Annabelle Audier spent six months of her university life living in a mud-hut in Nepal, a two-day walk from the nearest road. It was here that her fascination with other cultures would form the core concept behind the stationery business she later establishes in Vietnam called Mekong Belle (Snap Café, 32 Tran Ngoc Dien, D2). For Annabelle, the designs on her cups, cards, notepads and activity books aim to “capture some of the cultural elements of Vietnam in a graphic style using visuals.”

“As the country develops and modernizes, some of the traditional elements get lost. So it’s really about honoring the traditions in Vietnam and capturing them before they disappear completely.” She explains it’s important to document traditional Vietnamese items, such as the thermos flask and old weighing scales, in her products. “I wanted to capture them in something that people could take home; in designs, in notepads, cups.” Given that a large majority of Mekong Belle’s customers are tourists and expats, she has ensured that they can always take a memento of Vietnam with them to their next destination.

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Annabelle draws on inspiration from different aspects of Vietnamese life. Some are influenced by socialist art, particularly propaganda posters. However, while paying homage to Vietnam’s past, Annabelle emphasizes that her products are not about war. “In this day and age I don’t want to be discussing war through my designs. My designs are much more contemporary, and are about honoring traditions that Vietnam has to be proud of.”

Other more direct encounters with real Vietnamese people have also proved a source of inspiration. An evaluation of an education project in Dien Bien Phu gave her the incentive to document her experiences. “I was working with a lot of ethnic minorities, so I used these people for inspiration: the Red Dao, the Flower Hmong, the Kinh.” This experience translated into a bestselling notebook appropriately named “Rainbow People,” which displays the different faces of 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam.

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Also a social work consultant, Annabelle has always been active in charity endeavors. The majority of her profits from Mekong Belle go towards community projects for the disabled. After calling Ho Chi Minh City home for many years, Annabelle feels a moral obligation to help those less fortunate. “I feel privileged as a foreigner to have been able to live here, and I feel a strong responsibility to give back to the country and help where I can.”

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