This is not the kind of image you regularly see a Vietnamese woman sporting in Hanoi. Like the vintage clothing she sells, where no one piece is the same as the next, she stands out as an individual.
The daughter of a well-known architect, at first the 28-year-old mother of two followed in her father’s mould, studying architecture. Her work even won her an award for the design of a children’s hospital. But since then she has trodden her own path, one that has deviated from the route laid out by her father.
“My father was very strict,” she says, choosing her words with care. “He always wanted me to be a good girl. He’s old-fashioned, a patriarch, and he’s Asian. He has rules and everything has to be his way. You only live once and I need to live for myself.”
The result is a rupture that has lasted four years, the last time father and daughter spoke. And the result is also a marriage that has seen Sam marry her former professor at university and follow her own path. She is one of the founders of Hanoi Flea Market and also runs the boutique, second-hand clothing store, Rosie Vintage. In between university and finding premises for Rosie Vintage — she originally started the business online — she worked for a lacquer company and also joined her husband in Japan while he was studying for a doctorate. It was an eye-opening experience. “
Japan is very clean, but the people are unhappy, very stressed,” she says. “I am not stressed — I enjoy my life. But the Japanese people work hard, and there are many rules in society. So, I decided to come back.”
And yet, there was something about living in Japan that made her feel at peace.
“[When I was there], every day I went by bicycle with my baby daughter, and nobody knew me,” she recalls. “We shared many peaceful moments. In Japan no-one cares about who you are — you can wear what you want and do what you want.”
Rules and convention are concepts that Sam struggles with. To survive, she has to be her own person.
Sam’s fascination with second-hand clothing, however, comes from another source — her mother and grandmother.
“When I was a girl, my mother, my grandmother, went to the second-hand Kim Lien Market,” she says. “Everything is unique. That’s what I love about it. Second-hand things have a particular smell — in my memory it’s very unique.” Yet it was her exposure to the flea markets in Japan that gave her the idea of doing something similar in Hanoi.
“I have two friends of the same age,” she says. “We thought about a flea market because we went abroad and saw many flea markets and we thought, we need to do something about that in Vietnam. Then it became reality.”
According to Sam, flea markets in Japan are held in temples and stadiums, and are like bring-and-buy or garage sales, where people bring their things to sell. “But in Hanoi it’s more like a market where people show the products of their company rather than old or second-hand things.”
Quality Over Quantity
Rosie Vintage, however, fulfils a different need. The shop allows her to genuinely work with clothing that is second-hand.
Sourcing most of the clothes from Cambodia — prior to that they were imported from places like America, Japan and South Korea — once she gets the items to her shop in Hanoi, her mother washes every piece of clothing by hand.
“A lot of the items have been worn many times, but the quality is still good,” she says.
This is in contrast to the material and clothing produced locally.
“In the market, when you buy clothes made from Vietnamese material, you wash the clothes once and they lose colour. But old clothes are made from better material and they last longer. The material is stronger. You can feel it.”
The result is a customer base that spans all sectors from young to old, men and women to children. In fact anyone who likes high quality clothing at a cheap price.
There’s another reason why people like vintage clothing.
“Fashionable people like unique clothing because with industrial clothing — all the brands — each season you see many people wearing the same clothes,” she explains. “But vintage clothing is different. No one piece is the same as the next.”
She adds: “I also like the story behind vintage clothes. Sometimes I find something in the pocket — maybe it’s money or a letter. Or just a note. ‘You should come home soon’. It’s so cute. Sometimes I find a coin or even some jewellery. And sometimes I see where people have sewn their dresses to mend something. They obviously loved that dress.”
Rosie Vintage is at 49D, Ngo 49 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Photo by Julie Vola
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