After graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York City, Tom Trandt returned to Vietnam to establish his first Vietnamese fashion label. He is the founder of Moi Dien, an emerging fashion brand based in Ho Chi Minh City. Moi Dien will be one of 16 finalists in the International Fashion Showcase 2019 in London.
Moi Dien, literally meaning “mad lips”, is another way of saying “outspoken” in Vietnamese. And so the brand’s name reflects its customers—they aren’t afraid to wear subversive clothing or take fashion risks. Since its debut collection in October 2016, the brand has cultivated a unique aesthetic. Trandt’s Vietnamese fashion label signature features include intricate textiles, genderless silhouettes, and an off-color palette.
This fashion label caught our attention too, so Vietcetera paid a visit to the studio to speak with Trandt about his work before his departure for the 2019 International Fashion Showcase during London Fashion Week next February.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the fashion industry?
Most people associate fashion with fame and glamor—as a sort of extension of the entertainment industry. This view isn’t just common among Vietnamese people, but is present all over the world.
In reality, the fashion industry I see is a tight-knit community built of young talents dedicated to developing great products with time and effort. The nature of our work at Moi Dien is similar to industries like interior or product design.
After two years, Moi Dien has built up a reputation for encouraging customers to be more daring with their outfits. Was this your intention from the outset?
When starting a business—in any industry—it’s always smart to identify a gap in the market you can fill, a gap with demand but no supply. This is different from diving into a popular business you know will make easy money.
In Vietnam, I saw people wanted to dress uniquely. But there were few Vietnamese fashion labels that satisfied this desire. Moi Dien is a solution, and we help customers dress more boldly. As long as the need is there we will continue doing what we do.
Moi Dien designs are eye-catching. But are they really wearable?
They’re both. It really depends on the person’s preference of style. Of course our designs are eye-catching. That was our goal from the beginning. But wearability is another challenge that is fun to address.
Some customers are unphased by even our most daring designs. Others find our style too pronounced and prefer more toned-down fashion. But we don’t try as hard to please the latter customers—what we hope to do is provide edgy dressers with unique, expressive pieces.
Other than sheer edginess, what kinds of meanings can fashion have?
Our dress is a reflection of our identity. Someone can often tell where you’re from or what you represent based on the outfit you’re wearing. For example, a low-cut neckline can suggest youth and feminism; a locally produced jacket can show your support for domestic market; or a dress made from clearly natural fabric can demonstrate your environmentalism.
As fashion is something we wear everyday, it holds more power than commonly assumed. It helps us to express ourselves and our beliefs to the world.
Sustainability is a message that you and your team have been keen to promote at Moi Dien. How do you translate this into the brand’s everyday practices?
We use leftover fabrics to create new products and accessories. We’re also gradually switching from paper to canvas packaging for online order deliveries, so that the customers can reuse our bags rather than discarding them.
In March, we launched a new line of tote bags called Ba Gang. Using all-natural fabrics, this is our alternative to leather bags, which traditionally require toxic processing that’s bad for the environment.
These kinds of practices not only help us to become more sustainable but also strengthen our brand identity.
When you create a new collection, how do you balance the creation of something revolutionary while staying loyal to Moi Dien’s signature style?
The first collection was a gamble because the design was just meant to test the market. We weren’t trying to establish the brand’s DNA right away. For collections that followed, we refer to products and designs that have elicited good responses from customers—that is, the products that are selling well on our Facebook and Instagram channels—and then develop them further.
As a brand operating primarily on Facebook and Instagram, what are some of the pros and cons of using e-commerce instead of having a physical store?
People usually assume social media is a more cost-cutting platform than operating from a physical store. In reality, the expense of running ads on Facebook and Instagram is as costly as opening a physical store in the downtown area. Though social media is still relatively new in Vietnam, it has sparked the irreversible trend of online shopping. As a Vietnamese fashion label, this is something we benefit a lot from.
Having said that, the digital spaces of Instagram and Facebook are very limited in terms of how we can display an entire collection. We can’t allow our customers to experience products first-hand. In the near future, we want to open a physical store in addition to our online shops.
How did you come to be one of the 16 finalists at the International Fashion Showcase?
The biggest challenge was to convince the committee of why a Vietnamese fashion label like Moi Dien was special.
We had to answer questions like, “What kind of voice does the brand have in the local market? Are we making any positive impact to the local business environment?”, and “Can we establish ourselves in the international market?”
We answered, and now we’re on our way to London. Our team knows International Fashion Showcase is a great opportunity to represent both Vietnam and Moi Dien’s unique style to the world.
What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a career in fashion in Vietnam?
Don’t let the expectations of others dictate your vision. For those currently pursuing a degree in fashion, your graduate collection is like a fantasy, conjured up to demonstrate the highest level of your creativity.
In real life, building up a successful brand doesn’t necessarily mean satisfying your ego. A brand’s mission should be to serve its customers, whom you always have to bear in mind when designing a collection.
My advice would be to remember the business side of the fashion industry, rather than being side-tracked by a desire to live up to the prestige of your arts degree.
Lastly, what can we expect from Moi Dien in the near future?
Apart from our first high-end collection, which we’re developing for International Fashion Showcase, we’re going to release a capsule collection in collaboration with Sadéc District by the end of this month. There, we will combine our talents as a Vietnamese fashion label with their famed kitchen accessory designs.