards labels they feel like they can trust and organic fits that bill. A report in Vietnam News estimates that organic food revenues have reached VND3 trillion.

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.

ShoppingImage 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.

ShoppingImage 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.

Vegan Snacks

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.

ShoppingImage 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.

ShoppingImage 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.

ShoppingImage 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

ShoppingImage 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.

ShoppingImage 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


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.

 


Best Tailors in Saigon

By: City Pass Guide

In the tourist areas of Ho Chi Minh City, there are tons of tailors and they even have their own small fabric shops adjacent to their workshops or emporiums. Tailor shops like these are available in abundance in District 1, especially in the backpacker quarter at Pham Ngu Lao.

Since they speak English up to a certain degree, tourists like to drop in and have something tailored fast before they have to leave Saigon again. But I would like to guide you through the process of obtaining custom-made clothing from the tailor the Vietnamese way.

Before we begin to hunt for the best tailors in Ho Chi Minh City, we need to start with the very first question:

What type of clothing do I want?

Well, it might be self-explanatory, but before we go to the fabric market in Saigon, let alone the tailor, we need to decide what we want. If you long for a traditional Vietnamese Áo dài, you can find a broad variety of specialized fabric shops.

One of the most famous Áo dài fabric shops where we bought the material for my fiancé’s long dress:

Cửa Hàng Thái Tuấn

236 Đường 3/2, District 10

The same is true if your goal is to obtain a custom-tailored suit. There are several good fabric shops where you can find the cloth you need near chợ Tân Định (Tan Dinh Market, one of the famous old markets of Saigon).

However, this is Vietnam, and going to a big market is what we love to do here.

Step one: The fabric market

When shopping for the right fabric in Ho Chi Minh City, there is one address you cannot miss:

Chợ An Đông (An Dong Market)

An Dong, W.9, District 5

A part of An Dong Market is some sort of urban flea market where you can buy the usual crap, but upstairs is the paradise of textiles. The focus lies on cloth for shirts, trousers and women’s fashion. Of course, the booths for the dresses are much more colorful than the men’s department, but since I primarily wear black, a very unpopular color in Vietnam for cultural reasons, I don’t pay much attention to pink, yellow and toxic green anyway. Not that they only have ugly colors at the market, no way! The pallette at chợ An Đông is almost as versatile as nature itself.

As I said, I want black fabric and natural fibres as well, so we start our shopping spree and head from one booth to the next. Some cloth looks nice, but contains too much artificial fibre for my taste. At some other booth, the lady shows me some jeans fabric which appears nice and black in the shadow where she keeps it. Upon further inspection I realize, it’s dark blue and not black at all.

In the end I got what I wanted. Black, fine cotton fabric for my shirts at 130,000 VND/m and nice cotton canvas for the trousers at 160,000 and 180,000 VND/m. The price is good, because chợ An Đông is far away from the tourist areas and foreigners are a rare sight. But we bargain a little, just for the heck of it.

By the way, if you don’t know it already, the ladies at the fabric booths know how many meters of cloth you will approximately need for the shirt/dress/trousers you desire.

Step two: Finding the right tailor

A good tailor in Ho Chi Minh City specializes in a certain field. My favorite tailor actually was not happy when I ordered a pair of tai chi trousers. Nervously he flicked through his reference material for trousers and suits, muttering “Never in my 40 years as a tailor, somebody has ordered something like this.” He was afraid that I would not be satisfied with the result and his high reputation would suffer. I decided not to strain the good man with my weird demands and ordered two pairs of normal trousers and three shirts, withdrawing my order for the martial arts pants until I can find a template on the internet or something.

I think the best way to find a good tailor in Saigon is to ask the locals. Many Vietnamese businessmen don’t use overpriced shops at the tourist areas, but order their clothes at the tailor where their father already had his shirts made. That way you can make sure to get the quality work of a proper craftsman at a reasonable price.

As we bring in the fabric we bought at the market, our tailor examines it carefully. He even takes a lighter, setting a corner afire. The fabric burns slowly, doesn’t melt, smoke or stink. After putting out the small flame, he declares it to be pure cotton of high quality.

Chieu

720 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, District 3

After a series of questions about pockets, cuts, folds and the likes, the tailor takes his measuring ribbon and measures my arms, legs, wrists and so on. He writes down everything and I get a foldable business card with the items written on it, the price, day to pick up the finished product and a small sample of the fabric.

We also bought the fabric for my fiancé’s Áo dài that day, so we head to a tailor, famous for beautiful Vietnamese long dresses.

Nhà May Chi

149 Nguyễn Thiện Thuật, District 3

This specialized tailor comes from the center of Vietnam, from the ancient city of Hue. The shop is quite busy, apparently they are famous for quality tailoring as well. Basically the process is the same as for my trousers and shirts. But since the Áo dài is a rather clinging dress, I am excluded from the measuring process and wait outside. During that time I marvel at the array of hand-painted fabrics exhibited in the shop.

We tuck away the foldable business card with the scrap of cloth inside, and head for dinner.

A custom-tailored Áo dài from Saigon will cost from around 700,000 VND upwards. It always depends on the fabric. Student Áo dàis are available for a little less, while you can reach really high prices with silk and hand embroidered hems at luxury tailors in Ho Chi Minh City.

One of the most famous luxury Áo dài tailors of Ho Chi Minh City is in Lý Tự Trọng street, close to Ben Thanh market:

Vo Viet Chung

205 Lý Tự Trọng, District 1

For a more high-end option in Ho Chi MInh City, we recommend:

H&D Tailor

No.5 street, District 7

If you are not in Saigon, but you are searching for a tailor in other cities of Vietnam, please feel free to take a look at our listings of tailors in Vietnam.

Step three: Pick up your custom-made clothes

Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory again. In the card you received from your favorite tailor in Saigon, you find the day when your order is finished. You go there, try if it fits as you imagined it and pay. The tailor will make minor adjustments if necessary.

Not necessary if you buy just a shirt and trousers, but a vital step if you ordered a whole suit, is the intermediary measurement. You just drop by a couple days before your suit is finished, put on the half-finished clothing and the tailor will measure again for small adjustments. JUst to make sure, everything fits perfect.

Now go and have fun with your custom-tailored clothing made in Ho Chi Minh City!

Both of us were very happy with the fashion items we purchased that day. The only downside to mention would be, that both our tailors don’t speak a word of English. Not an obstacle for us, but maybe if you don’t have the time to partner up with somebody who speaks Vietnamese, you might want to stick to the tailors in District 1.

For long-limbed foreigners like me, it is kinda hard to find shirts or trousers that fit. I remember spending around two hours trying different jeans at Metro in Da Nang, until I ended up with one that fit me well. It was blue though. Yuck!

Ordering custom-made clothes at the tailor in Ho Chi Minh City is much easier. You get exactly what you need, and usually at a reasonable price. Trousers come at VND 170,000 plus the cost of the fabric for example. A whole suit might cost as much as VND 2,500,000 , but custom-tailored and of high quality.

Depending on area, specialization and versatility of your tailor, it might even be double the mentioned price sometimes. A bespoke tailor might charge even more, for good reasons.


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


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

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