First date in Saigon: meeting my manufacturers and loving them

First date in Saigon: meeting my manufacturers and loving them

A couple of you may have read my post about one first step towards producing my hipi phone belts: the all-important search for a manufacturer.

Of course, as much as I wanted to search closer to my recent and current homes of California and Munich — to ease collaboration as well as to buy local — I couldn’t find a mass producer to fit my needs, much less a cost-conscious one. 

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This, I am guessing, is an issue of currency exchange more than efficiency and I would love to rant about this, but in short, it seems factories in the US and Europe are sorely able to come out with low, competitive prices, not least because of USD/Euro rentals, labour and food costs. 

So here I am, exploring production with my hoped-for manufacturer, Saigon Apparel, in Ho Chi Minh City. As just one example of comparative costs, I checked out a popular lunch restaurant near my hotel, and got a huge meal of rice with a panoply of freshly cooked vegetarian “dishes”, bowl of soup and lashings of chilly to my desire, for just 20,000 Vietnamese dong. That is USD0.90 or €0.70, everyone! 

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Compare that to $4 for a pretty processed burger in the US or €3 for a sandwich in Germany, two of my recent reference points for the minimum you’d spend on a meal out.

Thus one possibly imagines how it is that, out of all parts of the world, near and far, that I researched, I ended up with three options from China, Vietnam and Philippines. This itself was not easy as many big factories entertain orders of only at least 500 pieces per size and above. I am of course a mere startup. 

Indeed, I am so grateful to have spoken to these lovely producers. I sent them the samples I made in San Francisco, together with my cobbled-together tech pack and drawings, and they sent back to me their counter samples (I believe that’s the industry term), while all the while being super polite, gracious and helpful. 

The China company was very good but they ultimately told me they did not specialise in stretch fabrics and found it hard producing an inward facing seam. 

The Philippines company is helmed by a super encouraging and helpful American and his Filipino wife. I was so grateful to him for his support but ultimately, the counter sample they produced was not quite what I was looking for. I would love to work with them for other products! 

Even though rather late (they said they’d been busy making 12,000 pieces for another Australian fashion startup), the Vietnamese company ultimately delivered me a counter sample which I fell in love with: exquisite sewing and straight hems. 

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Trying on a preproduction sample at my parents’ home in Malaysia: Rather grim selfie sans makeup but really quite pleased to see idea turn closer to reality. You can still see needed improvements, such as bits of lining peeking through but that was to be hammered out in actual preproduction.

After making my decision to try to work with them, I booked flights out to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) for me and my long-suffering husband. 

Today is my 3rd day there and I must summarise my experience in this post. 

The first two days, the manufacturer brought us shopping in Saigon’s cool fabrics and trims markets to get our components. I’d always imagined the manufacturer doing the sourcing, not me, but it actually makes sense. I see what is realistically available to hopefully minimise future disappointment and clashes. 

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Here are some pictures of us sourcing for zips, fabrics and buttons. We visited a grand total of three markets in Saigon, dodging motorcycles and speaking to rather disinterested shopkeepers.

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I couldn’t let a visit to the manufacturers pass without visiting the factory itself, the potential womb of my baby. Ngu, the English-speaking younger brother of the factory’s owners, was probably slightly shy of bringing me to the actual premises. It is, however, probably not unlike many Vietnamese outfits which, I am guessing, grow out of mum-and-pop shops which are even extensions of their home. 

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I am grateful enough to find someone to come out with beautiful work for my  project, however, and I was more than happy to take a Grabcar out to the village-y suburb north of the airport and meet the people behind Saigon Apparel. 

Here are my pix with some of the lovely family. 

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This leaves me at the end of Day 3 in Saigon. After several Whatsapp video calls and emails, I finally met my blind manufacturing dates in person, shopped together, and love them. 

I am sure, like any relationship, it won’t be perfect but I hope that we can — pray with me, folks — make beautiful hipis together!

This Post Has 12 Comments

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      vectordesign

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    Monique Stockon

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      vectordesigns

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      vectordesigns

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