This post is also available in: Vietnamese

Streetwear culture started as a 1970s Californian social movement. It’s since evolved into a global fashion trend worth over US $309 billion. With more than one-third of Vietnam’s population engaged with social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook and a young generation fervent for rising global trends and styles, Vietnam is the next stop for streetwear culture.

Cafe and concept store Modern Hustle at 12 Ton Dan in District 4 are bringing a number of carefully curated streetwear brands together—as well as other locally produced products. So, to better understand Modern Hustle’s philosophy, we checked in with co-founder Nghia Nguyen.

Modern Hustle
Modern Hustle shares its spacious venue with Saigon-based technology education company CoderSchool.

Modern Hustle has been described as both a cafe and a concept store. Tell us more about this arrangement.

Although we have all the typical food and beverage items you would find at any coffee shop, the experience extends well beyond the parameters of a normal cafe. You can order a pint of Mexican Pilsner from local craft brewery Heart of Darkness or check out our collection of products from some of the most innovative streetwear labels in Vietnam.

Modern Hustle also functions as a creative space where artists, professionals, hypebeasts, and fashionistas can interact and appreciate products designed by local creators in Vietnam.

How did you get started?

When my co-founder Tam Nguyen and I got together to work on this project, we realized we wanted to promote this kind of entrepreneurial vision. We wanted to create a space for modern creators like us to meet up, work, discuss ideas, or simply hang out.

We didn’t settle on a name until we met our partner Charles Lee, co-founder of CoderSchool. When we visited his space, which he now shares with Modern Hustle, we were immediately inspired.

Coderschool’s customers were primarily professionals who still had day jobs, but they aspired to be better at coding and devoted their time to learn code at night. We have a lot of respect for them. To us, that was the true definition of a professional. They represent our idea of the “modern hustler”.

Modern Hustle
Charles Lee from CoderSchool and Nghia Nguyen from Modern Hustle.

How do you decide which streetwear brands to feature at Modern Hustle?

Tam and I spend a lot of time talking to the people behind the brands before making decisions on partnerships. We try to understand the concept behind each label. Their products need to have a strong vision behind them or consumers wouldn’t be drawn to our concept store. Choosing which brands we want to feature is a delicate process that we take very seriously. We are representing each other, so there needs be some alignment in the philosophies behind each brand.

Saigon Swagger, for example, focuses on minimal but modern looking, stylish but affordable bags and backpacks while Mot is going after a classy, timeless-looking approach for their shoes. They know exactly what they want and they intend to see their vision through.

Headless is a leader in streetwear in Vietnam and draws a lot of influence from Manga. Their portfolio is loaded with incredible Japanese ninja-inspired designs. But we love all the products and brands that we showcase.

Modern Hustle
Modern Hustle co-founder Nghia Nguyen shares his insights with us.

Why is it important that you showcase the works of local creators?

I’ve always believed in local creativity. Louis Vuitton, Studio Ghibli, or Starbucks were local brands at some point on their own timeline.

A certain number of sectors in Vietnam have been dominated by international brands for a long time. Motorbikes by Honda, electronics by Sony, and even cosmetics by South Korean brands like The Face Shop and Laneige. It really baffles me because the amount of talent in our country is incredible. I’ve always believed that local creators not only have potential but they already have real capabilities to meet global standards.

The attraction to local brands has become stronger in recent years. People are drinking Vietnamese craft beer, shopping online on Tiki, staying connected on Zalo, drinking at third-wave coffee shops across the country, and buying locally-made clothes, shoes, and accessories from Vietnamese designers.

To me, national pride inspires us to join the movement and push forward. That’s the reason why Tam and I founded Modern Hustle—to foster and spread awareness about these local creators and their brands.

Modern Hustle
The craft beer and coffee bar are operated in partnership with the team from our very own Vietcetera Cafe.

How do Vietnamese brands contribute to streetwear culture, and how does Modern Hustle highlight this?

Tired City—one of the brands we feature is the perfect example of how Vietnamese brands are contributing to streetwear culture. They’ve collaborated with underground Vietnamese talents for their collections, bringing a breath of fresh air to our fashion scene.

One artist, Xuan Lam, designed a line of T-shirts and prints for Tired City that featured folk paintings of animals. They depicted dragons, carps, and roosters. This was to remind Vietnamese youth of their cultural heritage even as they embrace the streetwear trend. We have a similar philosophy at Modern Hustle. That is, we want to emphasize how Vietnamese streetwear can incorporate traditional symbols and designs while still being innovative.

A mural by local Vietnamese artist Dan Nguyen captures this belief. The focal point of the mural is the face of a girl who is looking forward as if at the future. The dragon wrapped around the girl’s hair is a notable symbol in Vietnamese folklore representing prosperity and strength, and it sits adjacent to the flag of Vietnam.

In weaving together nostalgia for traditional Vietnamese culture with an eye toward a more modern Vietnam—this mural captures our business’ concept.

Modern Hustle
Local brands like Một are found at Modern Hustle.

How does the future look for local creators?

The rapid development of Vietnam’s infrastructure and the spread of the internet are bringing the country’s creative scene to the forefront.

We see impressive products every day, from advertisements in magazines to the apps we use, to the clothes we wear. Being a Modern Hustle co-founder has allowed me to work directly with, and learn about the visions of the talented people who conceive these things. In doing so, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Vietnam’s creative scene grow.

Although I’m proud of where we are right now, I still have hope that streetwear in Vietnam will diversify in terms of product selection. We must think beyond hoodies and T-shirts. For example, I want to see someone design something with a nod to our nón lá, or conical hat, and put this on the market.

Modern Hustle
Modern Hustle co-founder Nghia Nguyen shares with us about how he started.

When did you have to hustle the hardest?

When I first came to America, my cousin taught me how to buy and sell old electronics for profit. By doing this, I was able to get by on my own in a brand new country. I’d never had a real job at that stage. Looking back, I would call that a hustle.

My most ambitious and memorable “sale” was in 2007. At the time, the Nintendo Wii was the most sought-after game console on the market. My cousin and I managed to get intel from a close friend that our local Target would secretly drop the Wii for US $250 at 6:00 AM on a Saturday morning for the first ten customers.

That day, I woke up at 4:00am. It felt like Christmas morning. After two hours of camping outside the local Target, I was holding the gaming console that so many people wanted. And I was doing so while everyone was still in bed.

I sold it for US $400—almost double the retail price. As a 19-year-old college sophomore, I just turned a little bit of extra information into a US $150 profit. I felt like a king. That experience taught me about the role knowledge can play when gaining the upper hand in the business world.

Who should we speak with next?

You should talk to my good friend Charles Lee of CoderSchool. He teaches programing to professionals in a way that people of all backgrounds can understand. This is incredibly useful in today’s world.

Related Content:
[Article] COCO SIN’s Co-Founder On Running A Fast-Fashion Business
[Article] Headless Founder Quang Minh On Shaping Vietnamese Streetwear

This post is also available in: Vietnamese