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Vietnamese consumers have made a gradual shift towards domestic products in recent years. While the effect has happened across industries, the most visible impacts have arisen in the fashion world. Boutique brands like Hayho Concept, Profile Man and Moi Dien are offering an alternative to international stores such as Zara and Topshop, while bag and streetwear brands like JamLos and Saigon Swagger have surged in popularity.

Amidst all if this excitement, however, the modern Vietnamese footwear industry has remained largely unchanged. Companies’ focuses have remained primarily on exports, and consumers have opted for foreign-owned brands, many of which are in fact manufactured right here in Vietnam. As of yet, few Vietnam made and owned brands have appeared on the market.

This changed when, in early 2018, MỘT was launched in Saigon with the tagline “One pair, all day.” The goal? To satisfy shoe lovers with elegant design and big brand quality.

“We’ve spent the last year working on design, production, and media content,” says Huynh Quang Ngoc Han, co-founder of MỘT. “But it is still just the beginning. We launched in a bit of a hurry, just to gauge people’s response to the design, and now we’re continuing to refine what we do.”

MỘT’s initial efforts to build its modern Vietnamese footwear brand has paid dividends. In just one year it has become a well-known name amongst young, style-conscious Vietnamese.

While MỘT’s debut year has been promising, they are still far from being a household name. But the brand promises to expand its reach further, and Huynh hopes they might one day become a big name brand representative for the Vietnamese footwear industry.

We first met Huynh a year ago, when she shared her initial branding ideas with us. But after a year in the market, we meet again to hear more about the past, present and future of MỘT.

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Huynh Han, co-founder of MỘT, speaks to us about the company’s past, present, and future.

You cut your teeth in the industrial design sector. Why do you decide to turn to fashion production? Did you go straight to footwear?

After years of studying and working in this industry, I’ve seen that even if a design is beautiful, it won’t be successful unless it’s produced with quality and presented well to customers.  So even while I was working in the US, I always wanted to return to Vietnam to produce beautiful and quality products here.

From the beginning, I’ve been determined to head in the direction of large scale production, because most Vietnamese brands are focused on producing on a more modest scale. I believe the wider market is there to be tackled.

Footwear wasn’t my first port of call. I was more interested in learning about the production stage than I was in meeting manufacturers to sound out potential partners.

But I happened to run into Pham Do Kien Quoc, who runs a successful Vietnamese shoe manufacturing factory that has exported to Europe, America, and Japan for over 30 years. He was as keen as I was to establish a high quality Vietnamese brand name with an affordable price tag. Given our shared interests, and his success in the footwear industry, we co-established MỘT.

After we’d completed the initial production of our first shoe design, Hong Minh Ky saw what we were all about and became our third partner. He’s been running our marketing campaigns, organizing pop-up events, and seeking out channels of distribution. It’s mainly thanks to his work that we were able to launch as soon as we have.

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MỘT’s signature style combines foreign-brand design with a Vietnamese flair.

MỘT comes in one signature style only. What was the idea behind this?  Did it take long to settle on that particular design?

I didn’t want to overload customers with choices. The market already has countless footwear brands. If you take away the logos, there’s actually an inherent lack of choice. They all look pretty similar.

I wondered, “Why does the world need just another pair of shoes?” This is a philosophy I’ve held since the very beginning of my career in design. Why make something that’s just like everything else?

People in Vietnam still love casual footwear such as Converse, Vans. There aren’t enough local brands in this segment. That’s why I decided to develop this particular line.

We’re new in the market. I thought that if we wanted to create a strong, consistent brand image, we should present ourselves with just a single design. Since we don’t have a lot of models, we can focus our resources into making that one version more complete.

I spent about a year researching and developing the design. Based on the existing manufacturing facility, I developed our own shoe last which better fits the Vietnamese foot. I’m an amateur in this industry, and I didn’t have much in the way of technology to help me. I had to stumble around in the dark with trials and errors until I found MỘT’s style.

