District Eight Vietnam: From Factory Worker To Artisan
The production of fine handcrafted goods requires a symbiotic relationship between artisan and product. In contrast to mass-produced items, the result bears the intimate care and attention of its maker. For District Eight, a Vietnam-based producer of high-end furniture and games sought by international collectors and far-flung hoteliers in search of statement pieces, this relationship is at the core of their success.
From research to development, District Eight’s process fosters a strong sense of individual responsibility. This repositions craftsmen as partners in the realization of designs that adhere to their trademark standards. So, to get a deeper appreciation for District Eight’s product lines and production process, Vietcetera traveled out to their headquarters in Binh Tan to speak with their skilled craftsmen about how each of the pieces they make is a representation of their personal and collective creativity.
The Carpenter: Nguyen Hoai Minh
The fact that we often use glass, iron, steel, wood, and cement in a single item means the manufacturing process requires a large team with a diverse range of skills. For example, one of our Kahn line’s tables calls for a lot of technical skill on behalf of the craftsman in order to form the precise steel support mold needed. This piece is called a “steel web”, and there’s a lot of expertise involved just to get its measurements to be exactly right. And this is just one part of the table—the cement base also goes through a lengthy production process.
When all of these components have been properly constructed following our specifications, we have ourselves a stunning final product—one that could not be mass produced. And to me, this is District Eight’s signature. It’s an approach that is difficult to replicate.
Our Kink chairs are another piece worth mentioning. These items are produced using a glue-and-sandblast technique. This process has more than six steps and each person on the team, from the designers to quality control, are responsible for maintaining the standards within their distinct stage of the process.
The team welcomes the chance to produce these kinds of products with open arms. Collaboration is exciting. We know that if we are satisfied with the final product, the customer will be too.
The Iron Man: Tran Quoc Viet
The unusual thing about working for District Eight is that it’s a comparatively calm environment for an iron and steel craftsman. For me, the beauty of the pieces that you can see in our showroom is that embedded in their visual appeal is this sense of tranquility. Also, we’re not alone on a machine all day like your typical factory worker, and these kinds of tightly-knit relationships result in a higher quality product. I see them as more than just furniture—they are works of art. That inspires me.
When I first started working here, I would jump right into the workflow without any thought about the creative design process. But now, I am eager to see if there is a way that I can make our pieces more innovative. It’s a mutually beneficial experience to work hand-in-hand with the technicians—making our own original modifications to the product at hand. To us, we feel more like artists than factory workers, and this experience is very rare in this industry. So, when the process goes well we might end up with a new signature piece. This is how the backrest of the Akron chairs came about. I’m proud of these details. I put my heart and soul into them, and it gives me a genuine sense of accomplishment.
The Cement Man: Tran Van Hai
I had no prior experience working with concrete before I came to District Eight. I first began working with it when we were designing the Kahn dining benches. During this project, the management team encouraged me to implement my skills with this material, as they thought I might be a good fit. The Kahn collection demanded a highly intensive design process as we had to find the perfect formula that would allow for malleability, whilst providing enough structural support. It took three months just to produce the first sample. We tried countless different molds and numerous kinds of sand grains. It was a process of evolution rather than elimination, and finally one day, after taking a step back and reflecting, we found the solution. At that moment, I knew we had come up with the perfect product we had been challenged to create.
What I like about the cement process is that when the customer sees the final result the beauty of the piece and the sum of its individual parts are both evident. What I see is the all the elements we balanced to make the mold—the color, the weight, the strength and the texture. I understand all the effort that went into making the final product. To me, it’s beautiful as an amalgamation of all those elements, but it’s also beautiful because it’s the result of artistic collaboration.
The Handyman: Pham Thanh Hung
I have worked at District Eight since they first began operating seven years ago. Currently, I’m in charge of maintaining all machinery, equipment, and lighting—making sure everything is running efficiently and is up to standard. If there is a problem on the production lines, it’s my responsibility to hop in there and work closely with the technicians to get it sorted out.
Quality control is another crucial role that I have in the company. When I see a new piece being put into production, during those early stages I really need to watch carefully to ensure the details are completed perfectly. For District Eight, every minuscule detail must be analyzed with the human eye, rather than by a robot or machine, in order to ensure each piece maintains the proper aesthetic. This approach is really important to us. All our designs must hold the customer’s interest with a balance of practicality, beauty and originality. I will personally check things like the surface textures—should we polish the cement, should this edge be sanded or should we gild the layers of the steel frame?
Added to that, in any ideation phase, I will always brainstorm with our craftsmen and craftswomen to ensure we are on track to produce both the highest-quality and the most attractive items possible. We must be collectively creative, and this is another one of our main differences compared to standard mass production methods.
The multi-functionality of our products is another aspect of our design process that we take great pride in. Take a look at our stacking benches. They are a sensible yet highly versatile product that can be utilized in many ways throughout the home. However, this is not enough for us. With a collaborative artisan production process such as ours, each member is expected to adapt their own ideas to the project in order to maximize its functionality and market appeal.
Which District Eight product would you most recommend people to check out?
Our games pieces. They are absolutely gorgeous and one of our best selling items.