Six years ago, Yen Vu met with her friend Mai Huong Tran over lunch to discuss the idea of starting a project together. Established designer Nguyen Cong Tri had just launched his Kin Concept urban ready-to-wear line, and dieuANH was featuring at Bangkok’s ASEAN + 3 Fashion Week. Young Vietnamese fashion designers were showing internationally and Vietnamese models were featuring on New York catwalks.
The following year two more local fast-fashion brands with strong social media followings would launch—Blue T-Shirt and Nosbyn. With all this happening in Vietnamese fashion, the industry was appealing to Yen Vu and Mai Huong Tran…and a clothing shop named COCO SIN was born without a support network and with little financial backing.
Today, although Mai Huong Tran is no longer part of the brand, COCO SIN operates in four different cities in Vietnam. What began as a simple concept has become seven stores.
Their recent collections featured two Vietnamese celebrities—model Angela Phuong Trinh and Miss Universe Vietnam 2015, Pham Huong. COCO SIN are also preparing a fashion show in Paris this September in collaboration with Jessica Minh Anh. Now seemed the right time for Vietcetera to sit down with Yen Vu to understand the evolution of the brand.
What were you doing before COCO SIN, and what made you start the brand?
Six years ago, I was doing digital marketing for an e-commerce website. Although the job ran smoothly and I was offered an executive position, I wanted something different. So I started COCO SIN with our other co-founder, Mai Huong Tran. I did not have any support from my family—they preferred that I keep my stable job. I also had limited money to invest…but I was determined to take the risk.
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What was the first business model you employed at COCO SIN? How did you stand out from other brands at that time?
When we started out, everyone was importing clothes from neighboring countries to resell. So that’s what we did, too. But we knew how to present our products. For each collection, we would come up with a concept and invest in a photoshoot. Most shops at the time shared unedited pictures of their clothes, or the owners of the brands took selfies wearing their products. We were really lucky that our customers adored our lookbooks, so our clothes sold out quickly. Every time we released a new lookbook, my friend and I hosted customers at my house from 9.00am until midnight. After eight months we had enough money to open our first physical store on Vo Van Tan street.
What has been the most meaningful moment in your COCO SIN journey?
It was definitely when we had to decide whether COCO SIN should continue to import clothes from Thailand, or produce our own clothes locally. The former was the safest option—because that’s what we had been doing, and it was working. But we were starting to compete with stores that were importing the same clothes from Thailand. Designing our own clothes would give us a leg up on our competitors. Even knowing this, however, I lacked a background in fashion and had no idea where to begin. It was a long learning process. Ultimately, I’m glad that we took this risk as it gave COCO SIN an edge in the long run.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when COCO SIN began designing its own clothes?
I don’t have a fashion background, so I had to learn how to design myself. I began by going to local markets to learn about fabrics. Because I didn’t buy in bulk, I felt unwelcome there. But I continued testing different fabrics learning more about each material, and I eventually found a warehouse close to my home where I could design my first sample outfits. It was difficult, but I gradually accumulated enough experience to stop importing clothing from Thailand altogether. The transition took about a year. At last, COCO SIN could establish its identity as a truly local brand.
Why are collaborations important for COCO SIN?
Each collaboration is a way for us to communicate our message and brand value to our customers. The It Girl collection, created in collaboration with actress and model Angela Phuong Trinh, inspires a lifestyle of confidence. Similarly, our Girl Boss collection, created alongside Miss Universe Vietnam 2015, Pham Huong, emphasizes independence and modernity. The ideal COCO SIN girl is trendy, strong, and sophisticated. That’s what we want our customers to feel while wearing COCO SIN—and that helps us choose who to work with.
What’s your favorite thing about COCO SIN?
Our team’s unity. We have been together for years. Some of COCO SIN’s staff started out working small jobs, but they are now managers and heads of COCO SIN. We’re like a family—everyone is ready to contribute and persevere.
What advice would you give someone interested in running a fashion startup?
I would tell them that there will be difficulties ahead. When we first started COCO SIN, we didn’t know where we wanted to go with the brand. There’s even more competition now. You must know what you want and what makes you special in order to survive.
What is the meaning behind the name “COCO SIN”?
Back then, my friend and I just wanted an easy name to read, write, and remember. There’s no special meaning behind COCO SIN. I am a strong believer that the name does not make the brand. Success is built on the quality of the products—that’s why I work behind the scenes with our production team daily.
Tell us about the most challenging part of running COCO SIN.
Managing the workforce is pretty hard, especially ensuring that everyone is on the same page. It also gets tough when I feel I’m running out of ideas. Since COCO SIN is a fast-fashion business, the pressure to come out with new products is always there.
When we fail to come up with fresh ideas, that’s reflected in our sales and by the levels of satisfaction our customers report. So, every now and then I travel for inspiration. This is one way in which I try to combat stagnation in our brand’s styles.
What do you do to balance your life when you are not busy working on COCO SIN?
Compared to other people in the fashion world, I’m probably the most boring. I like to work in the back office every day before hitting the gym. The thing is, I enjoy what I do so I never feel like it’s work.
Even during my free time, I work on my laptop. I also run four successful Airbnb places in Saigon with four different interior concepts. I put myself in the customers’ shoes to imagine what they would need during their stay so that I can tailor my apartments to meet their expectations.
What’s next for COCO SIN?
Most excitingly, this September we’ll be partnering with a world-famous celebrity for a fashion show in Paris—Jessica Minh Anh. This is an opportunity for us to branch out internationally. The concept is “Girls Run The World,” which actually compliments the image of our partner, Jessica Minh Anh. She is known for having held fashion shows at popular landmarks including Tower Bridge in London, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, and One World Trade Center in the United States.
But we are also working on a mobile app to improve our customers’ shopping experience on their smartphones. And soon we will also start implementing a loyalty program where our customers can redeem points in exchange for our collaborators’ products.
And I am also in the process of starting a clothing brand for men…