Vietnam is known as a country where sneakers are produced, but not as a country where the creative input for sneaker design comes from. Quoc Pham and Han Huynh, two young, ambitious Vietnamese, now want to change that. With their sneaker label Một they address the Vietnamese consumer directly. In an interview, Huynh, co-founder of the label, tells us how they do this and why it is not so easy to establish themselves as young designers in Vietnam.
Can you tell us something about the origins of Một? Why did you start Một?
Một is a collaboration between Quoc Pham from Phuoc Ky Nam Manufacturing Group and me, Han Huynh. After a long time manufacturing sneakers for the US and Japan market, as well as European countries, Quoc decided to use his facilities and manufacturing know-how to develop a local product specifically for the Vietnam market. That’s when he teamed up with me. I am an industrial designer and just returned to Vietnam after years of working and studying in the US and Norway, to design a sneaker brand that would speak directly to Vietnamese consumers. We both started Một in hope of starting a conversation on what modern Vietnam is about as well as proposing a start for the modern Vietnamese design industry.
What is your background?
Quoc Pham has been running his family business–Phuoc Ky Nam manufacturing group–for 10 years. Their client portfolio includes Columbia, Diesel, Lacoste, Dr.Martens, Everlane, etc. I am an industrial designer who spent eight years abroad (living in San Francisco and Norway). I returned to Vietnam in 2016 and started my own design firm DCSG, which specializes in Industrial design, branding and strategy.
What is so special about Một sneakers?
The design of Một shoes takes inspiration from the most representative characters of Vietnam–from the extremely clean, minimal form, which accommodates the typical Vietnamese wider feet, to the simplified, inside-out construction of the upper that intentionally hides all shoelaces under opening flaps. In addition to the introverted personality it seem to have, the design implies subtlety and honesty–a characteristic its designer finds particularly representative of Vietnamese people–with eight stitched squares representing eight hidden lace loops inside. In contrast to the minimal upper, Một's sole is heavily patterned to bring out other extreme end of urban life. The side pattern is inspired by traditional roof tiles in central Vietnam, and designed to also look like water ripples–an homage to the country's rainy season and flooded streets. A segment of Vietnam's coastline is imprinted on the bottom of the shoe, filled with brick pattern–a commonly used construction material in local buildings. Color options, which include red, green, blue, light gray and black, embrace the familiar vibrancy and saturation typical to Vietnamese aesthetics. Một also uses real cowhide leather and canvas as main materials for its inviting look, comfort and durability.
Where exactly are they produced? How important is sustainability to you?
Một shoes are produced by Phuoc Ky Nam factory in Tam Ky, Quang Nam, central Vietnam. Sustainability is our ultimate goal, and will be achieved in the long run. However, we also believe that environmental problems need to be solved by both consumers and brands. At Một, we try to minimize our impact on the environment, but at the same time, we want our consumers to have a conversation with themselves and decide on what they really need, hence our brand’s slogan is “One pair, all day.” Một, means “one” in Vietnamese and provides only two models: slip-on and lace-up. Our collection is small, but our products are constantly improved in quality. We do not believe in trends or fast-fashion, we believe in knowing what you need and buying just that. That, to us, is responsible consumerism.
Vietnam is more known as a country that produces products for the textile and footwear industries than as a country that creates innovative designs. Do you have to struggle with this prejudice?
For the past 20 years, the local Vietnamese market has been heavily fused with global influences–from aesthetics to quality standards. Foreign goods have always been objects of desire and benchmarks for local product brands, whose ideas of design were adopted on a surface level without rooting from understanding local consumers. The design community, therefore, has been struggling to escape from both the nostalgic period of colonial aesthetics and the new wave of Western influences, so what we are introducing is something the locals have never really seen before. Also, our cost of investment is higher than local brands who can just copy from foreign brands. Therefore, we have a slightly higher retail price, which, to Vietnamese consumers, may be a bit too high, considering that we are not a well-known foreign brand. That’s why we have to develop our own marketing strategy, with little to no reference from other local brands, to effectively communicate our product quality and brand story. Although it is going to be a long process, we have gained more and more support from the local market.
Outside Vietnam, not much is known about the creative scene in Vietnam or the knowledge of what young Vietnamese actually like to wear. Can you give us some insight? How is the young Vietnamese generation ticking today?
Vietnam is changing rapidly. There is definitely a lot of different waves of influence–Western and Eastern–coexisting in Vietnam at the moment. As we mentioned above, the creative community has been struggling to establish a modern identity for Vietnam, which would separate us from the world as much as from our colonial past. We haven’t really developed standards for what we believe represents us besides adapting from more developed countries. But that is also changing. Young people are more aware of the problem today, and are turning to support local brands more and more. Local brands are also putting more effort into communicating with their audience as well as improving their own products. This creates momentum for more experiments and makes Vietnam market become very open for new products.
Isn't there also a great desire for products from the West?
There is definitely still a great desire for Western products, especially footwear. But more local brands are aware of what they can do to market themselves better and improve their product quality now. So hopefully Một will be one of the good examples for Vietnamese brands to invest more in design and innovation, which has not been the case for quite a long time.
So far your sneakers are only available in Vietnam. Do you want to change that?
Although Vietnam is our main market, we have been shipping bit by bit to a few European and Asian countries as well as the US. We are getting ready for the Japan market next, and hopefully we won’t stop there.