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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
It is not necessarily a well-known fact, but shoes are the most important articles of clothing that you will ever buy.
Most people don’t realise that the health of your feet sets the tone for the health of the entire skeletal system and therefore your entire body. Wearing shoes that fit properly and support your feet is vitally important in order to avoid or alleviate many common foot problems; however, it goes further than that.
Great Looks Bad Back
Many are tempted to simply wear shoes that they find aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, great looking footwear is more often than not the worst choice for either proper foot function or overall health. In addition, about 70% of us have one foot that is bigger than the other by half a size. From that we can assume that literally billions of people are walking around with one shoe that is the wrong size.
Vietnam is one of the largest exporters of shoes in the world. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that sees Vietnamese shoes being worn in more than 40 countries. Standards are high, and Mangii has taken them even higher. Using high-class leather, cork for comfort and metal shanks for strength, the shop handcrafts footwear of incredible style and quality.
“The shoes are assembled completely by hand and crafted into exquisite designs.”
All Mangii custom-made shoes are manufactured in Vietnam, close to the Cu Chi area of Ho Chi Minh City. Andy Nguyen, the owner, bought an existing factory with an already highly skilled workforce. It took him three years to train staff to the standards that he demanded. Five years ago he achieved his goal and opened up his first shop. Now firmly established, he has opened a second shop in Hanoi.
Bespoke Every Step of the Way
Mangii has an incredibly high percentage of repeat customers, and most of the clients come by word of mouth. The great beauty of the way they work here is that all patterns and measurements are kept, so even after people return to their homes, wherever they may be, they can and do still order online and receive their shoes by post. A string of 5-star ratings on TripAdvisor has also helped business growth immensely.
Customers can, of course, buy ready-made shoes and walk away with beautiful footwear in one day. It is, though, the custom-made collection that attracts most. The process is unique. Feet are measured and a drawing is made, then individual lasts are made from which the shoes are modelled. In fact, Mangii first makes a fitting shoe that customers can try on. The customer then says which part of the shoe, if any, is too tight or pinching and the shop adjusts the lasts and builds the real shoes. The customer then chooses the design and the leather that they want to use, and from this the process is completed.
This normally takes about two weeks. Clients end up with shoes that are unique and fit perfectly. This has resulted in the large number of re-orders from people who stay exclusively with Mangii. Most of the clients are business people, though increasingly, young people are demanding high class products.
“Half of Mangii’s customers are expats who, of course, often struggle to find shoes that even fit.”
Mangii custom-made shoes are an excellent investment for anyone who cares about their health while at the same time, wishes to look stylish. They are not as expensive as one would expect, and certainly not as expensive as buying similar shoes in the West. Unique, stylish, affordable, made to measure, and right here in Ho Chi Minh City. What more could you want?
Vietnamese Coffee is known for being some of the best available. The country is the top producer of Robusta in the world. Therefore, it is unsurprising that for travellers and expats in Vietnam, coffee is the top sought after souvenir and most often consumed beverage product.
However, with Ben Thanh Market and other familiar tourist destinations filled with hundreds of potentially dubious brands and nameless packets of coffee grinds roasted and left to stand for months and possibly even years, consumers are rightly apprehensive about the quality of what is on display.
A dazzling display of coffee beans and powder at Ben Thanh Market - by Mervin Lee
We’ve put together a concise and simple to understand guide to help you understand java-science so that you can choose Vietnamese coffee of good quality which, hopefully, agrees with your palate!
Definition of ‘Vietnamese Coffee’ and Relieving the Confusion
Vietnamese Coffee refers to both a style of traditional Vietnamese roast and a style of brew. It is possible to brew Italian-style roasted beans with the ubiquitous Vietnamese phin drip filter, and likewise, also possible to brew traditional Vietnamese-style dark roasts with a foreign device such as a French press.
Saigonese street coffee being mass-brewed using Vietnamese phin drip filters - by Mervin Lee
Traditional Vietnamese techniques involve roasting Robusta coffee beans very dark with additives such as butter, salt, whisky, rice liquor or even sugar and fish-sauce. These additives help to elevate the savouriness and palatability of the notoriously harsh and bitter tasting Robusta beans.
Chemical flavourings and fragrances are often added, with the most common being vanilla and hazelnut, the former an age-old cliché aroma sought after in Vietnamese coffee powder.
Fillers such as roasted corn, soybeans and red beans are common and some recipes call for filler content of up to 50%. Fillers are used to thicken, darken and somewhat sweeten the coffee and they also increase profits. Connoisseurs who are seeking pure coffee should note that it is practically impossible to gauge the purity of coffee in Vietnam based on looking at grinded coffee powder. Diligent people should opt to purchase whole beans at shops before requesting them to be grounded on the spot.
