The artisan communities of Vietnam and the UK share a common ground on sustainable fashion and traditional crafting. To help pave the way for a cultural exchange, the British Council in Vietnam played the role of connecting and building partnerships through the Crafting Without Borders project. This project will give both communities the opportunity to exchange knowledge on crafting and contemporary design concepts to expand the creative scope of artisans from both nations.
Kilomet109, a pioneer in show fashion in Vietnam, and London-based Vietnamese designer Lola Lely’s Wax Atelier and Lola Lely Studio are now collaborating to create Vietnam’s and the UK’s first ever cross-cultural art exchange.
Vietcetera spoke with Kilomet109 founder Vu Thao and Wax Atelier’s Lola Lely to know more about their creative endeavors and how they're building a more open world for sustainable crafting.
With the desire to create a pure Vietnamese contemporary fashion brand, Vu Thao founded Kilomet109. The name Kilomet109 is also a reference to the diverse cultural journeys stretching across Vietnam and the world.
How the story began
I met Lola in London in 2018, when I was having a material installation exhibition as part of the London Design Biennale. The meeting was short, but after that, we texted and emailed each other back and forth.
When I received the information about a series of creative projects by the British Council that launched a few months ago, the idea of wanting to do something together with Lola came back to me. I quickly drafted an email to Lola to see if she was interested in any of these projects.
Listening to Lola excitedly share about her work and Wax Atelier products that she and her colleagues have just launched, including scented candles, soaps, and wax bags, an idea suddenly came to me: How about we connect our Green H’mong artisan community and the artisans at Lola’s design studio, as we both are taking a pretty similar approach to creating?
After an extensive discussion, Lola and I came to the decision to apply to join the series with our project named as “Crafting Without Borders”. That’s how it’s all started!
A few difficulties along the way
Crafting is inherently a work closely related to touch; we must hold, touch, and feel the materials to be able to do it. It always requires face-to-face interaction, practice and direct supervision at the production site.
But I believe it is still possible to maintain those effects through the online world. Through Crafting Without Borders, we will hold online exchange classes that will take place right in the local space of the two communities.
Both the Vietnamese and UK communities can still witness the full process, movements, specific materials and artists. Here, they’ll discover the two communities of artisans’ many similarities in terms of methods and the natural materials.
Lola and I will also support each artist from the two artisan communities in several steps, from connecting and communicating ideas, to presenting and developing those ideas, and perfecting their designs.
The main beneficiaries of this project are the Green H’mong ethnic group and the Wax Atelier artisans. One community comes from a remote area with many limitations in education and economics in Vietnam, with little formal education and almost no access to wide-ranging multicultural arts programs.
On the other hand, the other community includes artisans working in the metropolis who want to find creative inspiration from other cultures and new crafting skills to apply to their work.
The project is designed to use locally sustainable materials — vegetable dyes, beeswax and homegrown materials like hemp fabric.
This means that the project will respect the traditional cultural materials and practices of the local people. We exchange knowledge and manufacturing skills to support each other, at the same time apply contemporary design concepts to expand the creative scope of both communities.
Lola Lely Studio & Wax Atelier
Wax Atelier started as a collaborative project between Lola Lely and her friend, artist Yesenia Thibault-Picazo. They share a common interest and curiosity on wax, and decided to work together on this material. The first thing they learned was to make candles from beeswax, using the traditional dipping technique.
In 2019, Lola Lely Studio and Wax Atelier were invited by a charity to teach a course at Barking in London. There, they met a group of local residents and trained them in candle making and wax weaving, applying traditional and modern techniques.
How the story began
Lola Lely: I have known Vu Thao before, follow and admire what she does for the H’mong community. So when I received an invitation from her, I did not hesitate at all.
A few difficulties along the way
Lola Lely: My work is difficult to reproduce and it’s not scalable. This means that our products are not always accessible to many people.
Lola Lely: Online seminars, training sessions and hands-on exchanges will be coordinated by Vu Thao in Vietnam and I in the UK. There will be a maximum of 25-30 participants and will focus mainly on material making, natural dyeing, batik painting with beeswax, craft paper and making scented candles.
These online hands-on exchange classes will provide an opportunity for artisans of both communities to learn and experiment with new design methods and techniques while being encouraged to utilize locally available materials.
The classes will also provide unique access to transformative ideas and creative methods, allowing participants to develop new skills and expand the creative scope of their design practice.
At the end of the project, participants will develop experimental new product prototypes, to demonstrate what they have learned and new creative directions they can apply to their crafting practice in the future.
The Crafting Without Borders project will lay the foundation for future cooperation between the two artisan and, more broadly, the creative communities in both countries, including Kilomet109 and Lola Lely Studio. Participants will have a chance to develop together through both direct and indirect project activities, including design product co-exhibitions and collaboration opportunities in developing product design in the future.
Translated by Thao Van