With a 6% increase in 2016 sales totaling an estimated US $21.4 billion in the United States alone, the plus-size fashion industry has been gaining international momentum. Despite this global trend, finding plus-size clothing in Ho Chi Minh City and throughout Vietnam can still be a challenge.
Inspired by a heartfelt conversation with a plus-size fan who echoed this frustrated sentiment, film and television actress and plus-size model Nguyen Minh Thao—who has starred in films such as Go-Go Sisters and Five Fairies in the House—decided to start BAXU, her own online brand of plus-size clothing in Ho Chi Minh City, in 2015.
We invited Nguyen to visit the Vietcetera office to learn more about her transition from an actress to a fashion model and designer, and to learn more about the story behind her plus-size fashion brand, a trailblazing movement that has diversified and impacted the fashion industry in Vietnam.
How did you transition from acting to creating your own plus-size fashion line?
I first fell in love with acting when I was a senior in high school. I was approached by a college friend who asked me to play the leading role in her Broadway-style graduation play at the prestigious Academy of Theatre and Cinema (SKDA) in Ho Chi Minh City. That play was a turning point for my life because it inspired me to pursue acting professionally.
However, the transition from an on-stage actress to a film actress tested my resilience and my passion for acting. I was working constantly, and would go three days straight without sleep. As a plus-size film actress, I felt pigeon-holed to certain roles that society gave me. I was always the comic relief, always acting in cute supporting roles similar to my character Young Lan Chi in Go-Go Sisters.
Despite my limited variability in roles, many of my fans still related to me because they were also plus-size and felt a sense of long-needed representation in the entertainment industry. Because of that, I felt an incredibly personal bond and responsibility to my fans.
The idea of BAXU came to me when a young fan asked me for help. She didn’t know where to find plus-size clothing in Ho Chi Minh City and asked me where I bought my clothes. Even though I loved fashion, I couldn’t share anything useful. My success as an actress provided me with the financial ability to have my clothing tailor made. I would also buy brands overseas where plus-size clothing was more accessible. At that moment I felt heartbroken for my fan and realized how privileged I was. I knew something had to change in the fashion industry in Vietnam.
What does the name BAXU mean to you?
The words “ba xu” translates to three coins in English. In Vietnamese culture, we hang a red string holding three ancient Chinese coins on trees during Lunar New Year to symbolize good luck. With BAXU, I hope my customers can find the luck to become confident and happy in their own skin underneath whatever clothes they wear.
“Ba xu” also means three cents. That second meaning represents my mission for the brand. I want to make plus-size clothing in Ho Chi Minh City more affordable and thus more accessible. In Vietnam, plus-size clothing is very difficult to find. The largest size is usually capped at a US size 12 and that can usually only be found at international retail brands such as Zara and H&M. These clothes are too expensive for the average Vietnamese consumer, especially for younger consumers who are still in school and do not have jobs.
In my opinion, fashion shouldn’t discriminate. Everyone should be able to express themselves through their clothes and I hope that more plus-size Vietnamese women are able to do so. Not only through BAXU, but hopefully through more Vietnamese plus-size brands in the future.
Walk us through BAXU’s design and manufacturing process.
Every product starts out as a sketch on paper—an idea. Since the beginning of BAXU, my design team led by my main designer Huong has always primarily consisted of fashion design students who are still in school because I want to help create job opportunities for these students. Once I review and approve the designs, we move on to manufacturing.
When I first started, I used plus-size clothing measurements from the United States or Australia as examples. However, because of the physical differences in size between Westerners and Asians, I adjusted the lengths after the more petite stature in Vietnam. I constantly had to learn and adapt.
Aside from sizing, there are still other factors that have to be kept in mind during manufacturing such as the quality of the fabrics. The fabrics that we use cost more than twice as much as the fabrics used by other clothing brands because of elasticity. Popular and cheap synthetic fabrics such as plain polyester are stiff and unforgiving. On the other hand, our fabrics contain spandex and allow for more flexibility. That’s the most important part of plus-size clothing.
What is a challenge that you’ve had to overcome since starting BAXU?
Despite inclusiveness being my main reason of starting BAXU, it has also been the most challenging aspect of having a plus-size clothing brand. All women have different body shapes so it is hard to design products that fit everyone.
But that’s pushed me to create more designs in various styles and sizes from US sizes 14 to 20. No matter the body shape, I know that BAXU will have something for every customer.
What is a misconception of plus-size fashion that you want to rectify?
I’ve always disliked the idea that as a plus-size woman you should wear all black or all dark colors to hide our bodies and create the illusion of a slimmer form. I believe that plus-size women can not only be fashionable but also fearless in whatever they decide to wear.
For example, I wear bright colors like white and yellow that are notoriously avoided by plus-size women because it can create a falsely exaggerated shape. But in order to add more structure to the outfit, I add a black belt. Little details like this can elevate an outfit while also checking off a specific criteria held by some plus-size women.
Do you have any advice for other women and young girls out there who might be struggling with their body image?
As said by Ashley Graham—an American plus-size model and one of my biggest inspirations—there is not one standard definition of beauty or one perfect size. What matters most beyond whether a shirt is too tight or too loose is your health. As long as you are happy and healthy, you are beautiful.
How is the future of plus-size fashion looking like in Vietnam? What is the future for BAXU?
There are still some negative connotations regarding the plus-size fashion movement in Vietnam, but I am hopeful. Even though plus-size women are a relatively small consumer group in Vietnam, they should not be forgotten or ignored. Perhaps it’s a bit idealistic, but one day I want to see a Vietnamese plus-size fashion show.
As for BAXU, I definitely want to continue expanding plus-size clothing in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. I have plans to transform BAXU from an online shop to physical shops in both of those cities soon.