Vietnam 2014: Year in Review

Firsts and Notable Events

Tomorrow is the last day of the year in the Gregorian calendar but the Year of the Horse in the Vietnamese lunar calendar extends until mid February, 2015. Overall, 2014 marked many firsts for Vietnam: the first McDonald’s opened in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before Tet (the lunar new year). The first Rolls-Royce dealership opened in Hanoi in August, and the first mobile game out of Vietnam, Flappy Bird, went viral (and is now currently only officially available on Amazon Fire TV). Notably, Lotte Center Hanoi opened on September 2, Vietnam’s Independence Day, (after five years of construction) and Formation 8 sponsored a bi-city Hackathon, demonstrating that there is continued interest in the growing startup ecosystem in Vietnam from outside investors.

More recently on Christmas Day (December 25) Hanoi received a “gift” in the form of the new airport terminal that opened for its first flight but the terminal won’t be fully operational until December 31. The four-story, 139,000 square meter Terminal 2 has cost several hundred million dollars to build and it will accommodate a growing number of travelers to Vietnam. However, not all of 2014 happenings were rosy; the falling price of oil, anti-China protests in the middle of the year, and continued reports of Vietnam’s public debt increasing were some of the more worrisome developments during the past year.

Trade Impacts: Sanctions and Price Swings

In the last six months the price of oil has dropped by 40% and it’s certainly quite a different situation from this time of the year in 2007 as oil was about to break the $100 per barrel mark. Consumers in the west will certainly enjoy going to the gas stations once again and the increased disposable income will provide short term benefits for their economies. Similarly, the price of gas in Vietnam has been falling as well, as it is regulated by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. We will most likely see a cycle of global oil production slowing down, new oil projects put on hold, and then the price of oil skyrocketing back up, perhaps even before the end of next year.

For 2015, Vietnam’s GDP was projected to grow 6.2% if the price of oil had stayed at $100 per barrel and for every $1 the price of a barrel of oil loses, the State budget would lose VND 1-1.2 trillion (approximately $5.1 million). Oil export revenue makes up an estimated 10.2% of the total budget revenue which is  lower than in previous years. However, the budget revenue target is VND 911.1 trillion (over $42 billion) so the change in the price of oil still impacts the budget and will continue to as the price of oil continues to fluctuate.

At the same time, EU and US sanctions against Russia (and the Russian counter-sanctions) also provide an opportunity for Vietnam to increase its exports (in particular seafood and fruit) to Russian consumers, who will still demand or need products that were readily available to them earlier this year. The complicating factor for Vietnamese exporters will be the declining value of the Russian ruble, currently in free fall (and valued at approximately half of its worth at this time last year). Still, Vietnam and Russia recently concluded negotiations for the Customs Union agreement, which is expected to increase trade between the two countries to $10 billion by 2020.

Changing Skylines and Construction Interruptions

If you’ve been to Nguyen Hue street in Saigon’s District 1 recently then you know what a eyesore the metro construction project has been there (and in District 2). Earlier this year, the cost projections for the project were revised from $1.1 billion to a staggering $2.7 billion. On the opposite side of the country, the $1 billion metro project in Hanoi hasn’t progressed much since construction began in 2012. Completion dates for both projects keep getting pushed back as well—something that will most likely continue to happen before the current projected completion dates.

Now is construction season in Hanoi, mostly due to the cooler weather and attempts to finish projects before Tet so families can spend the holiday in their new homes. However, for the neighbors of such a construction project it can mean a significant decline in the quality of life for the duration of demolition and building. Construction can begin anywhere from 5:30 to 6:30 AM every day of the week and last until 6:30 PM with a break in the middle of the day for a lunch and siesta (usually one to two hours). At night, trucks delivering supplies for the next workday can arrive at 11:00 PM, 1:00 AM, and 3:00 AM due to lack of required permits to transport the goods during the day. For residential construction in narrow alleyways, workers can block nearby entrances, leave a mess, and contribute to the local noise and air pollution with jackhammers and gas-powered pulleys (in the last six months, your author has experienced three such projects). Surprisingly, many Vietnamese don’t seem to mind the noise and delays, unless they are traffic related.