When extracted using the iconic Vietnamese phin drip filter, the espresso-like liquid is then served with or without ice, and preferably with condensed milk to offset it’s bitterness. This popular beverage is known as ca phe sua da, the renowned mascot of Vietnamese coffee.
Enjoying a cup of ca phe sua da on a hot Saigonese day - by Mervin Lee
Advancements in coffee farming has allowed the development of higher quality Robusta and Arabica coffee beans. Globalisation and changing preferences has resulted in a trend of roasting pure, additive-free coffee and subsequently brewing them with a wide range of foreign methods such as Italian-style espresso and paper filter. When these coffees are brewed using a phin, the technique remains Vietnamese.
Thus, the first item that you should procur is a high quality Vietnamese phin drip filter if you desire a strong and traditional Vietnamese brew. The phin works by filtering coffee through 2 layers of tiny holes and allowing the coffee to fall with the help of gravity.
City Pass Guide recommends the Trung Nguyen phins made of quality aluminium and available at all Trung Nguyen coffee shops. For connoisseurs who prefer a non-metal solution, Minh Long offers a series of beautiful porcelain Phins handcrafted in Binh Duong Province.
Roast Levels and Blends
Taste preference differs between individuals. Not everyone enjoys bitter coffee without sugar, and although many people do not appreciate light roasted and acidic coffee, third-wave coffee snobs may insist that such qualities are preferred.
“The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”
Robusta coffees are generally bitter and harsh in taste, while Arabica coffees are often more acidic, higher in natural sugar content and superior in fragrance. As a general guideline, a medium roasted coffee is a good balance between intensity, acidity, sweetness and fragrance, since ample time has been given for bitter compounds to degrade. Light roasted Arabicas are acidic but preserve the original aroma and flavour compounds, known as ‘origin character’ in third-wave coffee-speak. Dark roasted Arabica coffees are savoury and intense in flavour, having lost most of its acidity through the roasting process and may be bitter if coffee caramels have begun to burn in the roasting process if beans are not roasted with skill and care. French-style roast is an example of very dark roasted coffee.
As such, the skill of the coffee roaster and the art of blending different types of beans at different roast levels becomes extremely crucial for Italian-style espresso and Vietnamese phin coffee since these styles involve extracting coffee with very little water, resulting in highly concentrated and intense brews. Arabicas may be added to a predominantly Robusta blend to introduce pleasant acidity, aroma and to relieve the blend of dullness. Likewise, Robusta may be added to a predominantly Arabica blend to introduce body and crema for Italian-style espresso.
Image source: i.ytimg.com
Common ratios and names of these ratios at specialty coffee shops in Saigon include 20-80, 50-50 and 80-20, describing the percentage ratio of Arabica to Robusta coffee.
Here is a breakdown of the various types of coffee beans and species that may be found by examining the printed contents information on packaged commercial coffee.
Arabica - The most popular and widely consumed coffee species in the world with countless cultivated varieties. It is known for its nuanced, alluring floral and fruity notes, which vary wildly depending on region and varietal. Arabica is disliked by some due to its acidity, which can be mildly sweet and berry or citrus-like in specialty varieties.
Culi (Peaberry) Arabica - In normal circumstance, a coffee cherry contains two coffee beans. Peaberries, known as culi in Vietnamese coffee-lingo, are coffee beans that have developed into a single spherical bean due to the lack of fertilisation of the other bean. Culi Arabicas are very rare and known for a higher intensity of Arabica’s attributes.
Robusta - The underrated Robusta is known for being bitter and harsh but is the choice for daily indulgence in Southeast Asia due to its natural lack of acidity. Advancements in cultivation and coffee processing has improved it’s flavour drastically.
Culi (Peaberry) Robusta - Culi Robustas are known to be more bitter, but also sweeter, and are said to contain considerably more caffeine.
Liberica and Excelsa - Rare and related species of hardy, tropical coffee plants. Liberica is popular in Malaysia and the Philippines and is liked for its attractive and earthy aroma that is often accompanied by a smokey taste resembling dark chocolate, berries and tropical fruits. Excelsa coffee is similar and is known to be tart and fruity with a lingering finish.
When buying ground coffee, It is critical for a buyer to check for the coffee roast date. Dark roasted coffees oxidize faster and light roasted coffees last longer if kept in airtight mason jars. As a rule of thumb, buy coffee that is as fresh as possible! When buying from shops that are able to grind fresh coffee beans, one should choose the grind size based on the intended brew method (e.g.: coarse for French press, medium-fine for paper filter and fine for espresso).
