In Asia, sustainable fashion has been an increasingly common topic of discussion within the past year. Last month, Taiwan’s biggest fashion event, Taipei Fashion Week AW 2022, brought sustainability to the forefront, connecting the territory’s top textile factories with young designers to showcase eco-conscious collections.
In Vietnam, Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy, sustainability was centre stage at last week’s Aquafina Vietnam International Fashion Week 2022 (VIFW), themed ‘ReFashion’.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has made a drastic change to our lives, and the fashion industry is not an exception,” said Trang Le, founder and CEO of VIFW and president of the Council of Asean Fashion Designers. “Fashion is frequently portrayed as an industry that has a negative impact on the environment. Thus, now is the moment to rethink, reinvent and regenerate to create a revolution towards the development of sustainable fashion.
“This is a huge opportunity for the Vietnam fashion industry.”
VIFW showcased collections from 18 international and domestic fashion houses, six of which are entirely made from recycled materials. To help designers source the textiles, VIFW matched them with Faslink, known as a pioneer company investing in research and development to manufacture fabrics from materials including lotus plant leaves, coffee grounds, oyster shells and recovered PET bottles.
The event kicked off with the sustainable collection from local designer Vo Cong Khanh in collaboration with Suntory PepsiCo-owned bottled water brand Aquafina, the event’s principal sponsor for the past three years.
“As a designer, I am well aware that my role is not restricted to designing beautiful pieces; rather, these pieces must tell a story,” he said. “For me, it’s a story about recycling and giving fashion a second life to preserve nature’s ‘pureness’ and the living environment.”
Dubbed ‘H2O’, the collection featured a blue colour scheme and a concentric-circle motif. Garments were created from recycled materials such as lotus fibres and used plastic bottles and complemented by transparent circular handbags and other accessories. The collection was highlighted by the stunning ‘WaterDress’ handcrafted from recycled plastic pieces and worn by famous local supermodel Pham Thanh Hang.
“WaterDress is a sculpture created from plastic crumbs that melt under fire to become a pure structure of water,” Vo described.
Meanwhile, the winner of Project Runway Vietnam, Ly Giam Tien, unveiled his ‘The Future Woman’ collection inspired by “the temperamental beauty of modern women”. Besides using recycled materials from Faslink, the renowned designer also incorporated other natural materials to make the pieces more practical and stand out on the runway. The designer revealed that the inspiration for this collection came to him two years ago while he was in isolation after contracting Covid-19.
Adrian Anh Tuan, Hoang Quyen, Nguyen Tien Truyen, and Hoang Minh Ha were among other local designers contributing environmentally-friendly creations to the event.
The sustainability focus was not restricted to the catwalk. To launch the week, AVIFW collaborated with Harper’s Baazar Vietnam to host a conference on sustainable materials for fashion and interior design, with the participation of industry leaders, including Mario Ferrari, executive worldwide director of Corium of Prodotti Alfa, an Italian company manufacturing regenerated leather.
“Sustainability is no longer a new subject,” said Trang Le. “It has become a major matter in the global fashion industry, and in Vietnam in particular. However, at this time, I’d like to make sure that people understand that sustainability isn’t just about materials, which is only part of the message. I’m hoping that designers will re-evaluate how they create and market their items.
“One of the changes resulting from Covid-19 is the increasing involvement of technology and the major shift in shopping behaviour,” she continued.
During the pandemic, when people were forced to tighten their spending, they started to look for multi-functional products. Sustainability became a factor consumers considered when making purchasing decisions.
“Consequently, designers have to come up with new designs that serve multiple purposes and last longer,” she said.
Repositioning as a fashion hub
Eclipsed by only China in the world apparel-manufacturing rankings, Vietnam’s reputation has been built around its role as a supplier. Le Trang and others in the industry are keen for Vietnam to now become known as a major fashion industry hub, encouraging young designers and looking for ways to expose existing designers on a larger world stage.
While Vietnam surpassed Bangladesh to become the world’s second-largest garment exporter in 2020, with a turnover of US$29 billion, according to the World Trade Statistics Review 2021, no Vietnamese fashion brand has yet to make an impact on the global fashion scene.
“Despite its manufacturing advantages, Vietnam has been unable to grow its fashion industry due to a lack of government coordination,” Le explained. “The synchronicity exists between manufacturing, education, and other ecosystems, but the industry needs a comprehensive plan.”
In line with this, VIFW highlighted the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (EuroCham Vietnam) to promote Vietnam’s fashion and culture. The agenda is to create business opportunities for Vietnamese fashion brands and designers in the future, while at the same time supporting European companies in the country at both retail and sourcing levels.
“This partnership opens up tremendous prospects for cultural, lifestyle, and fashion collaboration between Vietnam and European Union countries,” Le said.
Meanwhile, the five-day fashion week also showcased collections from two international brands – Australia’s high-end luxury label Zimmermann and Italian menswear label Camicissima. Zimmerman is imported by a distributor in Vietnam which organised the runway show. Camicissima is currently fitting out its first standalone store in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, and its involvement in VIFW was supported by the Italian Consulate.