For a changing city, cranes perched across a skyline are the sight of progress. But perhaps the costs of construction projects can also be measured in psychological effects due to the disruption in daily schedules. The noise of progress is far more intruding than the sight of progress and it has lasting impacts on future generations. Still, if not construction then other sonic interruptions such as public karaoke, horn honking, or motorcycle engine revving will emerge through the city soundscape. For sure, anyone who has visited Hanoi has learned to appreciate silence in this loud, chaotic, and flowing city.

Clear Winners

In 2014, Korea and Japan deepened their relationships with Vietnam on cultural, educational, and economic levels. Additionally, Vietnam established or renegotiated a number of bi-lateral trade agreements with states such as Lao PDR, Israel, Macedonia, and others.

Additionally, Samsung selected Vietnam as the location for a $3 billion manufacturing facility. It already has a $2 billion plant here so Samsung’s selection of Vietnam shows its faith that Vietnam’s business climate will continue to meet Samsung’s future production needs; this development continues the trend of manufacturing shifting away from China. Vietnam’s largest export value for 2014 is still cellphones and components—something that has remained unchanged since last year.

Furthermore, Mercedes-Benz Vietnam had the best first-half of the year ever since setting up in Vietnam— and one could make the case that it’s the unofficial vehicle brand of Hanoi given how seemingly ubiquitous the models are throughout the city. It will be interesting to see how the brand finishes out the year once the final numbers moved are tallied. To that extent, luxury brands here continued to do well, overall (though there are emerging signs that some Vietnamese may be living beyond their means).

Last but not least, the World Cup was a huge winner in 2014, no doubt causing the loss of serious amounts of productivity over the summer as Vietnamese workers stayed up until 5:00 AM or later to catch the games in Brazil. Not everyone was a winner though, as those who gambled away their fortunes or homes were left with low spirits. Still, the World Cup was a chance for Vietnamese families and friends to get together and share the communal experience of watching the nation’s undisputed favorite sport.

Undoubtedly, 2014 was many things for Vietnam (not all of it covered in this post), but it certainly wasn’t dull. We hope that you will continue to join us in 2015 as Vietnam and Southeast Asia continue to ascend. Happy New Year to you and yours wherever you are in the world!


Building a Brand in Vietnam

Building a successful brand in Vietnam (or anywhere) requires having a clear idea of local consumer (and by extension, social) norms, trends, and perceptions (i.e., market in general) in addition to understanding the local, regional, and national cultures for successful positioning in a country. Yes, conspicuous consumption exists here in Vietnam but for many brands, simply copying and pasting a western marketing campaign won’t work beyond luxury brands that convey a sense of status to those around the targeted consumer. Sometimes, understanding a market means a change in mindset.

This week we are taking a look at three modern scenarios: the first, a globally known brand seeking to capture market share in Vietnam; the second, a local brand growing domestically (and which could eventually lead to the third scenario); and the third, a local brand entering foreign markets (which will most likely increase in the future). We’ll also explore some potential ways forward for Vietnamese companies in the future.

Global Brand to Local Market

Earlier this month, we were invited to the first ever AMX Seminar in Hanoi, which was followed up by a similar version a few days later in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). The audience in Hanoi was primarily comprised of 20-30 Vietnamese Systems Integrators (SI) with less than five foreigners in the audience. After the half-day presentation, we were asked to give feedback on the potential for the AMX brand in the Vietnam market and how to improve service and support overall.

In short, the event was a solid step toward establishing the AMX brand in Vietnam but it won’t be an easy win in this market as Crestron, Savant, and Extron are all available here as well—not to mention local and/or less expensive offerings. So, there’s definitely opportunity for AMX (and any technology brand) to establish itself as a market leader and ride the growing economic wave here—but it will have to be in a personalized manner that resonates with Vietnamese stakeholders and/or expat decision makers.