Image source: caphenguyenchat.vn
If you’re intending on becoming a coffee snob, investing in a coffee grinder and relying on coffee beans may be your best bet if you’re a sucker for freshness.
Common Vietnamese Coffee Terms
Bột - Powder Nguyên hạt - Unground coffee beans Hạt Rang - Roasted coffee beans
Cà Phê Nguyên Chất - Pure coffee without additives Cà Phê Rang Xay - Roasted and ground coffee Cà Phê Hòa Tan - Instant/dissolvable ground
Cà Phê Mít - Mít means jackfruit in Vietnamese and Cà Phê Mít has nothing to do with the yellow-fleshed tropical fruit and refers to Liberica and Excelsa coffee. Cà Phê Chồn - Civet coffee. Often known in the western world as weasel coffee. A coffee processed from faeces of civets which consumed coffee cherries. Natural wild civet coffee is very expensive while farmed varieties are more affordable. Most civet coffee in Vietnam is a made with chemical flavouring and/or artificial enzymes.
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.
Image source: blisssaigon.com
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.
Crossroads 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.
Hai 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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.
Image 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
Many colonial buildings are being renovated and turned into hip-looking coffee shops, workshops, co-working spaces and fashion boutiques. They mix the old and the new to cater for the new generation of Vietnamese who love the fresh ambience in these places.
We met up with three fashion designers who own their boutiques and design every item that’s sold there. They all share a young spirit, a deep love for fashion and an entrepreneurial drive.
Nguyen Anh Thi (24) is the youngest. She has been running her “BeUnique” boutique on the 2nd floor of 42 Ton That Thiep for two months and, despite her brief experience, feels confident about her decision. “I have always loved fashion and truly felt the need to design clothes for young Vietnamese like me,” explained Thi, who taught herself everything she knows in design. Most young designers who embark in a small business consider their family’s and friends’ approval a must for their journey, and so does Thi.
“Every time I am about to release a new design, I ask my friends for feedback. My parents supported me from the very beginning because they thought I was capable of succeeding,” she says.
While talking to her, the shop gets a bit crowded. “People coming to my shop range from the age of 18 to 26. This apartment is well-known in Saigon among youngsters, that’s the main reason why I chose this place.”
Rent tends to be the deciding factor for these young entrepreneurs. “I pay between VND 10 and 15 million every month. Even if my sales grew considerably, I wouldn’t consider moving the shop to a street-level location because then I would have to spend more money on rent and cut costs on materials.”
Originally from Korea, Lee Seohyun arrived in HCMC when her husband relocated for work. She opened the Elephant’s Closet (2nd floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong) a year later. Getting settled in a new place plus having two babies probably felt like a full-time job. However, shortly after, she started designing women’s clothes and hired a tailor. Now she caters for Vietnamese moms who look for unique designs for her kids’ closet as well as for theirs. Seohyun’s matching outfits for moms and kids give her a unique edge.
Generally speaking, customers in these boutiques tend to be awed by the affordable clothing but also by the cosy atmosphere. The visually striking setup represents one side of the business; the other part plays on social media. “I make great use of Facebook to showcase my newest creations, and then the word-of-mouth does the rest,” Seohyun says.
The first apartment boutiques in HCMC appeared about five years ago. Tu Anh opened hers, Thank God I’m Fabulous (1st floor at 26 Ly Tu Trong), four-and-a-half years ago, a pioneer in the business. “The concept sprung off of L’Usine, so, based on that idea, we tried to convey a similar shop experience while dealing with the constraints of being an entrepreneur.” Although most of these shops are in the heart of the city, the owners prefer apartments where rents are cheaper than a street-level shop.
Tu Anh studied fashion design in Australia 10 years ago and then enrolled in a business course in Singapore, which probably provided the vision she exhibits these days. “I spent nearly a year in planning out the business. Branding took up most of the time, since I really want to serve my clients’ needs while matching my desires for designing. I would say that’s my vision,” she recalls when asked about her first steps with the shop.
Nowadays, Tu Anh has eight people, including tailors and pattern makers, working at her workshop, which allows her to release a new collection every three months. Her clothes are mainly office outfits for women who have a stable income. “I target ladies who prefer to pay a bit extra for high-quality clothes.” Tu Anh is currently searching for a location in D1 to open her second shop at a regular store space instead of an apartment.
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).
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.
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.
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.