A new website AND my first blog post. There’s nothing like a worldwide pandemic to finally provide the incentive to get our little business online.
I am Lise, a self-confessed tea towel fancier and all-round fabric enthusiast/hoarder. Hieu is my partner, both in business and in life, and she is the dynamo who keeps the wheels spinning smoothly on Very Ngon Homewares. While I spend my time gathering vintage images and dreaming about designs, Hieu is the one working with our staff to ensure products are made, our quality is maintained, the fabric and thread is ready for use, ink is available, our staff are well trained and happy, and so on. While we work in different ways, there are many common threads (pardon the pun): we share a love of textiles and we are both very nostalgic people. Quite possibly, these are the reasons why we were drawn to combine our love of vintage with fabric.
A little bit about us:
Despite having spent her childhood growing up in the shadow of war and experiencing the difficult years following the fall of Saigon, Hieu still treasures her memories of paddling up and down the Saigon River during the late 70s with her father, generating an income for the rest of their family while spending nights in the small timber boat or in the homes of generous strangers.
It was during her childhood that Hieu honed her skills in making do with what could be found, while also becoming a creative problem solver – sticks, stones and leaves became childhood toys and used cans were styled (sometimes dangerously) into portable stoves for cooking with friends.
During the late 1990s, Hieu was promoted as a young woman to managerial positions within the fashion industry, roles usually assigned to people many years her senior. She totally embraced the challenge of finding ways for her teams to work faster, smarter and more efficiently, resulting in regular monthly bonuses for team members. In 1994, Hieu was sent to Tokyo for 6 months of specialist training by her Japanese employer. Given her already well-developed work ethic, Hieu fully embraced the Japanese way of paying attention to detail and committing to a high quality completed product.
Around mid-2004, Hieu joined a women’s employment/quilting project as the production manager. She enjoyed the challenge of learning a new skill set whilst helping to support women from poor rural areas of Vietnam create to well-crafted quilts and accessories, thereby providing them with a regular income and ongoing employment. It was during this time that Hieu and I first met.
When I traveled from sleepy Brisbane, Australia, to dynamic Ho Chi Minh City in 2008 to volunteer with a local NGO, I had no idea that the experience would completely transform my life. But a bit of background first…
As a teenager, I developed a love of all things retro. I would scour church fetes, op shops and antique emporiums for unique and interesting buys. Following my graduation from high school, I moved away from home to study visual arts at college. I remember the first few days spent in my new home town, excitedly visiting all of the op shops and gathering some amazing vintage frocks and 50s styles pointy heels for a few dollars. I was in heaven!
At college, I majored in textiles and printmaking, both subjects I really enjoyed. Being somewhat distracted by all the fun that living away from home and college life brought, I failed miserably.
Fast forward to my pre-Vietnam life, I was living in Brisbane, working as a team member/director of a not-for-profit re-use centre with a strong environmental and creative focus. I thrived in this supportive workplace and took on a range of different roles, from managing an eco-gift shop, organizing events and exhibition launches, working on the sales counter, speaking with large groups of university and college students. It was an exciting and inspiring work environment. After 9 years, however, I was yearning for a change in direction and life.
The opportunity to volunteer for a women’s employment project for 18 months through an Australian volunteer agency saw me pack up my life and move to Ho Chi Minh City. It is during this time that I met Hieu and the rest, as they say, is history. After I completed my volunteer assignment and as my life was already starting to take root in Vietnam, I spent some time to ponder future possibilities. Starting a business in Australia had always seemed too daunting, as it seemed as though everything had been done already, however in Vietnam …. anything was possible. And once I set my eyes on the beautiful old French postcards of early 1900s Indochine, I knew there was opportunity there.
Isn’t it interesting how life can come full circle? A few decades after my failed studies at art college, I was putting my interests in textiles and print making back into use again. A talented textile designing friend provided me with a refresher course on silk screen printing and I was back in business, printing tea towels in our small kitchen. And so begins our Very Ngon Homewares story. I hope you enjoy taking part in our journey.