|Herbal: Organic products made with natural herbs and essential oils. Photo courtesy Arya Tara
Several start-ups in Da Nang City are exploiting a growing acceptance of and demand for pure, natural products, Bùi Hoài Nam reports.
Alarmed about unsafe food and chemical contamination from many sources, Vietnamese consumers are favouring organic products like home-grown vegetables, handmade natural craftwork and cosmetics that do not use chemicals.
In recent years, several dozen start-ups in the central city of Đà Nẵng have begun to tap into the growing demand for healthy lifestyle products.
One such entrepreneur is Đỗ Lê Kim Huệ.
Huệ, 33, has launched the Green Belt Technology and Environment Company, which makes organic cosmetics using local essential oils and available natural ingredients.
|Green growth: Vetiver grass on display at a science seminar. VNS Photo Công Thành
“It’s not a new business in the world, but it has just started booming in Việt Nam. Local consumers now are aware of safety and quality of daily use products, and this is their main focus rather than price,” Huệ said.
“Vietnamese users are cautious now, and prefer to have trusted brands and chemical-free ingredients in every product. They are scared of cancer (and other diseases) that can result from contaminated food and beauty care products.
“Modern technology has been used in natural essential oil production in many developed countries, but it’s still a novel concept in Việt Nam.”
Huệ, her husband, Đặng Đức Long, who has a PhD in bio-chemistry, and their partners have successfully developed natural body lotions, soaps, insect repellents and lip balm from essential oils in combination with beeswax, herbal colours and scents.
“We use only local ingredients and qualified essential oil suppliers. So we carry the nature scent of Việt Nam and are proud of using local material.”
Huệ, who is CEO and founder of the company, said their organic cosmetics carry the Arya Tara brand (named after a famed Champa beauty when the Champa Kingdom ruled the central region between the 4th and 13th centuries).”
Long, who works with the Việt Nam-UK Institute for Research & Executive Education in Đà Nẵng, said: “Arya Tara brand came out after three years of research. Almost everything it uses is local: coconut oil from Bình Định and Bến Tre; ginseng, cinnamon and cajuput oil from Quảng Nam, Thừa Thiên-Huế and Đồng Nai.”
He said natural oils comprised between 70 to 80 per cent of the product, extracts of beewax, aloe vera and turmeric extract accounted for the remaining ingredients.
|Clean and healthy: Body-wash, massage oil and lipstick use local grown herbs. VNS Photo Công Thành
Nguyễn Thị Thúy Mai, deputy director of Đà Nẵng’s Industry and Trade department, said Arya Tara cosmetic products have been chosen in the “typical souvenirs of Đà Nẵng” list for 2017, when the city hosts an APEC summit.
“We had a strict selection process to choose various products that could exhibit the image of Đà Nẵng among visitors. We highly appreciate the natural, original ingredients and environment-friendly technology of the Arya Tara brand,” Mai said.
“Đà Nẵng is known mostly for its stone sculpture and the Ngũ Hành Sơn (Marble Mountains), but we want to create different images and offer different choices for tourists visiting Đà Nẵng,” she said.
She said the city would provide “top support” for the start-up through promotion programmes nationwide and abroad.
Lê Quế, an essential oil supplier, said he had been producing essential oil from herb farms in Việt Nam for years.
“Aromatic herbs are abundant in Việt Nam. We extract pure oils through distillation and supply them for making medicine and beauty products.
“Our essential oil is a major raw material for cosmetics, medicines and detergents. The production requires a strict process and selection, and the use of non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” he said.
He said the essential oil industry had very good potential in Việt Nam, and local herb growers could join the value chain of organic production for sustainable hi-tech farm development.
Vetiver grass oil
Trần Minh Thảo, a lecturer at the Đà Nẵng Technology College, used vetiver (Vetiveria Zizanioides) grass for a sewage treatment project in the city, but even after it closed, he continued testing with essential oil extract from vetiver roots.
Thảo said the essential oil from this grass is a fragrancy stabilizing factor in organic cosmetics.
“It (vetiver essential oil) is a very small part of cosmetics (1 or 2 per cent), but 100ml of vetiver essential oil can be sold at VNĐ5 or VNĐ6 million (US$220 or $260),” Thảo said.
“Local farmers could earn a stable income from growing the grass if they join a value chain of natural essential oils production. A bunch of vetiver grass root can be used for essential oil extraction after a six-month growth period,” Thảo said.
“I have been using the root in wastewater treatment, before releasing them for essential oil production at the cheapest cost,” he said.
He speculated that a stable market for organic cosmetics will open the path to mass farming of vetiver grass.
Vetiver is now grown at a 5ha farm of the Đà Nẵng-based Việt Nam Vetiver Network, which provides the grass for preventing erosion on earthen roadside slopes in the country.
Thảo said Vietnamese natural oil cosmetics, functional food, massage oils and healthcare products are now popular in Europe, so there is a lot of potential for growing essential oil plants in poverty-stricken rural and mountainous areas.
|Tickled pink: Đỗ Lê Kim Huệ introduces organic lipstick made in Đà Nẵng. Photo courtesy Arya Tara
Huệ’s company plans to produce 5,000 to 10,000 organic cosmetic products each month.
“Each Arya Tara brand product carries Đà Nẵng’s symbol and tourists can recognise that it’s a made-in Đà Nẵng gift. So it will also helps promote tourism,” Huệ said.
“Stone sculptures or wooden craftworks are quite heavy to pack. Organic perfume bottles, natural flower-scented hand-sanitizer, turmeric or cocoa soap and body lotion are easily portable,” she said.
Huệ also said that the image of Red-Shanked Doucs (Pygathrix nemaeus), an endangered primate in Đà Nẵng’s Sơn Trà Nature Reserve, can be used on Arya Tara products for the 2017 APEC summit. — VNS
|Raw material: Vetiver grass is planted in a garden for oil extraction.VNS Photo Công Thành
|Nature friendly: Organic cosmetics produced in Đà Nẵng. Photo courtesy of Arya Tara
|Bark value: Cinnamon is used to extract essential oil for organic cosmetics production. VNS Photo Công Thành