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Vietnam Follows Hong Kong Fashion Lead, but with Bespoke Preferences

As Vietnam's domestic consumer base becomes more affluent and attractive to exporters, how does its fashion sector compare to other Asian markets, both in terms of expectations and in terms of the strengths of local clothing suppliers?

Photo: The Vietnamese clothing market: Ready for an upgrade?
The Vietnamese clothing market: Ready for an upgrade?
Photo: The Vietnamese clothing market: Ready for an upgrade?
The Vietnamese clothing market: Ready for an upgrade?

With Hong Kong very much the shopping capital of Asia, it's not unusual for Vietnamese shoppers to make a pilgrimage to the city. As Vietnam's growing middle class is seen as increasingly affluent, the country is emerging as a bespoke consumer market in its own right. With this in mind, what are the particular fashion peccadillos and preferences of this 90-million strong country? A view of Hong Kong Fashion Week through a Vietnamese filter, then, may well prove illuminating.

Hong Kong exerts a strong influence over fashion trends in Vietnam, largely due to the many similarities in culture, geography and climatic conditions, as well as the popularity of city's movies. It is also easy for would-be purchasers to find a variety of Hong Kong imports at local markets, fashion stores and shopping malls.

In recent years, with incomes on the rise, Vietnamese consumers have started to pay closer attention to brand names and product quality. Rapidly growing trade links between Vietnam and Hong Kong have also increased the numbers of Vietnamese visiting to Hong Kong as tourists and shoppers.

Highlighting this, show visitor Lam Thi Hanh, whose husband is a director of a foreign import-export company in Vietnam, said: "Some 90% of my husband's clothes are famous brands, largely bought from abroad during his business trips or family holidays. I think that, for a man, especially a successful businessman, clothes and accessories are among the key elements that show his status.

"Shopping in Vietnam is boring and there are not many options. My husband and I often shop in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or Thailand, but more often in Hong Kong, as it has many attractive promotional seasons."

Aligning with the trends set by Hong Kong Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015 and Fashion Week Worldwide, the styles in Vietnam for the coming season tend towards the simple, dynamic and elegant. Especially in the last days of winter, outfits made of light and warm materials, such as wool, polyester and cotton, are proving popular choices.

James Lin, Vice-Chairman of Hsin Ling Enterprises, a Taiwanese import-export knitwear manufacturer serving Europe and the US said: "This year's fashions are actually quite similar to the previous year. There is an innovative combination of street-style and jackets or wool sweaters or blazers. In particular, the new trend of long knitwear overcoats, paired with jeans or leggings, and sneakers or boots, is favoured. Neutral and light colours, as well as black-and-white tones, are the main features in our collection at this show."

One of the sales staff of Hong Kong-incorporated We-zoom Fashion Company largely agreed, saying: "There is not much difference in design between this year and last year. Young target consumers still like free-size shirt or dress designs, long skirts and princess dresses. The combination of bright colours with voile, cotton and light satin materials in each design brings out the youth, energy and femininity of the wearer.

"We don't focus on menswear, but this sector is getting more interesting and diverse. Khaki shorts and jeans are best-sellers, as they are convenient and comfortable. The best thing is they can be matched easily with all kinds of shirts for shopping, hanging out and even for sports."

Vietnam's geography and climate have an impact on style preferences up and down the country. In the south, the climate is temperate the whole year, making it suitable for light materials such as cotton, silk, satin and voile. From November through to February, the weather is cooler, ideal for blazers, knitwear, leggings and boots.

The highlands of Vietnam have a year-round cold climate. Warm clothing made of wool, cashmere or fur are the main products sold at local markets and clothes shops.

The climate is extremely harsh in the central region of Vietnam, with a short dry season and long rainy season. Although there are a number of emerging cities, such as Danang, Hue, and Haiphong, the local communities are largely not fashion aware, tending to prefer light jackets and casual clothes made of polyester or cotton.

Northern Vietnam has four distinct seasons, with a very cold autumn. Wool, cashmere, or knitwear are the best-selling products during this chilly time. In Hanoi, the political centre and a popular tourist destination for Vietnam, fur is a favourite with the more affluent, especially fur jackets. For many Hanoi consumers, fur remains the height of luxury.

Photo: Fashionable fur: Highly-valued in Hanoi.
Fashionable fur: Highly-valued in Hanoi.
Photo: Fashionable fur: Highly-valued in Hanoi.
Fashionable fur: Highly-valued in Hanoi.
Photo: Eveningwear: A rising trend in Vietnam.
Eveningwear: A rising trend in Vietnam.
Photo: Eveningwear: A rising trend in Vietnam.
Eveningwear: A rising trend in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Fashion Preferences

Commenting on current trends in Vietnam, Huy Tran, one of the country's leading fashion designers, said: "Overall, 2014 ended with silver glasses, slip dresses and pastel colours. In 2015/16 there will be a usurpation of the classic styles – sexy dresses which expose parts of body are not going to be as favoured as the ones that embody luxury and sophistication."

