Vietnamese designer rules fashion world

Ten years ago, fashion designer Ngo Thai Uyen burst on the trend-making scene by winning an award at the fashion connections contest in Singapore.

Now a household name for fashion-conscious women, the former graphic designer is o­n top of the fashion world thanks to her keen ability to mix and match bold colors.


Uyen credits her success as a businesswoman and designer to following her dreams.


Fighting tradition

Getting a job in fashion wasn’t an option for Uyen growing up.


“My grandparents, as well as my father, brother and my two ants, are all artists. Thus I was expected to become an artist too,” Uyen said.


Her family told Uyen there was no future in designing clothing. In fact, Uyen said her family and friends didn’t see the difference between a seamstress and the person who designed the garment.


Uyen decided to embrace her creativity and study graphic design at the College of Fine Arts in HCM city. In her second year, Uyen’s parents moved from Vietnam to the United States.


Uyen saw this as her opportunity to find her own path and stayed in HCM city.


Looking for inspiration, Uyen entered a collection of garments for the Fashion Connections o­nly o­ne year later.


Uyen remembers the moment she realized designing clothing was more than just hobby.


“It came upon me suddenly. I like to go out and discover new things. Also, I like to be left alone sometimes to engage in my creative process,” she said.


“Fashion design brings me opportunities to go to many places and engage in different art forms to find inspiration for my work. It is those moments that help me to experience the best life has to offer.”


Following a dream

But Uyen quickly learned having a goal and achieving it weren’t the same thing.


Wanting to continue creating original pieces, Uyen founded the Ngo Thai Uyen (NTU) Design Joint Stock Company in 2004.


Though no o­ne disputed Uyen’s talent as a designer, she was unable to launch an original collection immediately. Instead, her company designed scarves for US fashion house J.Jill.


The thick scarves with their unique colors and patterns sold for US$108, with the label “Designed and made in Vietnam” proudly sewn o­n each piece.


After o­nly o­ne year, Uyen was forced to end her contract with J.Jill because Vietnamese silk producers were unable to reproduce her designs.


“It was difficult to make the scarves match my sample designs because silk woven in Viet Nam often varies in color from piece to piece. Most of the big producers refused to cooperate when they saw the patterns I wanted,” she said.


Uyen learned a lot of important lessons from this first foray into the professional world of fashion design.


“In order to run a fashion business effectively, it’s necessary to have professional designers, producers and support personnel. That’s why to succeed long-term, we need to train our people, and that takes time,” said Uyen.


Uyen was determined to make up for lost ground and immediately began designing her own line and garments for consumers she knew inside and out: Vietnamese trendsetters.


Uyen used her industry contacts as the lead designer for the ViKo Glowin Co and as an instructor at the Fine Arts Association to get investors to fund her label Natural Ngo Thai Uyen.


Fashion icon

Soon enough, Uyen saw her hard work pay off.


Last year, NTU Design Joint Stock Company recorded a profit for the first time. Critics in the fashion world said her success can be attributed to the popularity of her living with Nature collection.


Uyen, the company’s art and managing director, has bigger plans for 2007. The next two collections Uyen plan to debut are called Green Life and Urban Life. The first is set to be released in April, followed by the second in August. She said these collections were designed to give businesswomen a fresh look.


“I know I am now o­n the right track, although my company didn’t earn profits right away. My purpose is to create fashion products for Vietnamese people. But in the long run, I also want to complete a product from A to Z to provide it to the international markets,” said Uyen.


To stay competitive, Uyen said she used to spend 70 per cent of her week at the office.

But she has learned not spend so much time away from home, now that Uyen has a son waiting for her there.


Also, she keeps close ties with the artistic community and engages in different artistic activities in HCM City, despite the fact she had o­nly 30 per cent of her time spent designing for family and her own life.


“Now, I am busy preparing for an exhibition in Ha Noi organized by the HCM City Fine Arts Association with 19 other artists in April,” Uyen confided.


“Only when I have a set purpose, I can find time to draw again” she said.

Seemingly, joining other artistic activities is also a way to help Uyen find her new inspiration for the next collections.


Whether you see her newest collection, or maybe o­ne of the many ads she stars in, you will definitely see this fashionista make her brightly colored mark, time and time again.

By Cam Giang
Women of Vietnam Review No1/2007