One of our editorial team’s favorite books is The Great Gatsby. It’s well known for illustrating the lifestyle of The Roaring Twenties. A time when the world was defined by one lifestyle: enjoying life to its fullest. Social, cultural, and artistic dynamism was at the forefront of life and thinking. When we were introduced by Helly Tong to Vo Thi Li Lam and Lam Boutique, we knew we had found a modern-day example of the Roaring Twenties lifestyle.
Seven years ago, Li Lam started Lam Boutique to solve her personal need to find her own passion. After a career in PR agency work, Li Lam wanted to do something different. While Li Lam is a local, her ambition to elevate Vietnam’s cultural brand goes beyond just the local market. It’s for an international audience. With that in mind, we were excited to sit down and chat with Li Lam to learn about her vision for the new Vietnam in the context of fashion.
What motivated you to start Lam Boutique?
I wanted to do something that reflects who I am. It all began as a passion project. I learned the fundamentals of starting a fashion brand by myself. At the end of the day, I enjoy what I do. And I’m surrounded by people that love what we’re trying to accomplish.
Lam is all about feeling comfortable. Simple and elegant. It’s meant to be an everyday and anywhere lifestyle brand. We focus on the movement of the material and how it influences a woman’s body and her mindset.
What are some features of Vietnamese women’s fashion that makes it distinctive from other Asian countries?
In the end, it’s the individual who owns and creates the identity for fashion. From the heart, Lam Boutique stands out among other Vietnamese brands because we have a spectacular staff that knows the story of Lam. We’re able to confidently speak about our knowledge and expertise of fashion. Also, our team can represent the level of service that we need in order to build an iconic brand.
For us, there’s a particular emphasis on service. When we interact with clients, we need to stand out. Most Vietnamese business owners think less about the customers, mostly revenue or benefit comes first. It’s narrow-minded, lacks vision, and is short-sighted. Our team holds a high standard for service. It’s not only for the brand. It’s also for ourselves. We think about the vision and the long-term goals.
Our staff understands that because we hold ourselves to a high level of service, we will naturally attract more demanding customers. As Vietnamese business owners, we need to get used to it. It’s important that we instill an identity and culture that holds itself to a high standard.
Why are you so focused on the identity of the brand?
Because it is just like the backbone of your body. You cannot go any further without your identity. What would matter if you cannot stand out from the crowd? Identity defines the character and shapes the vision of the brand.
It’s so crucial for me to choose who or how I would want to represent the Lam brand identity. Journalists ask us all the time: who are some celebrities that have recently worn Lam? According to them, it’s easier to write an article about Lam if the recent, hottest celebrity wears one of our styles. Yes, it’s great if a celebrity wears my designs. But I don’t want celebrities to shape the identity of Lam.
I’d like to create the brand’s own identity. Reflecting each and every woman who wear Lam, not just celebrities. That’s something personal and spiritual. That’s why all customers are equally important.
In your own words, what defines the modern Vietnamese style?
Vietnamese women, especially young women are still figuring out their own styles. They are open to new things and are open to forward-thinking. That’s why I’ve given myself the responsibility as a fashion designer to inspire the style. I don’t want to just sell clothes. I want young people to think, work, and have vision.
To help create the future, their own future. In reality, we live in an emerging country. It’s easy to get distracted by the skyscrapers and the nice hotels that are only found in the city centers. In other fashion hubs of the world, especially in developed countries, they have already experienced so much fashion. I’m talking about centuries of forward fashion thinking and experimentation. Vietnam has barely scratched the surface.
Can Vietnam produce a mass market fashion brand like ZARA or Uniqlo?
Lam Boutique is going for the boutique market, so it’s hard to say from my own experience. Generally, my thought on that question is that if they know what they’re doing, Vietnam can be home to a mass market fashion brand. It’s a matter of time. How long will it take to see a team step up to that challenge?
Who are your customers? Do you see a lot of foreign visitors or expats living in Vietnam come through your stores?
About 70% of our customers are Vietnamese. The remaining 30% are from places like Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. We also see many European customers pass through our doors too. Many will visit the boutique on their holiday. We have customers buy one or two items to bring back to their home countries. I’m also happy to see more and more young Vietnamese embrace the Lam style.
Next year, we’re driving a stronger overseas effort. We’ll start with stocking a few items at Amanoi Resorts. In the near future, you’ll also find our collection at consignment stores in Singapore and Hong Kong.
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be doing?
I’d love to explore businesses in wellness and inner peace. Activities like yoga. Other mindful, peaceful, zen lifestyles. I’d love to do both, but I think it’s better to have a singular focus given the ambition and vision that my team has for Lam Boutique.
If you could time travel, which century would you go back to and live the rest of your life?
I’d absolutely love to go to back to the 1920s. The Roaring Twenties as it’s known in history. That period of history was all about loving and enjoying life. Authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald inspire me. Think books like The Great Gatsby. Enjoy life. It’s beautiful. Though admittedly I couldn’t execute and build the Lam Boutique brand in the 1920s. Back to reality… it could only work in this century. When life gets more stressful, people should look for something peaceful. That’s the lifestyle I try to live by.
What are some interesting facts about Li Lam and Lam Boutique that most people don’t know?
- I’m obsessed with the movement and body of a woman. I enjoy studying about it and aspire to understand all of that. All of our styles are sensitive to those two factors. It’s easy to forget that clothes touch the body and inspire movement
- I also think a lot about movement in art. When I see a painting, I think about the movement of the colors
- Hao: “I would love to go to a museum with you.”
- Li Lam: Oh no way! I can spend only one hour in a museum. There’s too much information and color to absorb. I’d need to release it out right away. Luckily, I can transfer that creative energy into my designs
- All the colors in Lam Boutique come from my own daily observations from anywhere. I try to never look at color palettes. I just think about it. I choose colors from paintings I recently studied or the movies I watch.
- My clothing is inspired a lot by philosophy. I’m doing a lot more research now. I look at archives, history, politics, and people from the past. I admire strength and patience. Beautiful minds from the past influence my thinking.
- I draw inspiration from Moroccan, Indian, Indochina, Japanese cultures and my own vision. Though with that said, I don’t want to be labeled as “classic.” I love the idea of nowness. We should only be inspired by the past, not staying in there. We should live in the now and create the future.