Making a mark

Vietnamese fashion designers must work hard before their brands find popularity at home.

By Tran Vo on August 20,2015 12:10 PM

Making a mark

Tsafari

Not just about fashion

Almost a year after reopening her TSafari fashion brand store in HCMC, designer Ho Tran Da Thao has recently presented her latest collection, with the theme ‘Asian Portrait.’ in which she wants to show the modern and romantic beauty of Asian women. Her designs are made from exclusive fabrics such as chiffon, viole, and silk, and printed with unique high-tech 3D patterns focusing on bright colours like yellow, orange, light green, and purple-green. Her collections are inspired by the beauty of nature, she explained, and by old Asian and Vietnamese patterns at cultural heritage and architectural sites.

Building the TSafari brand has been a long journey for Thao, characterised by overcoming difficulties and maintaining her passion for fashion. After graduating in fashion design at the Australian Design School in Vietnam she went to work for Ninomaxx. Her first success was when she won the Mercedes-Benz Asia Fashion Award, with her first collection, entitled ‘Safari.’ in 2004 and received a scholarship from the Raffles LaSalle Institute in Singapore. A year later she decided to found Tsafari. In three years, from 2005 to 2008, she presented her collections to the market, with a focus on natural fabrics and traditional handcrafting techniques to produce contemporary garments influenced by safari wear. One of her famous collections from this period is entitled ‘I Love Vietnamese Culture’ and inspired by traditional Dong Ho paintings.

Being a fashion designer who built her own brand, she has met obstacles from having to do everything herself, from designing, marketing and management to seeking capital and maintaining manufacturing. At that time she didn’t have enough experience or a good team behind her to help run the business. She found she needed to learn more to be able to develop the brand. In this situation, creativity and business didn’t sit well together. She made the brave decision to close the TSafari shop and factory in 2008, but kept part of her business by manufacturing under ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) contracts from Europe. She then spent most of the five years from 2008 to 2013 teaching fashion, studying fashion in England, and working for foreign fashion houses, to experience the professional fashion business.

In 2014 the TSafari fashion brand reappeared in Vietnam, with Thao fully prepared in concepts, design, technology and human resources to manufacture products of superior quality. TSafari offers a wide range of t-shirts, skirts, dresses, scarves, handbags and accessories. A year after its return the feedback has been good, with more and more customers from many regions of the country buying its products. ‘Tsafari is not just about fashion. It’s about culture and lifestyle,’ Thao said, which is an idea she has always pursued. In the future TSafari will focus on the domestic market and will trial its products in the US and Europe.

Slow steps

It’s been said that Vietnam’s fashion market ignores local designers because those with money will automatically buy something from overseas while medium and low-income earners simply can’t afford to buy them. In recent years, however, the fashion market has seen changes in customer awareness about the value of a designer’s items. Many young Vietnamese designers have also had the opportunity to study abroad, returning with new trends in Vietnamese fashion that are close to global trends, which has changed the mindset of many customers.

I met designer Dieu Anh in her new space, a combination of a fashion store and a coffee shop. She has just rebranded her fashion label to ‘Les Saigonais by Dieu Anh’ from simply ‘Dieu Anh.’ which she established in 2006. ‘Fashion design is my passion but doing business in fashion is a different story,’ she said. ‘So I chose my own way to take slow steps to learn the business and clearly understand market needs.’ Her designs are targeted at young customers with a contemporary and individual style. In her Spring-Summer Collection 2015 she presented original ‘2 in 1’ designs where one item can be used as a dress or a blouse.

Dieu Anh won The Seiko Award in the Asia Collection Makuhari competition in Japan in 1998 before she began studies in fashion design at the Fine Arts University Ho Chi Minh City and L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndical de la Couture Parisienne in France (2000-2004). She has also joined many fashion shows in Vietnam and abroad, such as the Ao dai Show - Vietnam Heaven and Earth, held on the occasion of Saigon’s 300th anniversary in 1999, the Dragon Land Show, held during Hanoi’s 990th anniversary celebrations in 2000, an ‘Ao dai’ show within the Festival of Hue in 2002, the Asian Designers Collection in Tokyo in 2010, and the Asia Fashion Federation in Singapore in 2013. She is also preparing a new collection with an ocean theme, for presentation to the Laos Fashion Show this September.

Chuong Dang’s ao dai

‘Trading with a romantic idea’ is how designer Chuong Dang describes bringing ao dai fashions to the public for the last ten years. He loves the elegant beauty of Vietnamese women in an ao dai but he also wants them to feel more comfortable and be able to wear it every day and everywhere, in the office, at parties, or at formal events. Variations in Chuong’s ao dai designs are inspired from the old ao dai forms of different times in Vietnam. ‘It could be an ao dai my mother or my sister wore and kept carefully,’ he said. He creates ao dai in contemporary styles with a collection of flower ao dai, two-layer ao dai made from cotton, ao dai with subtle hand-embroidered patterns, and ao dai made with ample form. His designs can be combined to wear with jeans, to present a young and active fashion style for young women.

When he was building his ‘Kujean by Chuong Dang’ brand he realised that its development was slow and he met challenges as he had to do many things at the same time: production, retailing and marketing. ‘If I didn’t have so much passion and consider fashion as my calling, my patience would have been exhausted long ago,’ he said. He was lucky, he said humbly, that his ao dai have always received support from customers. This convinced him to continue with Kujean by Chuong Dang.

Bringing art close to life

Bringing art close to life is the idea Tiny Ink fashion wants to show in all of their products. Its two young founders, Hoang Quyen and Anh Duc, have developed their hand-painted fashion of clothing, scarves, and shoes. Their designs are inspired by classical paintings by famous artists such as Van Gogh and Degas as well as by Vietnamese artists. The designs feature typical images of Vietnam, such as Ben Thanh Market, girls in ao dai, lotus flowers, and old Hanoi streets, which are loved by foreign tourists.

Hoang Quyen spent a year studying and researching techniques for hand painting on fabric, from painting patterns on ao dai to using acrylic on t-shirts, before opening the first shop in 2013. She finally decided to choose natural oil paint on Tiny Ink’s products, which are safe for wearers. Her team are not only fashion designers but also artists, who she acknowledges for their contributions to the development and success of Tiny Ink. She remembers at the very beginning experiencing difficulties because of a lack of capital to manufacture and promote the brand. ‘It was difficult to look for investors because our brand was new in the market,’ she said. ‘We had to manage everything to be able to continue.’

Three years on and Tiny Ink has opened three shops in HCMC and signed a contract with a fashion company to display Tiny Ink fashions in its chain of stores at airports in HCMC, Hanoi and Danang.

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