Drawing on her love for fashion, her home country of Vietnam and for the traditional arts, LanVy Nguyen launched Fashion4Freedom to combine all three – all in an effort to connect traditional Vietnamese artisans with luxury fashion suppliers. As the world’s first ethical and culturally responsible supply chain, Fashion4Freedom aims to redefine luxury to include the age-old traditional arts that are at risk of disappearing in her home country, one hand-made gem at a time. We caught up with her to talk design, inspiration and why changing the way we think about luxury is important in Asia.
What is Fashion4Freedom, and why is it important?
Fashion4Freedom is the world first ethical supply chain created by designers for the design-think minds. We bridge the gap between artisanal small producers and the fashion industry to ensure social responsibility in manufacturing, while preserving traditional skills. We redefine Luxury to include artisans currently excluded from the world market by injecting high-end designs in a marketplace classically known as home-based arts & craft.
Our product brands include Saigon Socialite, our high-end line, which features our Dragon Shoes and hand-embroidered silk clothing; our Saigon Socialist mid-range products specially designed for discerning travellers looking to bring a bit of artistic Vietnam home with them, featuring collaborations between contemporary artists and traditional artisans; and the Data Min’d jewelry line that features precious metals mined from old computers and smartphones.
That said, we’re not just offering another ethical fashion brand; more than that, we’ve created an alternative supply chain with measurable social responsible and economic development activities delivered with our sister charity, Design Capital.
“I had an insatiable desire to return our heritage craft to that level of quality. To do so, we had to rebuild the livelihood of these artisans.”
Why did you decide to start Fashion4Freedom? Was there a specific event that triggered the idea?
I worked in corporate finance for over a decade before pursuing ethical fashion and philanthropic investment. On Sept 11th, my boyfriend and I left our apartment directly across the river from the World Trade Center; on this day we missed the ferry by 2 minutes, and spent the rest of the year stunned while questioning everything about our desires, needs, and what it meant to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
Initially, I only wanted to transition from corporate to creative. For someone who had fled her motherland, the sense of responsibility to rebuild heritage and culture by invigorating artisanal high-end craft villages took hold. As a child, I only understood handmade products from my great-grandmother’s collection of intricately embroidered ao dai and robes when she was once a socialite in Vietnam. Her wooden chests where she kept treasured things were intricately carved. I had an insatiable desire to return our heritage craft to that level of quality. To do so, we had to rebuild the livelihood of these artisans.
Some of your designs include not just ethically- and locally-made products, but also traditional handicraft. How did you come up with this idea?
From a design perspective, our process is like Project Runway, in that we are challenged to design based on what’s available. If what’s available are pagoda wood carvers, we will make designs based on their skills and ability to actualize. Our social responsibility goal is to re-invigorate markets for artisans; to be true to that social goal, we must figure out a way to bridge market demands with capability. The outcome is an interesting, well-thought out, sordidly empathic collection of treasured things.
Why do you think this preservation of heritage is important in fashion?
I’m less concerned about how preservation of heritage is actually important in fashion; some will argue that it isn’t important at all. I’m actually more interested in how fashion can help preserve heritage. Fashion and its $3 trillion dollar supply chain greatly impacts the existence and demise of culture. We believe that redefining luxury to include the heritage artisan in the economics of fashion is absolutely critical.
“Our social responsibility goal is to re-invigorate markets for artisans; to be true to that social goal, we must figure out a way to bridge market demands with capability. The outcome is an interesting, well-thought out, sordidly empathic collection of treasured things.”
You have environmental goals to some of your products, too. Why is this important for Vietnam and Southeast Asia?
Including environmental goals with product design is critical for every and all countries, not just Vietnam. I believe that design is a process in problem solving; we will weave in environmental or cultural or socially impactful goals into every possible process of our production cycle.
Where can we find Fashion4Freedom products?
You can find our products In Ho Chi Minh City at The House of Saigon (16 Thu Khoa Huan, Q1), Kenji Concept Store (18 Ho Huan Nghiep, Q1) and Thuy Design House (132-134 Dong Khoi, Q1, HCMC; 9 Trang Tien St., Hanoi). You can also find us at The Artisan Center in Hue, and the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi. If you aren’t yet in Asia, find us online with our Etsy store!