This was the most important and time-consuming step. I had to fix every bit of the design, cast shoe molds and make samples to send to my friends to get feedback, and then iterate according to that feedback. After many attempts, and a lot of back and forth, we were ready to launch.

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MỘT’s slogan “One pair, all day” reflects the brand’s day-to-day practicality.

What does the brand “MỘT” mean?

‘MỘT’ means ‘one’ in Vietnamese.

From a practical standpoint, we wanted to create simple shoes that could be worn at any time of day, for any event or activity, hence the slogan “One pair, all day.” But conceptually speaking, I guess a big part of my inspiration for MỘT’s design is steadfastness, a core of the Vietnamese way of life. Sure, Saigon has a lot of different ideas surrounding it nowadays — the clash of old and new, quaint and cosmopolitan — it’s all happening at the same time amidst the Saigon bustle. But the way people live and communicate to one another has not changed much over time: their attitude, straightforwardness and humor. MỘT is inspired by this, and wants to preserve it.

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“Instead of promoting consumerism…we want people to stop and think about what they really need.”

MỘT champions the slogan “One pair, all day”. Does this tie in at all with the issue of sustainability?

We do try to minimize our impact on the environment by using excess fabric to make MỘT’s bags, but we can’t consider ourselves sustainable yet. Recycling products only helps so much, since consumer demand drives more and more production. But I can’t tell people to stop shopping, or stop using plastic bags. Most people have got more to worry about than this kind of thing.

So at MỘT we come up with alternatives. If we want you to reduce on plastic bags, we offer you tote bags. Same goes for our shoes. If you have a long to-do list, we would like ours to suffice no matter what you have to do. Instead of promoting consumerism by telling people to buy this new, beautiful fashion item, we want people to stop and think about what they really need.

Who are MỘT’s customers?

Our shoes were designed so that they don’t discriminate customers. The shoes are meant for all genders of all ages.

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MỘT shoes hide small details that pay homage to Vietnam.

With its simple design, many wearers believe that you have placed most of your focus on the sole of the shoe. Could you expand on the thought that went behind your shoe’s design?

In terms of aesthetics, from a distance it’s not too special, just a simple slipper-like shoe, but look a little closer and there are some details that unveil the story we want to tell. It’s a homage to Vietnam. There are things that only reveal themselves when you look closely.

All the details are inspired by Vietnam. The patterns on the sole of the shoes recreate the old tile roofs in Hoi An. Tilt it on a different light and you’ll see patterns resembling raindrops in Saigon. And then we’ve got the Vietnam coastline printed there as well. It’s simple, but it took me a year to perfect this design.

We consulted a lot with workshops on the materials and manufacturing techniques, on how to make a strong and durable pair of shoes, the best molded rubber sole, fixed by a seam that would never come apart. MỘT is as focused on comfort as it is on design. It’s supposed to almost disappear when worn, so the design should not be too prominent.

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Huynh lists product development and brand awareness as two challenges that the brand faces moving forward.

What has been MỘT’s biggest challenge to date?

Product development, because shoe manufacturing technology in Vietnam is still limited.

Aside from that, broaching the greater Vietnamese market has been difficult. While many Vietnamese customers are starting to favor domestic brands, foreign goods are still considered luxury items. Outside of the major cities, people are not used to paying good money for domestic products. It will probably take us five years to penetrate this market.

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MỘT looks to the future, with plans to become the first Vietnamese shoe store featured on Amazon Japan.

What’s next for MỘT?

Of course it will be to learn from our past experience and develop what we’re doing well now. In the near future, we will cooperate with Amazon in Japan, becoming the first Vietnamese shoe store with a store on Amazon Japan. For this market, in addition to quality, we must build a strong brand image.

Who should Vietcetera speak to next?

Thao Vu, founder of ethical fashion brand Kilomet109. It tries to preserve the textile heritage of Vietnam through the clothes it makes. She went up to the northern mountains herself, and worked with villagers to find materials at the source. She worked with, and learned from, the villagers to grow cloth and weave for her. Their products can be traced, every step of the way, back to the soil.

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This post is also available in: Vietnamese