These technology brands don’t have counterfeit and quality issues to deal with because their products are sold through authorized dealers and country distributors. For other industries, such as cosmetics, there exists a trust deficit: how do local consumers know the products that they are buying are authentic? Thus, consumers prefer hand-carried cosmetic items from trusted friends or associates who are traveling to Vietnam from more developed markets such as Hong Kong. After all, skin and eye products are the ones that you don’t want to be cheap on.

Local Brand to Local Market

Another company that is building a (completely) new brand here in Vietnam is Emigo, which is owned by VinFashion of Vingroup. The Emigo brand was launched earlier this year and it already has two open locations including Vincom Center Ba Trieu and Vincom Mega Mall Times City. Approximately four additional locations are slated to be opened throughout Hanoi in the near future.

The Emigo brand has the potential to make an impact on the fashion scene here since its offerings are more affordable than brand name imported clothing lines (its designs are similar to Zara or H&M) and there is always an element of national pride in buying from a Vietnamese brand. It remains to be seen how the Emigo brand will be built domestically but for sure Vietnamese shoppers will want to inspect the materials and quality of the real products for themselves before deciding whether or not to buy into the brand.

If Emigo can resonate with local consumers then it might be able to build momentum here and expand abroad—if those are indeed the plans that VinFashion has in store for the brand. Still, could we see Emigo products in western stores one day? If so, then perhaps the clothing label will read “Created in Vietnam” in addition to “Made in Vietnam.”

Local Brand to Global Market

Brands coming into Vietnam have the advantage of prestige and case studies in western markets—but what about the reverse situation? How would a Vietnamese brand fare in the global marketplace? When foreigners hear “Vietnam,” what is their impression of Vietnam, i.e., what is Vietnam to them? And, what is Vietnam known for globally? These are all questions that Vietnamese brands looking to go abroad will have to find the answers to in order to enter new markets in the most efficient way possible.

A Vietnamese client recently told us that they wanted to build a “Vietnamese iPhone” in part due to the success of Apple’s iPhone in Vietnam and the rest of the world. Instead, we suggested that they differentiate their product by creating a secure smartphone (similar to the Blackphone or Boeing Black). Given last year’s revelations by Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, security conscious companies might prefer another option for secure handset communications beyond American and Chinese manufacturers, especially if the alternative price point is attractive. Or a suitable Vietnamese startup could always take a page from Xiaomi’s book (2010 wasn’t so long ago).

The growing risk for Vietnamese companies who have the technical skills to produce something for other markets is that they might create something that only Vietnamese consumers will like. For example, when Yamaha Vietnam unveiled its website redesign in a “flat design” style, the feedback they got from Vietnamese visitors was that the website had no information and was hard to navigate. Vietnamese taste and design considerations can be very unique, even in Southeast Asia. Another way to think about about going to another market is that it’s not realistic for an American company to come to Vietnam, do things the “American” way and expect to be successful. Similarly, how do you think a Vietnamese company trying to do things the “Vietnamese” way in the US (or any other country) will fare?

Choosing the Long Term

During a conversation last week with some Vietnamese/New York fashion industry insiders in Hanoi, we discussed how to create and position a future clothing brand here in Vietnam. What is Vietnam’s competitive advantage in manufacturing? Vietnam’s current advantage is its low cost of labor (in addition to other financial incentives) which has prompted giants like Samsung and Intel to setup multi-billion dollar manufacturing facilities here.

However, inexpensive labor won’t last forever nor will Vietnam’s “Golden Population Structure” remain intact. Just as investment has flowed into Vietnam from China, so too will investment flow into a location with less expensive labor costs—perhaps to another neighbor as well. So looking ahead, what product or service might Vietnam have in the future that will give it an advantage in the global marketplace?

