Inspired by postcards from 1900s French Indochina, Very Ngon Homewares started out selling tea towels at an expat bazaar in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011. Now the retail brand stocks a diverse homeware collection embracing diverse, hand-printed fabrics fashioned into bed covers, cushion covers, aprons, coasters and oven mitts. The unique selling point? All their items provide a glimpse into the bygone days of Vietnam — from a cushion cover featuring a wealthy woman in a traditional rickshaw and an apron featuring Duy Tan, the young boy who became emperor at the age of seven, to a quilted bed cover decorated with modern street maps of central Saigon.
The duo behind the brand are Lise Nguyen-Owen and Nguyen Thi Minh Hieu, and Very Ngon Homewares touches on all aspects of Lise’s experience: her art-college days as a printing and textiles student, a stint setting up a reuse center, where she spent time hoarding fabric samples, and her enduring fascination with fabric, design and all things vintage. Vietnam has always been a cultural platform for the business and for Lise, who derives inspiration from the fading French architecture throughout the country, the ornate carved-wood panels at a local pagoda, the worn patterned-ceramic floor tiles, the decorative metal window screens and fishermen’s huts on Phu Quoc island — styles that are now quickly disappearing. Upcoming collections will feature locally sourced materials such as buffalo leather and North Vietnamese hill-tribe fabrics.
Lise envisions Very Ngon Homewares as “a sustainable business that continues to find its inspiration in Vietnam while providing local employment and training to Vietnamese women”. For her, a greater calling lies behind all the commercial efforts. “I would also love to find ways to tap into and support artisans from traditional craft villages who are at risk of fading away into our history books,” she says. “Ethically and environmentally, we want to continue to find ways to reduce our environmental footprint as a business, and to increase our financial assistance to worthy but little-known local causes.”