We speak to Benjamin Grepinet, the brains behind the locally-based Ginkgo T-shirt brand about copycats, fair trade and his new concept store
Why did you pick T-shirts as a business to go into?
BG: Seven years ago while I was traveling in Vietnam, I was looking for nice graphic T-shirts with Asian-themed designs, but all I could find were low quality T-shirts with awful graphics. That’s why I decided to start a business of T-shirts one year later. So maybe I would say that it’s the T-shirts business that picked me.
Explain your company’s name.
BG: When I was searching for a name and logo, I wanted a name that sounds different, that is exotic and makes you think about Asia with a logo that is easy to recognize with simple forms. The overall logo should also make you think about nature, a thing that I respect and love.
At the time, I was in my home in the countryside of France. I was walking in the village and met a neighbor planting trees. I was quite interested in one tree in particular so I asked her, ‘What is this tree that you are planting?’ And she answered, ‘It’s a ginkgo biloba.’ I immediately understood that I just found my name because the sound of it was really different and unique. Also the ginkgo tree has a powerful meaning, it’s the first tree that grew after the Hiroshima bomb in Japan, so it’s a symbol of life and strength, exactly what a company needs.
Who are your designers? Are they expats or locals?
BG: In the very beginning, I was doing everything myself. But now, we’ve developed quite a talented team. They are expats, and, surely, Vietnamese. I love the way our Vietnamese designers express their culture on the T-shirts, and I also love the view of our expat designers on Vietnam and life in Asia.
Do you worry about copycats? I’ve seen your same designs selling for USD2 in The Pham. Have you taken any legal action against that?
BG: Copycats are a big concern for any serious company in Vietnam. We took some serious legal actions in the past, but only for serious cases like people copying our designs to start their brand, or copying our name, logo… For other cases, we prefer to spend our energy and time for creativity, create more styles and things that are hard or too expensive to copy.
Can you give me an example?
BG: For example, some labels are printed in high density – it’s a technique that requires five to ten layers of ink and takes excellent skill and time to do it the right way, and it’s expensive. On a USD2, even a USD5 or USD10, it will be too costly to do. Moreover, we work on every detail of our products so that the customer can recognize that it’s a high quality product. We make sure that any print, embroidery, tag, zipper, fabric, even the thread for sewing is perfect.
How much do you estimate you lose in terms of sales because of these copied T-shirts?
BG: We cannot count how much exactly the loss is, but it influences our sales somehow.
Locally-based T-shirt company Papaya sells similar designs as yours (with the electric wires, graphic novel images, etc) and they opened a year after you. Thoughts?
BG: Same same but different. You know this famous phrase? When we created our company six years ago, and even after one year, we were the only one in Saigon with this concept. Today there are a few other companies that do the same thing. Clients now have more choices, and I prefer to let them have their own thoughts on them. From our side, I still have to say that we are different. Different in our strategy, different in our designs and graphic style, different in our image. Really different in many ways.
Are your designs trademarked? Can you explain the process?
BG: Yes they are. We trademark all of our designs under the trademark legal representative office of the Vietnamese government.
It’s quite simple, we send our designs to the representative office in Hanoi, we pay the amount for the copyright process, and we receive an official document that proves our designs are copyrighted. It takes one year though to be really protected and to be able to start any legal action. I think it’s really good that nowadays Vietnamese people are required to respect these obligations. It will force them to be more creative.
How often do you come out with new designs?
BG: We have new stuff almost monthly. We are not a fashion company, so the collections don’t go by season. But we catch the trend on the colors, the cutting style of the fashion world, and have a collection of designs that go with them.
We are a team of creative people, so the designs may go out right when we have an idea. Like now I’m talking to you, and if this special flower in front of us gave me an emotion and an idea for a T-shirt, tomorrow I can call you and say: ‘Thanks Christine, Ginkgo just got a new design collection of Vietnamese flowers.’
You recently opened up the Ginkgo Concept Store. How is this shop different from the T-shirt one?
BG: Ginkgo T-shirt store sells only Ginkgo products. In the Ginkgo Concept Store you will find other brands and designers from all over Vietnam. It was created in order to propose to our customers a shopping space where they can find high quality and creative products only made in Vietnam.
Your ethos is organic and sustainable products with fair trade in mind. How do you maintain this in Vietnam? Where do you source your materials and products? Is everything made in Vietnam?
BG: One of our main objectives with the company is to create as many jobs as possible and bring a cool and safe working environment as well as a fair salary to all of our employees. And with everyone, we try to share frankly our ideas for the same objective: to develop together
Ginkgo’s products are made in Vietnam, in our factory in Saigon. You are welcome to visit us anytime. Most of our materials are produced in Vietnam by the local factories that have been our providers since the first day. We’re trying to use local materials as much as possible. But when it’s not available in Vietnam, we need to import, like organic cotton. Organic cotton is one of our proudest products. It has been quite difficult to import and we are the first local T-shirt company to offer a great collection with this fabric.
For more info, visit www.ginkgo-vietnam.com.
1 thought on “Fit to a T”
Hi Ben, just seen this great article.
I love your whole ethos, and focus on what is so needed in the business world these days- integrity. Well done Ben and lots of Love to you and Lan. XX