Today, Vietnam has plenty of raw materials but they aren’t finished goods which Vietnamese manufacturers can command a premium for. Not to mention that we live in a world of limited resources, so what can Vietnam offer the world in the future? One way to answer this question is to think about the challenges that Vietnam will face in the future (and that other countries will have as well). If Vietnamese companies continue to or start working on solutions for those problems then they can be ahead of the curve. After all, there is innovation here–many Vietnamese are “professional improvisers” in their daily lives and they are quick and resilient learners, as history has shown.

In the future, Vietnam won’t be the only country that has a rising national power consumption (and therefore rising demand for coal if alternative sources don’t emerge), it won’t be the only country with more cars on the road (and therefore more air pollution), and when sea levels rise it won’t just affect a single city like Can Tho in the Mekong Delta—it’ll affect hundreds of cities and displace millions of people. The point here is that the challenges of the future won’t be exclusively Vietnamese, but Vietnamese-origin—and not uniquely Vietnamese—solutions can be used to solve the challenges of the future (if those problems are solved here first or at the very least knowledge can be shared abroad). However, it takes a long term mindset to truly tackle these transnational issues of our time in addition to investments in education, human capital, and financial resources for research and development.

Peter Drucker, the 20th century’s greatest management thinker advised to always choose the long term, because it always comes true. Focus on your long-term strategy, but take advantage of the short-term opportunities in the meantime–that’s how a future brand in Vietnam will be forged, and how Vietnam–the brand–can begin to take shape as well.

The Olympia Schools

We all remember the best and worst teachers we had growing up but what makes a school great? Is it the students, the teachers, or the environment? Is it a top-down approach, organic growth, or innovative teaching methods? Or is it simply a matter of caring and going beyond preparing students for the next stage of life?

With some exceptions, primary and secondary education in Asia doesn’t have a stellar reputation to begin with: many schools are pressure cookers that are ripe with rampant student cheating, some who freely admit to doing so. In some instances parents pay teachers to “look after” their children and teachers pay the school’s principal to get a job in the first place. Traditionally, the goal of education in large parts of Asia is to absorb and repeat as much as factual knowledge as possible (rote learning) all without questioning the wisdom and authority of teachers.

The Olympia Schools aims to change the educational mindset whereby students focus on how to learn and access information so that they are able to develop the critical thinking skills which will be essential when facing new challenges in the 21st century. The school places emphasis on the process of learning, and seeks to intersect theory and practice for each of its units throughout the school year.

Simply put, the Olympia Schools are a new breed of education in Vietnam. The school started out as Dream House 11 years ago and was the creation of four Vietnamese women who weren’t satisfied with the local kindergarten offerings in the neighborhood. So naturally, they did what anyone would do: they opened their own school. Word spread about the new school and it became a popular school with parents who wanted better alternatives for their children. It was so popular that when the co-founders’ children finished kindergarten, they started an elementary school. Finally, about four years ago the school became the Olympia Schools. Today, some students are bused to the school from up to an hour away.

Christopher McDonald, a native of Michigan, is the Head of Schools. He has played an integral part in shaping the school’s atmosphere and amenities to form the current school environment. We stopped by on a recent Friday morning to speak with Mr. McDonald about what makes the Olympia Schools unique in Vietnam and how the school is preparing its students for life (the school’s motto).

A Meteoric Rise in a Decade

The Olympia Schools is located in Trung Van, Tu Liem, Hanoi. The facilities at the school include a tennis court, a football (soccer) field, an art studio, a games area, a weight room, and even an underground swimming pool. The vast majority of the students are Vietnamese and instruction is given in both English and Vietnamese. Among one of the many notable firsts, the school was the first in Vietnam to offer the PSAT last year and currently offers AP courses. During the summer, the school is host to a camp called Utopia where participants create their own society.

