Thursday, September 6, 2012
Very Ngon....Very Nice!!!!
Some people are creative......some are not, (me not so much). Some people can hatch an idea and have it planned out in their heads with great foresight .......some need to see it first (if I can't see it, I sometimes cannot even imagine it). Some people are willing to lay it on the line and take a chance and believe in themselves....and some of us are glad they did!
I was lucky enough to spend some time recently with the super talented and enthusiastic Lise who not only has great foresight but great taste. A fellow Aussie expat living here in Ho Chi Minh City, she had an idea and went for it. Lise describes herself as a keen tea towel fancier and, after not being able to find any to her liking in HCMC, decided to hand-print her own range with her partner, Hieu.
Enter Very Ngon Homewares. Lise let me in on the story behind it all.
How did Very Ngon Homewares come to be?
I was lucky enough to have an all (basic) expenses paid trip to spend 18 months as a volunteer with the local NGO, Vietnam (now Mekong) Quilts. That’s what initially brought me to VN, but in the process I fell in love, both with the country and with my partner. Following my volunteering stint, I started toying with the idea of creating retro-inspired fabric-based homeware products which would be a good match for the skills and interests of both my partner, Hieu, and I. Hieu has a strong background in fashion production and textiles (she is currently the Production Manager of the above-said NGO). And textiles was one of my majors at art college way back when and I’ve continued to be fascinated by and hoard fabrics. Funnily enough I failed that major at uni!
My initial idea was then narrowed down to tea towels, when I was reminded about how sexy they are as a product. Practical, light weight, multi-purpose and potentially visually gorgeous. Plus, because the Vietnamese do not use tea towels, preferring to let the washing up drip-dry, it was all but impossible to find them in Vietnam, let alone any that were interesting to look at. Perfect! Very Ngon Homewares was thus born in 2010.
Where did the idea come from to use vintage postcards from the French Indochine days in your products?
I’ve long been a fan of all things retro and old yet interesting, especially homeware goodies. How I loved spending my spare time back in Australia op shopping, garage sale-ing and fossicking through church and school fetes on the week-ends.... So I was immediately attracted to the gorgeous old postcard images of Vietnam when I first spotted them. Once I had settled on the idea of creating fabric-based homeware products, I thought there might be potential to print the old images onto fabric to create our products. “But if only I could screen-print” I thought to myself….
Interestingly, print making was my other major at art college and I failed at it too! I hadn’t learnt screen printing (I concentrated on etching), so I was very lucky to have a friend who offered to teach me. So the lovely Florence, a talented French textile designer*, got me on my feet with the basics. It makes me laugh to look back at the first tea towels I printed – we’ve come such a long way since then. I had a few misgivings in the beginning, but Hieu and my friends were very enthusiastic, loved the concept and egged me on. I am so glad they did.
Can you tell me a little about the journey?
In the beginning, I was doing all of the screen printing which I initially really enjoyed. After about 6 months and following the launch of our tea towels at a local bazaar/arts market, we had to employ someone to help us. I was (and still am) working part-time and I couldn’t keep up with demand by myself. I am a bit embarrassed but kind of proud to say that our employee, Ms No, is now a way better printer than me…. So now I spend a fair chunk of my time sourcing new images which I know will look gorgeous on our products – this is something I LOVE doing but remains a constant challenge as quality images which are visually arresting can be difficult to find.
Tell me about your products and your plans for the future.
Tea towels were our first product and, because they are still very popular, we continue to create them, introducing new images as they are found. In fact, we have just launched a couple of beautiful new images recently. And of course we have needed to come up with new product ideas to keep it fresh, so we have branched out into aprons, drink coasters, oven mitts and cushion covers. Table settings will be our next offering, which are being printed as we speak.
All of our products feature interesting images from the early 1900s, including street scenes and landscapes, lovely French colonial buildings that are still around today, Vietnamese women (some of whom I suspect might actually have been prostitutes earning a bit of extra cash by posing for the pics, which was common at that time) and royalty, including Duy Tan, the young boy who became emperor at the age of 7. They all providing an interesting (if not overly romanticised) snapshot of life in Viet Nam during that era.
All of our products are hand-printed and hand-made in Vietnam with a focus on quality, which is something we can guarantee with Hieu’s background in production management. We use linen or linen-cotton mixes and print with imported, non-toxic, environmentally friendly ink which we found difficult to source in Vietnam. VNH also has a strong ethic of sustainability and re-use, hence our salvaged Vietnamese newspaper product bags, which our customers love. Our coaster images are printed onto fabric offcuts and we create oven mitts from tea towels which didn’t quite make the grade (such as a printing error on one part of the tea towel which we can cut around to use for a mitt).
Where can we find Very Ngon Homewares?
As we don’t have a shop (yet), you can find our products in Ho Chi Minh City at Decosy and Feeling Tropic in An Phu/District 2, soon in L’Usine’s new cafe & lifestyle store (opening on Le Loi St in D.1), in Hanoi at L'Atlier at West Lake/Tay Ho district, just recently at XQ in Dalat and in the Phnom Penh branch of Decosy as well. We also sell at local bazaars in Ho Chi Minh City and occasionally in Ha Noi – these are like artisan market days which are generally run as fund-raisers for local charities. Being the social media-challenged person that I am, I’ve only managed to get us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/VeryNgonHomewares), with our homepage providing the obvious things you’d expect - updates about new products, events we are attending, etc. And of course anyone who is interested can email us directly to make inquiries or to order products.
I'm always on the lookout for unique gifts for family and friends back home and I just love these products. So happy that Lise and Hieu are doing so well! Oh, and it's great to find a tea towel in Saigon!
For further information, contact Lise on 0938 036 920 or email email@example.com.