Fair Footwear

We speak with Saigon Socialite founder LanVy Nguyen, who offers an insight into Vietnam’s lost craft of imperial and pagoda wood art and the difficulties of producing an ethical, designer brand…

THERE IS AN endless array of homegrown fashion pieces in this city, from accessories to ready-to-wear to show stopping couture. But when it comes to people’s feet? Nada. A quick look beyond the store facades and you’d be hard pressed to find yourself some fashion forward shoes designed and made here in Vietnam.

Enter the dragon. Or to be precise, a dragon carved into the platform of your Saigon Socialite wedges. They’re showstoppers, made from lychee and jackfruit trees and responsibly-sourced leather. Saigon Socialite is, as they put it, “a hybrid social enterprise created to rectify an industry’s transgression with unethical and irresponsible garment production in Vietnam”.

Why footwear?

Among our network of rural entrepreneurs exists a carpentry village whose craftsmen have spent generations producing imperial and pagoda wood art throughout palaces in Vietnam. By marrying the artistic skills of a seventh-generation carpentry village with a cobbler village and a lacquer artist co-op, we are producing high-fashion shoes that will more than triple the craftsmen’s earnings.

What kind of support do you need for such a venture?

With respect to shoes, labor is not easily found. Sole masters are even rarer to find.

Schools do not offer technical teaching in shoe design and shoe designs require a strong technical understanding of fit, engineering (height to comfort), and material quality. Shoes are produced at large factories or at home workshops. Commitment for development [of shoe design and production] requires large amounts of funding.

It takes 18 days to produce a pair of your shoes; couldn’t you cut costs by using a factory?

If one can find a factory willing to work with concepts or new designs, then maybe, but factories in Vietnam are either unwilling or unable to originate from conceptual drawings and often require a pre-made sample to copy. Despite this our ‘walkable art’ does not come from a factory because we are not merely a fashion house. It takes 18 days to produce one pair of dragons, yes, and in that time-frame, our shoes go through multiple artisans’ hands in various areas of Hue. We hope to preserve the heritage of Vietnamese craft and elevate it to the level of quality that the luxury world can respect and desire.

In such a difficult business, how has Saigon Socialite set itself apart?

We are able to obtain high commitment, respect, and loyalty from our artisans because we pay them the same commitment. This is especially shown with our investment in our artisans’ product development and our partner’s investments for equipment needs. I don’t know of any other design house that purposely invests as much of their resources into its suppliers.

When you compare how easy it is for a designer to make a dress versus shoes, it’s no wonder there is a void in the market of Vietnamese shoe designers.

Visit www.fashion4freedom.com. A pair of carved wedges, pictured, costs around VND9,890,000.

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