Despite contracting polio at a young age, Vu Thi Kim Hoa, now 52, has overcome her trials and tribulations through her career in knitting – a very common career path for women in her area in the ‘80s. Ha Nguyen spoke with Hoa, who now directs hundreds of employees.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you choose knitting as your career?
I was born in the central coastal city of Nha Trang. I was afflicted with polio at the age of 3.
When I was 5, my family moved to resettle in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat. During school years, apart from studying, I did knitting with my mother. Our products included everything from scarves to dolls.
When I finished the 12th grade, I was very weak and thin, with only 38kg. I thought it will be so difficult for me to enrol in a university, so I tried my best to learn knitting because I saw that in the 80s, this field was well-developed. It often attracted about 40 per cent of the local female labourers.
After three months of learning, I became adept at a dozen models.
Inner Sanctum: How did you start the job and how did you sell your items?
At that time, I didn't have enough money to buy wool, so my mother had to help me with the initial capital investment of VND200,000. The amount was just enough to produce 10 jumpers.
I took them to a number of owners of market stalls and tourism sites, but they were not sure about the items produced by a disabled woman such as myself.
I tried to convince them that my handmade products were of high quality and that I would triple compensate them.
Finally, all 10 items were sold and our capital investment increased by double. My disabled workers had also increased from 10 to 30. But, we still had only two yarn-reeling machines, so my workers had to take turns to work.
Fortunately, high-ranking bonze Toan Linh of the Van Hanh Pagoda presented us with five knitting machines and 12 hearing aids for my deaf workers.
I will never forget this story: when I first introduced my items to a shop owner at An Dong Market's Phuoc Linh shop in Da Lat, he shook his head, but I waited patiently for almost two hours outside his shop.
Finally, the owner called me inside his shop, saying that my handmade products were very nice and good. He agreed to buy all of my 30 items, my largest package so far.
Inner Sanctum: Tell us some of the advantages and disadvantages of running this job?
During the initial days when my cooperative was just set up, to reduce investment, I bought a large package of wool and yarn on the market without checking them carefully.
When we came home and checked it, almost all the items were spoilt. We could not use it. My heart filled with terror because we lost all of our capital investment and I did not know how to fulfil our orders.
I had to borrow money from relatives and friends to meet a contract signed with a company in Ha Noi. Unfortunately, when we finished 60,000 items, the company disappeared without any trace.
However, in 2009, we were very lucky to receive a VND200-million order from Cambodia to produce two traditional items: female jumpers with an apricot embroidered on its pocket and male jumpers with a horseshoe embroidered on their left chest.
This order opened the doors of foreign markets for us. It meant I had to diversify my items from knitwears to handmade products such as jumpers, neckscarves, hats, slippers, and many others.
As a result, companies from the United States, Japan, and European countries started placing orders for our items in large quantities.
Inner Sanctum: Tell us something about your Truc Quynh Cooperative ?
To protect our models we had to set up a model designing room where we could hide our secret. When each of our models is finished, I register it with local authorities for its copyright. I also hold training courses and contests very often to encourage my workers to improve their kniting skills.
Our efforts have paid off: our exclusive model items include a handmade wavy crocheted garment and many others.
With such exclusive models, we've exported 200,000 items to Spain and hundreds of others in local markets.
We have 700 workers, 100 of them are disabled; 15 of them are singles, so I allow them to stay at the cooperative's workshop.
The average monthly income per worker is between VND3 and 7 million.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us about your charity work?
I was always ready for charity work such as training children and the disabled free of charge in Da Lat, HCM City and Da Nang.
Last year, I presented 300 woolen jumpers to poor ethnic people in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong.
We've also been sending hundreds of high-necked jumpers and woolen hats to soldiers on islands and borders since 2011.
Inner Sanctum: What is your future plan?
I will continue designing new models to meet the increasing demand for our products in local and foreign markets. Many foreign customers told me they were very interested in our handmade items.
In addition, we are mobilising 25 skilled workers to make 500 jumpers and 500 woolen hats to present to soldiers on Truong Sa Island by the end of this year. — VNS