While the age-old saying “do what you love” may sound cliché, it is more prevalent now than ever that people are converting their passion into something profitable.
According to a 2020 Forbes report, the global pandemic has triggered many to pivot careers. Many have had to do so out of necessity, given long-term lockdowns interfering with their normal nine-to-five routine, and corporate downsizing putting a halt to their monthly income.
The pandemic has also made time for many to pursue old passions or even pave way for new interests — that they soon turned into a source of income.
In Vietnam, where the southern metropolis and the country’s business hub is currently on a lockdown, budding young entrepreneurs are making their way to the money-making world. Vietcetera spoke to three Saigon-based business founders who have managed to generate income from doing what they enjoy.
After three years of pursuing medicine, now-owner of ROBO BROTHERS, Khanh, soon found herself “at crossroads between family, career, and passion.” After exploring different jobs, from waiting tables at coffee shops to working in sales, she found herself at a local brand sewing clothing.
With the scrap fabric she had from her nine-to-five job, Khanh would then make clothing items for her 6 cats — whom she lovingly calls her children. Soon, she enjoyed creating these unique pieces, and her cats seemed to love them just as much. This talent of hers was soon met with the financial reality that came with being a ‘pawrent’ of six felines. “Because of the financial pressures as well as with encouragement and support from my friends, I decided to create ROBO BROTHERS — clothing made for pets, with love,” she smiles.
“I like what I do, so I just kept doing it,” Khanh laughs when asked about her favorite aspect of the job. “Perhaps it’s because, in a way, I’m also growing with ROBO.”
At the heart of the small business is her dedication to solving industrial waste generated by the fashion industry. What started as “just a hobby, and fascination in exploring something new” has now evolved to the point where she envisions a future in which she and ROBO can impact the fashion industry by heading down a path of ecological integrity. And she is “thrilled to be able to develop this sustainable method on a bigger scale [than before]” — something no other Vietnamese pet brands have achieved.
Reflecting back on the four months since her joy has turned into a job, she admits that this was a risky decision. “I never went to school for fashion, nor do I have a deep understanding of entrepreneurship. All the bumps along the road, however, taught me acceptance, as well as how to see things in a different way.”
From the age of six or seven, designer fashion shows have captured the heart of Alice Bui, founder of streetwear fashion brand, KESH VN. While she was first captivated by the sophistication of Chanel and Dior that breathed fresh air into trends at the time, Alice soon grew to appreciate the fact that “there are no rules to fashion” both in terms of styling oneself and creating pieces.
As this love for the freedom that comes with fashion grew, Alice also harnessed a passion for business. Still having to handle a rigorous curriculum at school during these years, she found it hard to add being an entrepreneur to the mix. When the pandemic moved her education online, Alice found herself revisiting the idea of merging her two interests given the spare time she now has. “I decided to give it a try,” she says, reflecting on the first steps she took to turn sketches on paper into a reality.
Between March and August of 2020, Alice dedicated hours to creating “multiple drafts of the designs.” After which, she encountered the longest part of the process: sampling and choosing materials. “I found it very difficult to find good quality materials that I was 100% happy with.”
After many months of searching, KESH VN finally launched its first collection in January of 2021.
“My favorite part of this process was the printing of the icons on the products and the tags of the clothing,” she shares. “I think this was when it started sinking in that I am actually creating my own fashion brand.”
For Alina Nguyen, a recent high school graduate and owner of Hoai Makes — “a slow fashion, locally sourced jewelry brand” — her obsession for jewelry making dates back to 2013 when Rainbow Loom bracelets caught the eye of many. “I would make little bracelets and sell it to my friends,” she reveals. “But I’ve never had an actual business before.” When the Rainbow Loom bracelet trend slowly faded out of existence, Alina’s love for jewelry making prevailed.
Around May of 2020, wire wrapped rings and funky, brightly coloured charms soon came into fashion; around this time, Alina’s interest in jewelry making peaked. From handmade accessories to wire wrapped rings, her little gifts to close friends during these months in her spare time came with their encouragement: “they told me I should start a business.” And she did just that.
As a one-woman team, Alina designs, creates, and models her creations. “My favourite thing about creating these pieces,” she says, “is seeing parts of them come together to be something whole. And then seeing other people enjoying what I make — and wearing them!”
“Each piece of jewelry is a reflection of who I am.” Spending anywhere between 20 minutes on a wire wrapped ring to four hours on a necklace, Alina’s pieces are more than an accessory — rather, it’s an artform. “I would describe it as art for all people who enjoy art, and enjoy being able to wear art,” she says, “or those who enjoy the simple delicacies of art.”
While there are set products in her store, Alina also takes commissions. For these pieces, she is “very thorough when asking customers what they want,” and often receives inspiration pictures. “It is amazing that people trust my style and vision to request custom jewelry!”
Similar to Alice of KESH VN and Khanh from ROBO BROTHERS, Alina feels as though the possibilities are truly endless. “That element of surprise,” she shares, and the fact that “I am 100% in control of what goes into each piece really keeps me going.”
Besides sharing the common fact that all of their businesses were founded amidst the global pandemic, none of them had any experience with entrepreneurship. Yet they all took a leap of faith in the face of adversity.
When asked for final words of advice, especially to businesses which COVID-19 had negatively affected in more ways than one, Alina emphasizes the importance of a support network. “I was very scared to start, but I was surrounded with amazing people who pushed and supported me in my journey.”
For Alice, the young entrepreneur shares that she has always nurtured the thought of creating her own brand, “but kept putting it off because she was too scared of the idea of running a business without any experience.” However, KESH has taught her to “continue to be patient, and to keep pushing.”
Patience and drive were also behind the success of Khanh’s ROBO BROTHERS, coupled with her dedication to growth: “Never stop learning. Never stop acquiring knowledge and fostering new skills. The pandemic is a wake-up call that has changed everything, so you have to adapt to these changes.”