Breaking into fashion and design one stitch at a time
“Everyone wants to learn about fashion and clothes these days. They want to know how to design clothes, how to choose clothes, how to wear clothes. But the truth is, there aren’t that many qualified to teach,” says Huy Vo. Along with Do Manh Cuong, a Vietnamese designer renowned for his work with Christian Dior and Dominique Sirop, Huy is part of a new wave of up and coming young designers to watch.
There are 14 public and semi-private universities, countless private vocational schools, international academies and specialist courses teaching every aspect of design and fashion business in Ho Chi Minh City alone. “It’s true that there are many classes and fashion academies these days. But, it’s more or less an industry fact that outside of a rare handful, these classes and schools are really not worth the money spent on them,” says Huy. “Look at all the big name young fashion designers in Vietnam right now, the ones born in the 80s and 90s. Do you know how many of them graduated from a local fashion school? None. All the best in the business are those who studied overseas in cities like New York, Paris or Milan, whereas the Vietnamese schools combined have not produced one designer of note.”
Huy is an alumni of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in California, US and according to him, fashion classes and curriculums in Vietnam lack sound educational methodologies and systematic knowledge, a result of wanting to ride the wave of popular trends rather than evoking critical thinking and forward planning. “The students who come from these courses and schools,” says Huy, “have a tough time surviving the cutthroat industry. Most won’t make it and will have to find other careers.”
There are two types of fashion courses in Vietnam and each has their own distinct flaws. The first one is the design-heavy bachelor or diploma programs in fashion universities or academies. “They’re flight classes for dreamers,” he shares. “The teachers teach their students how to fly. They would tell the students to design whatever they want, to design without cautioning them of the reality of clothes making. Indeed students from these classes have beautiful designs, but the problem is, they lack the skills to execute their own visions, so when they graduate, they have absolutely no survivability in this industry.” Fashion designs coming from these graduates, notes Huy, also tend to be at best impractical and at worst impossible to recreate in real life.
On the other end of the spectrum, are fashion courses that teach short-term tailoring taught by trade schools or working tailors. One would think these technically heavy courses would provide what the first type lacks, but according to Huy, they are far from adequate. “They would teach you how to make a dress or a shirt in these classes, they would tell you where to cut and how much to measure and where to tuck in the fabric, but they would not explain why and how these techniques are always used together and why this cut and not that fits a particular body shape better than any others. The results of these classes are simple tailors who don’t actually understand the nuances of fashion design, aesthetics and clothes making. All they can do is make clothes to order. It is frustrating for me to watch because I think if you are going to do something, you should do it right, not halfway like that.”
NO PROMISE POLICY
Huy’s frustration with the lack of proper training within the industry has fueled him to take matters into his own hands, literally, with scissors and a sewing machine and start Fashion Course by Huy Vo. “It happened by accident,” Huy shares. “My opinion is not popular with many people in the industry, but I’m still very outspoken about it. Many of my friends, because they have heard talk about this so many times, asked me why don’t I show them how to do it right. So I started giving people lessons. At first it was just friends and acquaintances and very informal. Then we made a Facebook page and before I knew it, I was approached by people outside of my circle wanting to know how to create fashion the right way.”
Huy holds informal classes in a three-storey building at 14 Ton That Dam in District 1. The same building holds his design studio and is the headquarters of his fashion company. His courses are for beginners to advanced and can cost anywhere from VND500,000 to VND1.5 million, depending on levels and the exact focus of each class. Typically a single course comprises of eight sessions that takes place over a month. “But if I see that my students need more time to learn, I will give more sessions,” he adds.
A single class has a maximum of six to eight students, most being owners of their own clothing store or employees of local fashion companies sent by their employers. A few are young locals with an interest in fashion but not the pocket or time for big programs from established academies. “I make no grand promises. I’m not going to tell people that if they join my class they can make such and such money or land so and so job. I’m not one of those big schools that promise the world and then bail out when all is said and done. I want to be honest with my students. If they give me their best, I will give them my best too.” Despite his no promise policy, some of his best graduates have already joined his fashion company or he has found job placements for them within his network.
“A fashion designer is both an artist and craftsman. He or she must know both the abstract and practical sides of fashion. If you want to succeed as a fashion designer,” he says. “You must first learn how to crawl, then how to walk, then how to run, and maybe then you will find out if you have what it takes to fly.”