Diminishing Space for Vietnamese Designers

shopping - Saigon/HCMC: Sept. 29, 2016

Why are all of HCMC’s boutique shops disappearing?

In the past, HCMC was a boutique shoppers paradise, hosting hundreds of artisan shops all over what is now the corporate-dominated walking street. But where have all these gone and what is their future amidst the globalisation of this hot spot? In order to find answers I sat down with Christina Yu, founder of the prestigious multinational accessory line Ipa Nima, and Quentin Axlerod, founder of Bliss Magazine. This discussion brought about many thought-provoking topics within Ho Chi Minh City’s rapidly evolving retail market. Since 1997, Christina’s Brand Ipa Nima has been handcrafting some of the best accessories,handbags and wallets for thousands of mid-high end consumers alike.

Although there are a handful of established designers like Christina still finding success in Vietnam’s fashion scene, the numbers are certainly lacking.

“Less emphasis has been put on quality and personalisation by many designers as many just follow European trends.”

Perhaps there is not enough trust from consumers in Vietnamese produced goods, but why is this? From Christina Yu’s point of view this boils down to a shortcoming of education regarding local support, a shortage of affordable and centralised space for local designers’ to promote their work, and an almost non-existent platform for local designers to evolve.

Although the thought that there is not much hope for local designers to compete with the big names leaves us feeling a bit bleak, there is certainly some light at the end of the tunnel.

“There are plenty of young intellectual designers out there taking risks, and consciously crafting new items with first rate materials.”

As a result of iconic designers like Christina Yu, and Ipa Nima’s groundbreaking approach to production, some have come to value and appreciate the importance of using quality materials to meticulously hand make each item. Taking the time to passionately create your own merchandise can be rigorous, time consuming and intimidating in light of major international names.

With little government support towards a proper platform for talented locals to display their work, it seems that we may need to rethink how the boutique shops will manage to be profitable without having a prime establishment that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. In lieu of this insight, there are a handful of innovative artists working to circumvent big brand takeover by utilising retail space in a new way. Considering the price of rent for ground floor space, most shop owners have been forced to move up to the second or third floors. This results in less traffic, as many shoppers will often just stick to the ground floor shops for convenience. Some shop owners, like Floralpunk have been successful in finding alternative locations. Floral Punk strategically placed her small boutique at 40E Ngo Duc Ke, between the famous walking streets of Dong Khoi and Nguyen Hue, making it quite easy for people to stumble upon by foot.

Photo by Lam Minh Khang, Model: Phi Phuong Anh, Fashion designer: Lam Gia Khanh, Stylist: Mi Goi, Makeup: Quan Hoa Nguyen

Ly Tu Trong is one area that is quickly becoming home to various well known fashion names opening shops above ground floors. L’Usine offers a whole different kind of experience as it’s both a boutique shop and restaurant. This duality is the perfect model of how to utilise space in a more effective manner. As people enter for the bistro-style French cuisine, customers are unexpectedly pulled into the boutique shop as well. This kind of arrangement is ideal, and a creative way around the high prices of the centralised shopping locations.

“HCMC is booming with international brands which leaves many boutique artisans at a loss.”

As the industry develops, local designers are going to have to do what they do best - be creative, in order to keep up during this transitional period. Considering the amount of passion, dedication and resourcefulness of Vietnam’s top designers, we hope that they will successfully manage to find their place to compete with some of the world’s most powerful brands. And for you shoppers - don’t be shy. Take a trip up those rugged looking staircases, and open the doors to Saigon’s true fashion scene.

Photos by Lam Minh Khang