Viet Nam News
Designer Hà Thị Thông, 31, overcame disability to follow her passion for fashion. From working as a small-town tailor she has become a well-known designer. She talks to Minh Thu about her motivation and dreams.
Inner Sanctum: How did you start your career as a tailor?
I nurtured a passion for needlework when I was young. During my childhood, I often made many dresses for dolls.
I was born with birth defects in my legs making it difficult for me to walk. I often struggled with my situation, so it wasn’t easy for me to integrate into society or make friends. I mostly played alone with dolls.
I taught myself tailoring and opened a small shop at the age of 20 in Sơn Tây Town (a suburban district of Hà Nội).
Inner Sanctum: You started your career as a fashion designer when you competed in Project Runway 2015, a reality television series for up-and-coming designers. You ranked in the top six finalists of the show. How did you find out about the competition?
I watched Project Runway and found it very interesting.
After that, I studied fashion and the latest trends.
Scrolling through Facebook one day, I found the page of designer Hoàng Minh Hà, winner of Project Runway 2013. He posted an announcement recruiting tailors. I didn’t think much and immediately sent him a message.
He called me the next day and it was the first time I talked to a celebrity.
I was so moved. I told him about my circumstances and my disability. Also, I’m from Hà Nội and he’s based in HCM City.
Hà thought about it for a while then asked me to consider carefully, because he wasn’t sure if I would be recruited.
I accepted the risk. I told him if I wasn’t selected for this project, it’s okay because I would have the chance to visit HCM City. Nearly a month later, I arrived in the city. I passed the test and started to work as an apprentice.
Designer Hà and my friends encouraged me to apply for the next season of Project Runway. They spent a year trying to convince me. Even two days before casting, I was still unsure whether I wanted to go through with it.
Finally, I’m here.
Inner Sanctum: Participating in Project Runway changed your career and brought you more opportunities. How did it change your personality?
I love fashion and needlework but I have to confess that I didn’t know anything about fashion. As a tailor, I was happy with a stable life. I have many regular customers and earn enough.
But I didn’t have any idea about luxurious dresses and evening gowns. I just worked on casual wear and office wear. During my time working for Hà, I learned a lot.
That was the first time I touched expensive and beautiful dresses, accessories and fabric. You can’t imagine how happy I felt. It was like a dream.
I became more confident. Before that I didn’t even dare look at myself in the mirror.
But if I gave in to the fear, I would never know how beautiful life can be, how interesting fashion is and how far I can go. When I decided to take part in Project Runway, I prepared in terms of attitude, because I knew that I would be appearing on television.
Inner Sanctum: What were the biggest challenges in pursuing your dream?
Overcoming my shyness was the biggest challenge for me, as I told you before.
Another difficulty for me was finance. I had to save up to prepare for my part in Project Runway. Then I spent two years studying professionally at the London College for Design and Fashion (LCDF).
Inner Sanctum: Besides fashion, do you have any other passions or hobbies?
I love travelling and music. And dancing. Surprise? Perhaps we always desire what we can’t have. Because I struggle to move and walk, I love dancing and watching people dance.
Inner Sanctum: Your collection No 8 received attention from fashion experts and the public when it was showcased for the first time last month. What was the inspiration behind it? How was it welcomed by customers?
The collection recalls a journey of a disabled girl who makes her dream come true. I use strong colours to depict moods and feelings. Blue for hope, red for passion and white for innocence. It expresses a desire to achieve what I want. It proves that nothing is impossible if I have passion and effort.
Though it’s a debut, I named it No 8 because the number eight marks important milestones in my life.
Collection No 8 brought me opportunities rather than financial success. It didn’t sell particularly well, actually.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of the potential for young Vietnamese designers?
I think there are many opportunities for young designers as Việt Nam is integrating rapidly with the global fashion industry. Many designers have become well-known abroad.
I believe that other young designers will find positions in the market.
Inner Sanctum: Can you name someone in the fashion industry who inspired you or influenced you?
I have met many designers and fashion experts, including designer Hoàng Minh Hà; Trang Lê, founder of the Việt Nam International Fashion Week; Trần Nguyễn Thiên Hương, judge of Project Runway; and Hà Thị Hằng, director of the London College of Design and Fashion, where I studied for two years. Each one has his or her own story and inspires me in a different way.
Designer Hà helped a lot during the preparations for Project Runway.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the future?
I will present a collection at the Việt Nam International Fashion Week in October. I’m preparing for it at the moment. VNS