Vu Thao founded her own brand, KILOMET109, in 2012, with the vision of ‘encompassing every detail of the production process, starting with the natural materials that go into the garments she designs’. She uses organic fibers and traditional techniques of vegetable dying. She works with her team of local artisans to grow, spin, weave, color and print Kilomet 109 fabrics. After that, the garments are hand-stitched in her studio in Hanoi.

The designer has recently opened her first and only one retail space in Hanoi, Vietnam along with her online store@kilomet109.com. She is also selling her designs in two boutiques in Germany and Portugal. About 30 per cent of her customers are Vietnamese and the rest are very international.

Vu Thao talks with Van Nguyen about the sustainable fashion trend in Vietnam.

Thao is among leading sustainable fashion designers in Vietnam. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

Thao is among leading sustainable fashion designers in Vietnam. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

The textile industry and fashion scene in Vietnam are booming. So why did you choose to pursue sustainable fashion?

Fashion scene in Vietnam is developing rapidly in the past 10 years and there are many different directions for Vietnamese designers to follow. Fashion is becoming more mainstream and mass-produced, so we end up wearing quite similar styles. It becomes such a global platform to express ourselves. For me, being a part of it and witnessing the change of fashion outlook internationally and locally is fascinating and also, it’s challenging to find my own direction. It makes me enjoy the work but also feel good about the work.

How did the idea of ‘km109′ come about?

I grew up in Thai Binh where my hometown was surrounded by many villages and rich tradition of making things so I have quite a natural relationship with those and people take it for granted as part of normal life too. We work and we do that everyday, but later on when I am more heavily involved in the designing industry, I see the downsides of it. At the same time, Vietnam is in the chapter of losing many traditions, especially textile industry has become such a rarity and it’s not taken seriously. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is hunting, looking for, only using small amount for luxury products. At the time Vietnam owns that kind of technique and textile. so it’s a combination of force that pushes me to pick up sustainable fashion. It is the way to go.

 

A H'Mong ethnic woman is creating patterns for her clothing piece. H'Mong people made their traditional costumes all by hand and from natural materials. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

A H’Mong ethnic woman is creating patterns for her clothing piece. H’Mong people made their traditional costumes all by hand and from natural materials. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

What is special about your products?

When I launched my label, I just wanted to create contemporary fashion forward pieces, using conventional traditions and techniques, and done by Vietnamese locals. On top of that, they are really 100 percent-made-in-VN as well. They are not partly textiles or garments. The whole creative circle which I want to name has ‘Made in Vietnam’ on labels. So it’s very small brand, helping us focus on our commitment, working with local artisans, creating a community, supporting  all workers, within Vietnam in remote areas and cities. This is the the story behind km109.

What are the downsides of fast fashion in particular?

Waste of the fashion industry is high and the effect it has on our environment is becoming heavier and getting worse. Meanwhile, the mass produced products are making the fashion scene very flat. There’s not much diversity and we are facing the challenge of losing the creativity in the fashion industry.

Besides, fashion industry also poses some far-reaching social issues. Fashion industry is so profitable. To be able to make more profits, many fashion houses cut operation expenses. Most of that corner, to me, is dark corner. It’s where producers’ fees were chopped short and their working conditions are substandard. Big fashion houses go through many middle men before the monetary compensation is paid to the workers who make the most parts of the product but barely make a living out of it.

The fashion industry as we know, also lacks connections with origin of goods. There are always labels or tags declaring where the products were made but they mean nothing in reality. You never know who exactly made it & how it’s made, where it’s really made. It’s a broken supply chain.

That is a very upsetting fact. I don’t want to walk on that road. It’s not my way of working and doesn’t suit my design philosophy.

Thao's retail space in West Lake, Hanoi. Photo Credit: Hong Van

Thao’s retail space in West Lake, Hanoi. Photo Credit: Hong Van

Is eco fashion a big thing in Vietnam now? 

I think eco fashion has definitely become a common term nowadays. Media talks about it. Students in fashion and design schools have conversation about it quite regularly. So it’s not a term that you just talk theoretically, it’s something practical in Vietnam.

There are a handy number of Vietnamese designers, especially the young, being aware of what is happening around us. They focus on not only fashion but also culture, politics as well as the movements and issues in Vietnam and the world. That really helps young designers find their own voices and be different from the rest of the world. It also opens another door for designers to follow the sustainable movement.

There are many people who can help designers, including artisans, local creators, makers, design communities, researchers, influencers, journalists, students working in different fields.

I think the young generation is more responsible for their own environment. They are more accessible to internet and social media, they are more engaged so that they are aware of the environmental consequences, and they should take responsibility for it as well. Sustainable fashion is no longer an accessory, it is linked with their future. One thing to note is that the young designers are taking action and more designers have voiced support.

Many Vietnamese designers are inspired by the local ethnic people's use of organic fibres and traditional techniques. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

Many Vietnamese designers are inspired by the local ethnic people’s use of organic fibres and traditional techniques. Photo Credit: Van Nguyen

What does the future of eco fashion in Vietnam look like?

I’m very positive about the future of eco fashion in Vietnam and totally believe in it. The more developed we are, the more sustainable we became. That’s the healthy way of developing. That makes Vietnam more competitive in global market. Because the normal business forms are not going to be the future form in Vietnamese fashion business landscape. The future businesses have to take the onus for the environment, and social issues. Thus, it should be the movements that the government and people need to take part in.

By Van Nguyen, ASEAN correspondent from Vietnam

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