Trần Văn Hùng's products. — Photo courtesy of Trần Văn Hùng
By Mai Hiên & Nguyễn Nam
HÀ NỘI — A Vietnamese entrepreneur is promoting Vietnamese handicraft products by using traditional material like sedge, rattan, bamboo and wood to make environmentally-friendly bags.
“The idea of making bags from natural material came to me when I saw two female foreign tourists wear sedge bags with different patterns,” said 27-year-old Trần Văn Hùng from the northern province of Thanh Hóa’s Nga Sơn District.
They impressed him and made him wonder why he had never seen such products, even though sedge trees are abundant at his motherland. So he resolved to come back home to develop the product.
“I couldn’t sleep that night, just thinking of it and the next day I decided to quit my job.”
He started learning about the trade by visiting villages with the traditional handicraft of sedge knitting.
Hùng admitted that it’s very difficult to turn an idea into reality.
“I knew a lot of challenges lay ahead because I had no money nor knowledge in the field. However, with experience gained during my studies, I believed that I can do it,” he said.
Hùng was born in a poor family in Nga Sơn District, which is famous for sedge knitting products.
After finishing high school, he enrolled in the Hà Nội Community College where he specialised in electrical engineering.
To make a living, he worked several jobs, including as a waiter and distributing leaflets.
Hùng said he travelled far and wide to learn about production methods of handmade bags, but no one was willing to share the experience with him. Fortunately, at a last resort, a couple from Huế City agreed to teach him how to knit bags as well as knowledge on handicraft.
Trần Văn Hùng makes bags from traditional materials including sedge and bamboo in combination with leather. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Nam
Having spent a month there, Hùng came back home to continue his journey.
In 2018, he set up a company specialising in making sedge bags at home. He borrowed VNĐ10 million (US$431) from his sister and some money from his friends to buy raw materials and hire workers.
The proverb “the first step is always the hardest” proved to be true in this case.
At the beginning, not many people bought the products made by his company. However, Hùng insisted on offering the products in many shops and supermarkets in Thanh Hóa, Hà Nội and HCM City.
His efforts paid off. After several months, the products caught the attention of consumers.
Now, they are on sale not only at home, but also on Amazon and Ebay with prices from VNĐ800,000 - 3million (US$34-129).
To make the products different, Hùng combined various traditional materials available in the country, including sedge, rattan, bamboo and wood with imported genuine leather.
He decorated the bags with shells, gravel, sand, flowers and grass to make the products stand out.
Hùng also did market research to improve the bags.
“It is essential to focus on the elegance and sophistication when manufacturing bags to enhance their competitiveness,” he said.
As the product is made by hand, workers must do it carefully.
“It takes me between two-three days to complete a bag,” he said, adding that it took a long time to design, choose the material and finish a product.
When asked about his response to feedback, Hùng said the company always received positive responses as well as suggestions to make the products even better.
“Whenever I receive feedback from customers along with photos of Cỏ May - the brandname of the bags - in different countries, I am both touched and proud to have contributed to promote ‘Made in Vietnam’ traditional handicraft products across the world,” Hùng said.
“My target customers are those with high income. They love liberal style and craft value. They are interested in quality, cultural identity and particularly they always want to refresh themselves,” he said.
He said the value that his project brought about to the community was that it motivated young people to return to their homeland to create products which are the strength of the region. It contributed to preserve the traditional identity of each region.
The project also helped disadvantaged women in the village live better and happier when they were self-employed while helping young people obtain certain skills, taking part in community activities in the commune, and have a scientific mindset, he said.
Dương Thị Thoa, Secretary of Nga Sơn District’s Youth Union, said Hùng was an outstanding example in the start-up movement in the district. He was not only excellent in doing business but also actively participated in Youth Union work and helping disadvantaged people.
Workers make decorations for a bag made of bamboo. VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Nam
Thanks to paying attention to the products’quality and being innovative in designing new models, his family has become better off.
He also creates stable jobs for five people with a monthly salary of VNĐ4 million per person .
Thoa added: “With the initial successes with the eco-friendly product, Hùng has spread the entrepreneurial spirit to youth union members in the locality and they feel motivated to work harder”.
Hùng’s project won first prize in a contest on start-up ideas organised by the provincial Youth Union in 2020.
According to Hùng, the biggest difficult for a young start-up was fear.
“Due to fear, we don't dare realise our dreams,” he said.
Hùng said the most important thing was to strive and learn because most success comes from hard work.
“Once you understand and love the profession, you will discover a lot of interesting things from your products."
Hùng is continuing to make efforts every day to fulfil his dream of turning Cỏ May into the top fashion brand for bags in Việt Nam.
He also wants to cooperate with clothing brands as well as expand production to create more jobs for local residents. — VNS