Swedish design from Lund University and local Vietnamese craftsmanship is a good combination. Thanks to training in new design and marketing skills, Vietnamese SME’s have managed to improve its competitiveness and increase handicraft export.
Vietnam handicraft exports are growing, providing employment for 1.35 million people in some 2,000 craft villages around Vietnam. The majority of Vietnamese craft exports consists of mass-produced, low priced, every-day basics, but competition from other countries is fierce and Vietnamese exporters are gaining smaller profits compared to countries such as China, India and Thailand. At the same time, global consumer trends are evolving towards products expressing their cultural identity and lifestyle; that are authentic, fairly produced and environmentally sound. This is where a huge potential lies for Vietnamese crafts, according to Le Ba Ngoc, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Handicraft Exporter Association (Vietcraft).
“The majority of Vietnamese producers and exporters today only act as an overseas production unit for large international retailers, producing exactly what is requested. I think there’s a lack of innovation, both in originality and product development” he says.
According to Ngoc, handicraft exporters should pay due attention to market information, product design and customer diversification in order to create more added value for their products. Therefore, Ngoc was thrilled when he got the opportunity to open a design centre, the very first of its kind in Vietnam in 2012. The project has been financed by Sida’s Partner Driven Cooperation initiative, as a joint partnership between Vietcraft and School of Industrial Design, Lund University, Sweden. The project has aimed to benefit all actors in the value chain, particularly the poorest segment, while ensuring CSR, environmental practices and gender mainstreaming are part of the implementation.
With just over one year in operation, the Hanoi Design Centre has offered training to hundreds of handicraft designers and artisans on key topics such as photography skills, product design and international market requirements. They were also trained on display and merchandising techniques, which was completely new knowledge. In addition, at least 10 local trainers have been selected and received master training so that they will be able to train others in the future. Mr.Vu Hy Thieu Thieu, handicraft designer since 30 years, is one of the lead trainers at the centre. He explains how the training has helped him to think more practically:
“The principles of Swedish design — of prioritizing functionality without eliminating grace and beauty – have really impressed me. The Hanoi Design Centre has helped me understand the real meaning of design: to be truly user-oriented”.
In Vietnam, the craft companies and the production are mainly located in the rural areas. Most of the owners and managers have no design background and they often visit the craft villages to find new products and introduce them to the market. In response to this, the centre provided different trainings for over 170 managers and executives covering international compliances as well as intellectual property rights.
Le Ngoc Minh, Vice Director of Quang Vinh Ceramic Company finds the training about the market trend and sustainable designs very useful:
“Based on the discussion with Swedish designers, I have already developed two collections for the upcoming annual Ambiente Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. One of my big buyers in Germany has showed great interest and asked me to send the real sample, which is so nice. If this order will be materialized, I believe we can increase our turnover by at least 10 per cent next year”.
Today, the design centre of 1,200 m² is well-located in a busy street in Hanoi and has become a regular place for designers and companies to meet and share their ideas on product development. The centre has developed 128 new designs, of whom half have been transferred to different companies. It is also a place where tourists can find traditional crafts combined with contemporary designs. On average, the centre welcomes some 40 visitors on a daily basis and numbers keeps increasing.
Reflecting on the initial success, Ngoc ascertains that the project would never have been possible without the partnership with Lund University. Sida’s support came to an end in December 2013 but the work continues.
“Thanks to the concrete results of the project, Hanoi People’s Committee has decided to finance three designers from Lund University to work in Hanoi Design Centre for 4 months. This will help us further improve competitiveness of both handicraft SMEs and producers,” concludes Le Ba Ngoc.
About the project:
Setting up a design centre in Hanoi to provide services to handicraft companies is a collaboration project between Vietnam Handicraft Exporter Association (Vietcraft) and the School of Industrial Design, Lund University, Sweden.
Total budget is approximately 5.6 million SEK, of whom Sida has financed approximately 3.6 million SEK though its initiative Partner Driven Cooperation. Project period: 2012-2013
- Local design training and consultancy services established and operating sustainably in Hanoi for SME craft companies of Northern Vietnam.
- 100 professional handicraft designers trained and operational on all aspects of product design and development and on international market/product requirements and norms.
- Increased in-house design and management capacity for 200 handicraft SMEs, leading to a wider range of upgraded products and increased sales, particularly for the export market. (For instance, the fair trade company VIRI managed to increase its income by about 35 per cent on average for its 16 producers in Bac Ninh province.)
- Domestic recognition of product design and development as a value adding competitive tool and international recognition of Vietnam's new design capabilities. (When participating at Maison & Objet in Paris - the biggest design fair in Europe – the centre received very good feedback from the big buyers such as ABC store (USA), Coran (UK), and Gepa (Germany).)