The campus has a distinct international feel to it and has a wide range of easing colors throughout the halls. When we arrived, the first graders were practicing for the Winter Festival, to be held later this month. There is a good feel of school spirit, from the formal uniforms (which are worn every day except on Casual Fridays) to the country flags hanging in the entrance hall to the nice green spaces surrounding most of the school (it’s sometimes hard to find quality green space in a bustling city like Hanoi). Even Martial Arts and cooking classes are offered and the students’ photos are displayed on digital signage on their birthdays, a nice way to make the students feel even more special.

Below is the school’s mission statement:

“The Olympia Schools embrace Vietnamese values while providing an integrated experience in the study of English and global issues by developing fundamental skills, fostering creativity and problem solving, and promoting ethics that allow students to adapt, to improvise, and to overcome challenges–we prepare students for life.”

Grades 1 through 12 are offered at the campus and there are plans to bring the kindergarten classes on site in the future. The school also has partnerships with educational organizations in the United States as well as Canada—something that gives it an advantage in terms of prestige but also exposes its partner schools to resources on the other side of the world–a winning formula for all.

The school also focuses on soft skills beyond the classroom to develop all aspects of a student’s character and attitude. The faculty is a mix of local and foreign teachers and we saw several classrooms that had projectors as you would find in the US. The school currently uses a four term school year where students focus on different objectives each term. For example, Term 1 revolves around project based learning (PBL); Term 2 ends in traditional formal testing; Term 3 features Creative Learning Expression which requires the student to demonstrate what s/he has learned via any medium; and Term 4 is a portfolio review/analysis which culminates in a reflective end to the school year. For more information about the terms, please see here.

Additionally, there is a summer skills component which may include an internship, e-project, or reading assignment. As a testament to how impactful the school’s efforts are, Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) has followed The Olympia School’s success in regards to using integrated studies in its curriculum. The result has been Olympia Schools graduates going on to be successful in their university careers, in large part due to the emphasis on scholarship and continuing studies.

As profiled in the Forbes piece:

“It was the first Vietnamese school with a college counselor on site like an international school—normally college counseling is offered via a separate paid center—and its graduates often attend university overseas.”

The school’s alumni in recent years have gone on to study in the US, Singapore, Australia, China, and other countries. From organizing a kindergarten class to building an entire campus and sending students off to universities within a decade; an amazing feat indeed.

A Future Model

On December 20 and 21, the Winter Festival will be held at the Olympia Schools. The Winter Festival will feature performances, a fair, and games and will include participants from other schools in Hanoi as well. This year’s theme is fairy tales of Vietnam and other countries with the purpose being to raise money for the “Seasons of Care” fund which was founded four years ago. The fund aims to build a new water supply and filtration system for Na Loc Primary School, Ban Mu, Tu Xuyen, Van Quan County in Lang Son Province, close to China. Art performances and games will be held from 2:00 PM to 9:00 PM on both days as the fair provides opportunities for the community to come together to make an impact in Vietnam all while enjoying each other’s company.

So beyond this month, what’s in store for the Olympia Schools? Well, it hopes to be the new model for schooling in Vietnam by combining learning with experiences in and out of the classroom, i.e., learning by doing and by sharing with others.

In this day and age students cannot afford to be mere bystanders or observers of history because the classroom of today will be the workplace of tomorrow in terms of diversity, culture, and foundations of excellence. The successful students will be the ones who communicate effectively, who engage with different and relatively unknown cultures from their own, who think critically, who ask thoughtful questions, who reflect upon their experiences, and who can work together with anyone to accomplish synergy.

Schools like The Olympia Schools realize the new world that we all live in–this Information Age–and seek to prepare students for a rapidly changing and volatile world by enabling them to craft and assemble the tools to understand and overcome complex global challenges that they will encounter in their lives. This task is critical because one day in the near future students will have to answer a vital question: what does this change mean for me?

Thanks to Christopher McDonald, Head of Schools for sharing his time with us and answering our questions. 