According to another young designer, Chung Thanh Phong, 2015 is going to be an exciting year, with a number of different styles emerging across the Vietnamese market. He said: "I predict that the simple trend of mixing different single-colour layers, paired with suitable accessories, will be the most popular. I also see 3D patterns, printed textures and laser cutting all coming together to make new combinations.

"This year, Vietnamese fashion will tend toward simple, elegant and high-class styles. This will entail hard and serious work for many designers."

Although the Hong Kong fashion scene is still seen as setting the agenda for the Vietnamese market, there are some clear differences. One Vietnamese visitor to Hong Kong Fashion Week, Ms Huong, who works in a dental clinic, said: "I have travelled to Hong Kong a few times. I think the people of Hong Kong and Vietnam have a similar style. I bought a lot of clothes when I was there. It is not all the same, however.

"Hong Kong people, for example, prefer flat shoes, and even pair sneakers with dresses, as they use the MTR and buses as their main transportation. In Vietnam, we mainly use motorbikes, so we have more options for high heels.

"Hong Kong fashion is also always ahead of Vietnamese fashion. I remember, a few years ago, I bought a pair of popular, new-design shoes in Hong Kong, but it was the next season before I saw that design launched in Vietnam."

In other sectors, evening and bridal wear have gained more prominence in the Vietnamese market recently. The popular ‘love heaven' streets in Ho Chi Minh City are full of bridal shops, with companies from Korea and Taiwan, as well as Vietnam, offering various designs for either rent or sale.

Nguyen Kim Linh, Owner of the Xinh Xinh Bridal shop in Ho Chi Minh City, said: "Our modern brides tend to like two-in-one dresses for the reception, which means a wedding gown with a detachable skirt, or an event wear dress. These dresses have the advantage that they can be a wedding dress and then worn for other occasions. They're also easy to clean and store."

Grace Wu is Deputy President of Guang Dong Lu Classic Dress and Personal Adornment, an export-oriented enterprise specialising in the design, manufacture and sale of beaded evening dresses, based in Chaozhou, China. She said: "Long dresses this year are following the no-skin-showing styles. They are still sexy, long, body-hugging designs that show off the beautiful shape of ladies. Voile, lacey fabrics and silk are the major textiles used, together with precious stones and embroidery to paint a picture of a beautiful, feminine, high-class lady."

While the Vietnamese fashion industry is developing, it really only targets women and largely overlooks other potentially lucrative sectors, notably male business wear. Vietnam's economy is growing and developing rapidly and the number of young businessmen, both local and expat, is increasing. The dress requirement for business meetings is for professional, classy formal attire. There are, however, only a few local brands catering to this sector – notably Viettien, Mattana, and PT2000 – all of which have a fairly limited repertoire.

This lack of choice is a common criticism. Henry Stoll, Director of Chao Global Vietnam, an international real estate development, marketing and asset management group, based in Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, said: "I have lived in Vietnam for more than eight years, but I don't often buy clothes there. The hospitality sector requires a very professional appearance, so I go shopping when I travel. I normally buy my clothes, shoes, and even accessories, in Europe, Hong Kong or Thailand."

Libor Secka, F&B Director of The Sheraton Saigon Hotel & Towers, has a similar view. He said: "Vietnamese fashion is still poor when it comes to brands. It is not easy to find a good brand-name product that I like. My work doesn't allow me to travel to shop anywhere else, so I have to wait until my home visits to Europe to buy clothes. Hopefully in the near future more popular fashion brands will come to Vietnam."

An Australian lawyer who has been working in Vietnam for more than two years said: "I am not a brands person. Sometimes I buy stuff at the fashion malls when necessary. However, I think fashion here for guys is boring, and needs internationalisation. I still have to buy good clothes from other countries."

Khoa Luan, Chief Executive of Anh Viet Media TV & Tourism, an event and tourism organisation based in Ho Chi Minh City, said: "In general, the fashion market for men has been growing quite slowly and not much has been invested in designs. In particular, the fashion segment for the office caters more to middle-aged people. Overseas shopping trips are becoming more common, but you need time to plan and take time off work, so it is not so convenient for business people. If we have more famous fashion brands in Vietnam, shopping will be easier, faster, more simple and convenient."

Photo: Viettien: Formal wear, Vietnamese-style.
Viettien: Formal wear, Vietnamese-style.
Photo: Viettien: Formal wear, Vietnamese-style.
Viettien: Formal wear, Vietnamese-style.

The speed of development and economic integration means Vietnamese have more reasons to be concerned with fashion. The rising number of young, and rich, businessmen, combined with a lack of supply but huge demand, may offer a business opportunity in this growing market.

Pham Tuong Vi, Special Correspondent, Ho Chi Minh City

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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