With more than 20 years of experience in the handicrafts sector, Le Thi Tham, owner and director of Truc Lam Handmade, talks to Thanh Mai about how hard work and perserverance has helped her succeed in the industry, as well as her plans to preserve and promote Vietnam’s authentic handmade arts and crafts to the world. 

When did you decide to start up with Vietnamese crafts and what inspired you? 

When I first started my own business, I simply wanted to make some profit by trading in Vietnamese traditional handicraft products. Gradually, I figured out that what I was doing was not enough to preserve our beautiful cultural identity. 

Therefore, after three years of running a small shop in Hanoi selling souvenirs and local arts and crafts, in 2000 I decided to venture into handicraft production, and started afresh with a new name, VNMELODY. 

Ms. Le Thi Tham - Owner and Director of Truc Lam Handmade

Ms. Le Thi Tham, Owner and Director of Truc Lam Handmade

I made up my mind to revive and re-shape the traditional culture of Vietnam, from the weaving and fabric dyeing of the H’mong ethnic group in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh, to the embroidery village in Thuong Tin, Hanoi or bamboo-paper making in Bac Ninh. I placed orders with local artisans in these places for the colorful woven cloths they use to make their dresses and then used those cloths to design backpacks, purses, pillow covers, etc. We have created a wide range of unique products which have proven popular with foreign customers using traditional Vietnamese materials so as to encourage artisans from craft villages to maintain and preserve traditional Vietnamese crafts. 

During our first five years of operation, VNMELODY did not establish itself as a brand but mostly operated as a contractor, outsourcing products under our clients’ logos. One of VNMELODY’s most notable accomplishments during this time period was developing specialized teams consisting of highly skilled workers (both garment and embroidery). Our satellite production teams spanned across many lower-income villages and created jobs for local women during off-peak farming seasons when laborers are abundant. This helped local farming families earn extra income and improve their quality of life. 

Later in 2018, we changed our legal name to Truc Lam Handmade Co., Ltd. with a new facility of 120 sqm, including a showroom, office, storage for raw materials, design, and concept production. The move helped us stay relevant as our market evolved and we are determined to build our own brand. 

Many people comment that traditional Vietnamese crafts cannot compete with other Asian countries in terms of form and price, what is your opinion on this? 

This is a valid concern. However, after 20 years in the handicraft business, I can confidently say that to a lot of foreign customers, authentic Vietnamese handicrafts are in a class of their own. Truc Lam Handmade is amongst the vendors which have long been invited by Community Liaison Office to attend U.S Embassy’s annual events and programmes in Hanoi. 

We won the trust of our clients, who valued our production quality and capabilities. Since opening, we have exported to many international markets including the UK, Australia, Canada, Spain, Malaysia, Japan, France, Thailand, Singapore, and Laos. 

International customers who came to Truc Lam were all delighted and interested when hearing about the all-natural production process, from weaving with flax to indigo dyeing, and drawing patterns with beeswax. They are willing to buy authentic Vietnamese brocade products at reasonable prices. In particular, the current trend of using natural and environmentally-friendly materials is an opportunity for Vietnamese handmade products to make a breakthrough. However, Vietnamese handicraft still lacks professional designs, adequate production control system and proper marketing strategies. 

Vietnamese handicrafts are a blend of quintessential features. However, if they are not professionally designed, or the production processes are not strictly controlled, the products will not appeal to customers and therefore unable to command a good price. 

How do you evaluate the important role of marketing and branding products for Vietnamese crafts? 

Promotion, marketing, and branding are critical when we launch any product. Introducing unique features of Vietnamese handicraft products to international markets is not only challenging, but it also requires effort, time, and financial commitments. 

In June 2019, Truc Lam opened our first exclusive showroom at number 43, Lane 2, Giang Vo, Cat Linh, Hanoi. This showroom, with over 500 sqm of floor space, will feature a rustic display model that reflects the traditional Vietnamese culture to promote the country’s handicrafts to customers at home and abroad. We would like to introduce high-quality handmade products made by the skillful hands of rural Vietnamese people, and to share with customers the beautiful culture and heritage behind each product. We hope traditional Vietnamese artisans will be proud and further motivated to work in traditional crafts when they see their products gain a global presence. 

What are your future plans? 

Industrial zones are expanding to every province and became the preferred choice for young rural people as they promise a stable salary. Therefore, in order to maintain and develop handicrafts, we need to place regular orders and pay them a fair wage so that they are fully committed to the job. One advantage of handicraft production is the time flexibility – women can work during their spare time and still take care of their family while men can also support their families through a part time job. 

When seeing families in rural, remote areas having a better life, with the women not having to work far away from home, I feel a little proud that I could contribute a smart part to improving the lives of these people. 

Vietnamese handicrafts have great potential, while enterprises in this market are still of small, fragmented scale, and we have not yet fully exploited our traditional-cultural strengths. I look forward to having fresh and healthy competition from young entrepreneurs in the craft section. Competition, along with new thinking and direction from young entrepreneurs, can help the traditional craft industry to become more professional, creative, and approaching global standards faster. 

At Truc Lam, we strive to always find new and innovative ways of doing business with creative designs and high-quality products. We hope to continue our success story with our local communities and help improve their living standards. More importantly, we aspire to do our part in preserving and promoting Vietnam’s diverse culture and traditions. 

Source: Timeout Magazine -  The Newsmaker