Devon London by Devon Nguyen


Fashion in Vietnam has come a long way from loose shirts in the 1980s and denim jeans in the 1990s. In recent years, there has been a wave of Vietnamese from overseas who have returned to Vietnam and set up fashion houses all in an effort to shape the fashion industry in Vietnam and beyond. Kelly BuiHelene Hoai, and Devon London are just a few brands started by pioneering entrepreneurs who have faced the odds and challenges of starting up in a nascent domestic industry.

Recently, we sat down with Devon Nguyen, CEO of Devon London to find out more about the fashion scene in Hanoi and greater Vietnam. Ms. Devon grew up in Warsaw, Poland and worked in London (where she developed herself as artist and designer) before moving to Vietnam and launching her Devon London line in 2011. She is currently based in Hanoi and opened up a second store location in Saigon about a month ago on Dong Khoi street.

For Ms. Devon, her brand’s style is different from domestic and international brands and it is geared toward people who know what they want from fashion. Ms. Devon describes the brand as stylish, sophisticated, modern, and minimalist because for her customers, they can get a Devon London outfit that they can wear beautifully. The Devon London line is designed at her studio in Hanoi and the clothes are produced in a factory in Hanoi employing some laser cutting techniques (hers was one of the first brands to utilize this technology in Vietnam for clothing).

To Ms. Devon, her brand is more than just a business. Ms. Devon is family oriented but she is also a self-described workaholic—the key for her is balance. She has a Vietnamese husband who lived London; an architect and a fellow artist. Both of their families are from northern Vietnam and she also has a brother and sister: twins who are 10 years old.

Fashion From the Start to Starting in Vietnam

Ms. Devon always knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer from an early age. In part, she had early influences from her parents as they had fashion backgrounds. However, it wasn’t until she was 15 years old that her parents treated her interest in fashion as something serious. Despite her interest in fashion at a young age, she wasn’t enrolled in creative courses as she grew up. In fact, she was self-taught and through research she learned how to draw and to sketch.

Ms. Devon has been living abroad her entire life so when she came to Hanoi, it took her a year to get adjusted to life here even though she grew up on Vietnamese values abroad since she was three years old. Even today she is still learning new things about Vietnam compared to her past. During tough times, she thought about going back to Europe but she ultimately decided to stay and persevere.

In some cities it can be easier to create than in others due to inspiring surroundings, a robust art community, and collaborative talent. When Ms. Devon arrived in Vietnam, she needed to get used to a lot of different and new things. Designing is art form so her role as a designer is to create art. At first, she was surprised that she couldn’t get inspiration—it was so hard compared to her time in London. For Ms. Devon, the hardest part of operating in Hanoi is challenging herself—not with the environment but with design technique, i.e., keeping the creativity flowing in Vietnam. Not being able to find inspiration means that the risk increases of “becoming more commercial,” which can result in an unclear picture of where to stand and brand. Thus, the real danger is being a copy of other people and losing what you were fighting for in the first place.

Suffice to say, Ms. Devon does a little bit of everything. Not only does she design the line, but she is actively involved in the PR, marketing, sourcing, and almost every other aspect of the business in Hanoi. Ms. Devon is passionate about what she does because for her, fashion is not a job—it’s part of her but it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Daily operational challenges include finding quality people and drawing out the most of her creativity.

The people Devon London hires have the potential to be someone in the future. Ms. Devon sees herself in them, as a version when she was just starting out; they need experience from someone they admire in a good environment and Ms. Devon provides that. In her recently opened larger location in Saigon, it was important to select the right store manager to represent the brand. As she put it, “opening a shop is easy but expanding is difficult.”

With the opening of her second store, Ms. Devon has to be more precise in training employees and she begins to scale the brand. When employing people, it requires finding experienced employees and using what you have. In the end, “we choose what’s best for us, what gives us peace of mind under a lot of stress.”

