In the frantic spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the slow and steady handicraft segment is the great way for Truc Lam Handmade to stand up in crisis.

---Quang Hung---

CEO Trúc Lâm Handmade
Mrs. Le Thi Tham - CEO of Truc Lam Handmade 

Wake up after the hibernation

12 months is too long for a "hibernation" named COVID-19 – said Ms. Le Thi Tham – the CEO of Truc Lam Handmade. She started the story with us in a cold Hanoi afternoon. According to Ms. Tham, because Vietnamese handicraft products are mainly targeted at foreign customers, so when Vietnam stops welcoming tourists, most handicraft enterprises are struggling. Although she has more than twenty years of experience in this industry, Ms. Tham did not expect that COVID-19 would last so long and had such a heavy impact.

“Every day, looking at the full inventory which cannot be sold, our whole company is so stressed. Many handmade showrooms and shops had to close after a long struggle and gave up the rental space. If Truc Lam would also choose to narrow down production, to "hibernate" and wait for the epidemic to end like many other businesses in this industry, it would be just too easy. But what would we do after that then? What would our craft village partners be like when they lose their secondary occupation? If there was no standing orders, it would tale only a year or two to erase a craft village. When the epidemic stops, it would be very difficult to rebuild it.” CEO Truc Lam Handmade shared her concern as the responsible person for the survival of her business with thousands of jobs in craft villages, most of which are owned by women.

Therefore, in order not to affect the people in craft villages, Truc Lam tries to find ways to hold on to the production, both to help people and to maintain the company. In difficulties, everyone in the company suddenly becomes more attached, sharing and encouraging each other to look on the bright side, overcome immediate difficulties and to take advantage of the rare opportunities that the market has to offer.

“Currently, the negotiation and rent for premises are becoming much more favorable than before, so Truc Lam has opened a number of new showrooms in beautiful locations last year. In addition, we also take advantage of this unbusy time to improve technical training for the production team, diversify models, research new consumer trends, to be ready for post-pandemic boom, ” Tham happily said.

As a result, in 2020, Truc Lam opened the first showroom/restaurant in Vietnam Museum of Ethnology with a total area of ​​more than 1500 square meters. The restaurant is also a cultural space, displaying beautifully and delicately Vietnamese handicrafts in a rustic, pure Vietnamese style to surprise visitors. When the pace of life slows down, and foreigners are few, there are now however Vietnamese customers, who were previously busy at work but now have time to admire the true beauty, sophistication and soulfulness of "made in Vietnam" products. They become attached to and love handmade products made from the skillful hands of Vietnamese craftsmen.

The "domestic consumption" habit formed during this pandemic time will affect the consumption trend of tourists. They will choose to "selectively" spend over massly, and to prioritize the experience factors of their consumption. Therefore, the tourists and customers will give more prioritiy to product research before shopping. For example, they care more to read carefully about the product origin, production methods like organic and sustainable approach and environmentally friendly materials. As for the experience, they will carefully refer to the customer reviews, and at the same time they wish to experience in real life the process of making a product themselves, or listen to and learn the cultural stories attached to each of these handmade products. This is exactly a great opportunity to promote experiencing tourism and cultural tourism in Vietnam.

“Overcoming the storms of the market, we want to become a bridge between tradition and modernity, helping to preserve, develop and diversify ethnic products with their unique cultural stories. By doing that, the craftsmen and ethnic minorities are motivated to stick to the traditional profession when they see with their own eyes that their products are well received domestically and internationally ”, said CEO Truc Lam Handmade.

Truc Lam's staffs and a H'Mong woman in Hoa Binh Province

The quintessence of every single product

Previously, many people were skeptical about the quality and designs of handcrafted products and thought that they low-priced affordable goods. According to Tham, this is totally a misconception. In fact, behind each traditional craft village, there are cultural stories, unique techniques which are meticulously passed down through generations. The skilled craftsman was honored as a artisan, a treasure of the village. However, the artisan himself had to grow up breathing his traditional craft villages and after years of training, he is able to create products with special essence and quintessence. Therefore, the job of the people who bridge the product with customers like Truc Lam Handmade is not simply looking for the output for the product, but also plays an important role in preserving and maintaining the profession, especially in the context that the experienced artisans getting old and disappearing while the young people are not interested in traditional occupations.

In terms of design, this is an long standing weakness but we can overcome it gradually and completely. A typical example is the beautiful brocade fabric. For generations, the Hmong have only used them to make skirts and dresses. Therefore, Truc Lam Handmade has chosen to guide ethnic people to arrange patterns and use brocade pieces to make other finished products such as bags, wallets, backpacks, pillow covers. Only with the brocade, the company has created more than 1,000 unique product models, which are favored by many customers. This both helps diversify markets and encourages artisans of craft villages to continue to stick to traditional Vietnamese handicrafts.

Handicraft acts as a stable sidejob, using mainly local materials, contributing to preserving traditional culture, at the same time creating jobs for many rural workers like poor people, middle-aged women, ethnic people. It is not only about a production–trading–and-income story but continuing traditional craft villages also has a great significance in promoting gender equality and raising the voice of women in the family. Rural women can both work in the fields, do this sidejob, and take care of their husbands and children at the same time. Those men helping his wife will stay away from evils such as alcohol, gambling, and patriarchy. More importantly, when a woman has a sufficient source of income to live in her homeland, she will not have to work far away, and so these rural families are not subject to separation and the children are not separated from their parents.

“From that perspective, we see a great significance when the state recently has gradually supported businesses to access new market. Local authorities have programs to encourage the development of craft, cultural and tourism villages. As such, we can both preserve and develop traditional culture, while generating stable revenue for local craft villages. The epidemic will not last forever, so we need to take advantage of the time ahead to prepare ourselves well and be ready to welcome the wave of post-COVID experience tourism, ”said Tham.

Quang Hung - Investment Newspaper - Special issue Celebrating the Spring of Tan Suu (released on 8.2.2021)