From Tailor to Designer
There are few places on Earth where the custom of creating clothing has become a cultural identifier as much as in Vietnam. The country even has its very own “Tailor Saint”, Nguyen Thi Sen, who was the 4th Noble Consort of King Dinh Tien Hoang, and is credited with teaching the skills of tailoring to the villagers of Trạch Xá (Hà Nội) in 979 AD.
Vietnam is famous for the quality of its tailors, and while Hoi An is often considered the hub of clothing manufacturing in the country, local tailors are available in every city, town and village. In recent years, it has become one the top clothing manufacturing countries, with a budding industry of handmade clothes that even supply some very famous designers known throughout the world. With their deft fingers and keen eyes, a countryside tailor in Vietnam can create very precise clothing that fits like a glove, for incredibly low prices. Immediate access to a variety of fabrics and materials across the continent means anything can be put together at a very reasonable cost. These skilled craftspeople can stitch, sew, and cut fabrics to create replicas or custom pieces in as little as 24 hours.
The hard working tailors are known as “Thợ May” in Vietnamese, and without the resources to create unique designs, they are specialists in re-creating clothing ideas provided by their clients. Many work right at home in living rooms full of colorful materials, wardrobes and an array of sewing machines. The country is also well known for its material production, and most locals will first go to a separate store at the market to purchase material for the item, before taking it to their favorite tailor to have it made up into that special birthday dress, summer skirt or business suit.
You can drop into any tailor and have them create perfectly fitted shirts, pants, suits, and dresses for less than the cost of an “off the shelf” item at home. For the big business meeting, interview or special occasion, you can choose any type of suit you desire from materials such as wool, linen and cashmere or silk. If you have a particular design that you have seen in a catalog or online, in just a few days they can have it remade in exceptional quality.
While the tailoring industry has been around for centuries, modern Vietnam and its young creative people are beginning to develop their own fashion styles and tastes. As a result, a new generation of fashion designers have begun to develop brands that bring together both local and western influences. One such budding designer is Tran Quynh Tran, creator of Bii Youngi, a young but dynamic label she has created entirely by herself. Her collections have been exciting both local Vietnamese fashionistas and foreign ladies alike, and her brand is sold by many chic outlets across the country.
Hailing from Nha Trang, she majored in Fashion at university in Ho Chi Minh City before continuing her studies in Singapore. “ I have been in love with combining colors since I was a child, and although I nearly chose to pursue graphic design, I found that working in fashion inspired me more. It allows me to challenge myself in many creative areas and bring all of the artistic elements together”, she explained.
She has great respect for the work of tailors, calling them a bridge between the ideas of the designer and the wishes of the client. “Tailors are very good at sewing and needling, and in certain skills they are better than a designer because they can focus on those elements. Designers must understand many different aspects of fashion including theory, trends, materials etc.”
A wide array of practical skills are very important in being a good fashion designer. They need to be good illustrators to draw out ideas and conceptualise new clothing while also being skilled tailors to create sample pieces. Added to that is having excellent marketing skills in order to promote the brand and handle the business side of things.
The Bii Yougii slogan is “Dress Your Own Style”, and was chosen because Tran loves to encourage people to experiment when choosing clothing. She notes that people are often afraid of being themselves, and clothing is a natural way to express who you are. “I always choose good materials like wooden buttons, natural cloth and comfortable fits that are really creative. Furthermore, I love to mix materials in each piece and improvise with all the off-cuts to add something unique, as I hate wasting materials”, she said.
Tran notes that the youth of Vietnam is now favoring minimalist designs that have character and style, a trend that is influencing young designers like herself. As the country’s young population enters the world of business, the Vietnamese fashion industry is definitely on the rise. However, people like her will always need good tailors, and the traditional art of creating beautiful clothing combined with the innovation of designers like Tran will ensure that both the tailor and designer are certain to prosper, keeping everyone in the height of fashion.