Changing Trends

Like many things in Vietnam, the fashion industry has developed a lot in recent years. In fact, the fashion scene here has been changing every year; for example, last year the fashion industry was not as developed as it is today. Two years ago there was a huge gap in the industry and three years ago no one cared about fashion shows. People were simply not interested in fashion the way they are today and as with anything new, people need some time to get used to new fashions.

Since a large part of the time for “first movers” is spent educating consumers, Vietnamese designers struggle daily. People tend to comment without knowing the real substance so they make up a story; it’s a hard path to expand to be someone and to get a brand to be where you want it to be. And if you are original then get ready to be copied because so many designers go for the “easy job.” However, customers know what is what—they are very smart. For other stores who copy Ms. Devon’s style, it’s something that she can joke about because it’s not something serious when her customers tell her, “I saw your design in another store’s window but it looked horrible.”

Still, being in the fashion community in Vietnam can be tough since there is jealousy and it’s a competitive business all the time. However, healthy competition is always good; there are new designers so it pushes Ms. Devon to be good all the time as she needs to try to be better every collection. The London Devon brand primarily competes on quality and pricing. For global super brands the design looks great, but the average income in Vietnam does not make it affordable. Devon London is a unique design which can expand consumer tastes and habits. But Ms. Devon warns, “if you want to be original then you have to be ready to be copied.”

Advice for Entrepreneurs

For other expats who come to Vietnam and settle down here, Ms. Devon recommends that they know the local language because Vietnamese people don’t speak much English. If you want to establish things then you will need to work with a lot of people which means that you will need to coordinate with local workers. Learn about the culture, how people operate and spend time to get to know where to buy things, who to speak to, and gain a bit of connections. Remember, it’s not what you know but who know.

For sure, the beginning of any journey is the hardest part. Ms. Devon advises that, “when you think of giving up then think of why you started. Nothing comes easy.” For her, when things don’t go as planned, she finds peace with her family and divides between work and home life. For example, she hasn’t worked on a Sunday in the past two years.

Also, it depends where you start in Vietnam. In Hanoi, the customer market is different compared to Saigon; there is more culture in Hanoi whereas Saigon is more commercial and more open. There, they appreciate a more unique style but in Hanoi the people appreciate something more stable and prefer to blend in in Hanoi, where people can be more judgmental.

Devon London, Present and Future

For future plans, Ms. Devon would like the collection and brand showcased in a major fashion city like London or New York but it’s a long term objective. For now, she ships orders outside of Vietnam for customers who buy online.

Ms. Devon describes her life as busy all the time but for her, busy means that she’s doing good so she doesn’t complain about it; she strives to find the right balance. Each collection she designs is different. In London she found inspiration by going to the park and relaxing or by going to an art gallery exhibition but it’s not so easy in Hanoi. Ms. Devon reads a lot of books and has learned how to be creative in Hanoi, how to train her creativity, and how to find inspiration in Hanoi. In her downtime, she travels to Thailand and Hong Kong.

In terms of future prospects overall, the Vietnamese fashion industry will grow very fast. A lot of designers like Ms. Devon are coming back to Vietnam. Furthermore, a lot of creative people are seeing that the fashion space in Vietnam hasn’t been used to the fullest, but what they do about it is the defining portion. For those that see the gaps in the fashion community, they can’t sit and complain—in other words, don’t say “we don’t have anything” instead of finding it or creating it.

Ms. Devon sees Vietnam as a source for prototyping for up-and-coming fashion designers outside of Asia due to costs of manufacturing. Furthermore, she is confident in the Devon London brand; it’s on the way and doing well. For Ms. Devon, everything is possible—nothing is impossible as long as you put your heart into it. At the end of a journey, you can say “we used the best we could and did with what we had.”

It seems like that fashion journey is just getting started for Vietnam; this month the first Vietnam International Fashion Week was held in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) with about half of the showcases being local designers. For some of the designers, they might be living their dream, and for others the show might be a stepping stone to something greater. Only time will tell but if you have trouble figuring out what to do, as Ms. Devon says, ask yourself, “what really makes me happy?”