Hoàng Khải is the owner of Khaisilk, a leading Vietnamese silk brand. Tall, with a friendly smile and dressed in a fashionable black cotton shirt and red hat, Hoàng Khải looks like an artist rather than an entrepreneur. Võ Lệ Hồng speaks with him at his imposing Tajmasago Castle hotel.
Inner Sanctum: Please tell us about some interesting memories from your childhood?
In my childhood I knew nothing about fashion, only endless days of war in the northern countryside. My father was a musician. Though life at that time was very difficult, he was determined to encourage me to learn music.
I studied music between the ages of eight and 24. I also learnt business, English and French and tried hard during what was a very hard time. I graduated in music and economic law at the same time. At home my mother had a very small shop that could print pictures on clothes. This was a craft passed down by my grandmother. The first foreign customers at the shop sought certain designs for their clothes. So, I started inquiring about silk and fashion to help my mother. When I was 24, I started a business. I read books and learnt that global fashion brands are named after a person; so I put my name on the store. I also studied fashion and design. Music helped me understand concepts and enriched my imagination for fashion. It makes my products more and more beautiful.
Inner Sanctum: And then you gradually built up your business?
As a luxury silk trader, I take care of each silk product very carefully, employing expert weavers in my workshop to make patterned silk fabric by hand. In 2000 I began to do business in HCM City by opening the first Khaisilk boutique on Đồng Khởi Street. The boutique is part of Khaisilk’s chain of stores in luxury hotels and malls.
Scarves and neckties made of pure silk have created a name for the Khaisilk brand for 25 years now. The products have been winning the hearts of locals and foreign tourists, who love their beautiful colours and patterns. Foreign tourists and international leaders visiting Việt Nam consider Khaisilk’s products as artwork gifts to buy for friends and relatives at home.
My business success lies not only in sales figures, but also in the interest shown by famous foreign leaders like US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Australian Prime Minister Janette Howard, and others.
Inner Sanctum: But consumers, both domestic and foreign, say that Khaisilk products are too expensive. What do you think?
I think the word "expensive" does not mean just "expensive"; it means "worth the money". Many friends say Khaisilk’s silk products are too expensive. I jokingly reply, "Not expensive at all; they are worth what you pay for."
Beauty sometimes carries an intangible value, so it is priceless. Vietnamese are increasingly more confident when they see more Vietnamese goods in major commercial centres in the world. I also want to create that confidence in my own country.
Inner Sanctum Where do your inspirations come from?
From everyday life. From trips, from masterpieces, it seems I have a certain passion in me. I retain the essence of tradition and revive it in a new form that is attractive, modern and nice.
The Angkor Temple gave me the inspiration to open Cham Cham Restaurant, the Ming Dynasty inspired the Ming Dynasty restaurant, and Taj Mahal in India encouraged me to open the Tajmasago.
Inner Sanctum Which idea makes you proudest?
The 18-storey The Khai Tower, whose exterior will look like a silk cloth [is wrapped around it] while the 20-storey The Price next door will be designed to look like books stacked on one another. They will be completed in 2017.
Inner Sanctum What has been the reason for your success?
It’s the passion and love for my country. I want to make products that can compete in the international market. The passion must come from a deep love for my motherland. I even forget myself, forget eating, forget sleeping in order to work and learn. Sustaining the brand is a lifelong struggle. It is difficult, but it helps strengthen my business.
Inner Sanctum: You used the money meant to buy a fancy registration number for your car to help build a school for ethnic children in a remote area of Lâm Đồng Province. Please tell us about this.
I usually travel economy class instead of business class and stand in line for a visa instead of using a fast service to save money for charity. I also use earnings from various activities like being advertising ambassador for Acer products, mineral water Perrier and Tonka liver tonic or from advertising for Apartments in Dream and Master Chef for my charities. VNS