In our search for more Vietnamese brands that are helping to define the new Vietnam, we found the story of the two cofounders of Ladan. As one of the first brands to set the pace for the lifestyle fashion segment in Vietnam, Ladan has become a wardrobe staple for many professional urbanites and millennials.
Thanks to an introduction by one of the icons of Vietnamese women in the new Vietnam, Ha Truc, we had the chance to meet with Anna Phan and Thao Dao to learn more about their experience building the Ladan brand, their experience abroad compared to home in Vietnam, and what it means to be a Vietnamese woman in this era of the new Vietnam.
What started the inspiration for Ladan?
After both returning to Vietnam after studying in America, we both asked each other what should we do? We were interested in local Vietnamese crafts. At the same time, we both saw the problem that Vietnam has good traditional craftsmanship, but with few brands not being able to share their stories like Japanese or Korean brands are able to. Vietnam has a wide range of resources and materials, but it usually stops at the raw material point. We’d like to take it a step further to the product level with quality design, good packaging, and a story to tell too.
Why not start a business in America? What compelled you two to come back home and start something here?
Vietnam is a hidden gem. This country is rich in quality resources and materials that are underutilized. We hope that our education and training abroad can help our brand elevate the perspective of Vietnamese products to international standards. From a personal growth perspective, we’re also exploring, learning, and gaining a better understanding of our cultural roots. Not only is Vietnam rich in resources, it’s a country rich of amazing tradition and heritage. We always discover something new and fun while scouting for inspirations, techniques, people, places, foods that help us define where Ladan will go. In a way we feel like we understand ourselves better by coming home and building Ladan in Vietnam. There’s a great story behind Vietnamese craftsmanship and we hope to be one of the defining brands of that story.
Now is an amazing time to build in Vietnam. Vietnamese customers are easier than ever to reach thanks to tools like social media, content distribution, and more sophisticated tastes. Vietnamese are decisive decision makers, compared to other shoppers that we see like the Japanese that are very particular since they have a strong basis for comparison given their experience with high-quality products from their own home country.
How does Ladan adapt to the fast-paced and changing tastes of Vietnamese consumers?
We try to not pay attention to what’s trendy. Instead, we focus on quality, timeless, and innovative designs that create classic and comfortable products. Our brand is influenced by Vietnam’s histories and cultures. We believe these two elements are more sustainable for the brand and help set us apart from the crowd. And so far, it’s worked for us and for our customers who keep coming back.
Both of you lived in America for some time. How did those experiences shape the Ladan business?
American customer service is unrivaled. Customer-first policies like tips and generous return policies means that the staff and brand need to be on top of their games to keep customers happy. Most staff in America are also able to speak with broad knowledge about the products and services they’re selling. In Vietnam, those customer-centric qualities are not quite there yet, but it’s improving.
Tell us in a few sentences what Ladan does for both of you, your customers, and Vietnam.
We want our customers to feel inspired, comfy, and confident. Be yourself and elegant. Be proud in wearing uniquely Vietnamese products. And most importantly feel like they’re making their own contribution to what it means to be a Vietnamese woman in the new Vietnam.
What about Vietnam makes Ladan proud to say that its team does business here?
We have everything from natural wonders to the best cuisines. Vietnam inspires us everyday and we want others to see what we see.
What does the ‘new Vietnam’ mean to you two and Ladan?
The new Vietnam means empowering women. In areas like the Mekong Delta region, most women are automatically given roles in the family as housewives. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to go beyond that. We want to create ways to support them and give them jobs of their own. We support women working and creating opportunity for themselves. Even in the city and with the careers we pursue, we still get questions about why we’re not married yet despite being only in our mid 20s. We can only imagine the expectations in the countryside. We’d also like to create a greater sense of the woman community through Ladan. There’s a lingering stereotype that Vietnamese women don’t protect each other. We’d like to help create a support system among the younger generation of women.
What are some nice-to-knows about the women of Ladan?
Thao: I often scout for clean foods around Vietnam, from our friend’s gardens, from Dalat to even up-north in Sapa. I obsess with good food.
We both rarely eat meat. Mostly chicken, fish, and vegetables. We have always been into food. We’d be keen to look at doing a new project. Something like a Vietnamese food truck?
Ladan has been operating for two years now and we’re constantly introducing new products. We started off with just bags, but branched off to do clothes after our clients asked for outfits to match with their Ladan bags.
We’re both always dreaming and thinking of the future. We’d love to open our own craftsmanship showroom that can create more jobs for women who make handmade products
Anna: We have different areas of expertise.Thao focuses on design and production. focus more on the sales, management, and marketing side. We work together and always give feedback to make a better product and brand.
We’ve been involved with a group of friends since 2013 in sponsoring scholarships for university students in Vietnam. The group is called Hoc Bong BFF (Big Friend Foundation). It started at supporting 15 students first. Now it’s 53. We help find mentors for them and offer training programs to support their soft skills like communication skills, negotiation, teamwork, and time management.
Who should we speak with next?
Chuong Dang, an entrepreneur with a love for Vietnamese culture in what he does. From food to fashion, everything he touches, it becomes elegant, warm and loving. We’re also big fans of architectural company a21studio. The team behind that company is quite popular for using existing local materials. Their theory in architecture design is amazing. It’s not just architecture to them, it’s how people use and feel it and with being whom in that environment that they design. They were also responsible for designing the GEM Center in Ho Chi Minh City. Finally, Tuan Cam. A very business-minded person with great vision over the food and beverage industry of Vietnam with stores like Den Da Coffee and Dessert on Ham Nghi and Hai Ba Trung.