Get to know the Forbes Vietnam 30 Under 30 florist

By Pham Nga   March 14, 2020 | 09:05 pm PT
Get to know the Forbes Vietnam 30 Under 30 florist
Forbes Vietnam names Ha Minh Khoi one of the 30 most outstanding faces under 30 years in 2020 in its February edition. Photo courtesy of Khoi.
Ha Minh Khoi overcame childhood hardship to become a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree for his vibrant, creative arrangements.

Inside a small floral shop on Ho Xuan Huong Street in Hanoi, a squinting Khoi stands back to admire a vibrant bouquet.

"For me, flower arrangement is more than just a job to make money. It is a form of art," the 29-year-old declared.

One of nine children, Khoi was born into a poor farming community in rural Chau Duc district of southern Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province. To support their family, the siblings often harvested corn and gathered yellow apricot tree flowers, popular during Tet or Lunar New Year holiday.

Khoi said poverty haunted him throughout his childhood. One time, his brother was so ill, his mother had to feed him on discarded food found in Hanoi, and that his parents had to eventually sell their metal roof to cover the medical bills. However, their less fortunate life did not diminish his 67-year-old mother Nguyen Thi An’s love for flowers.

With a budget of VND30,000 ($1.3) for food, she still spent VND10,000 ($0.4) on flowers. An gives all her children a vase of flowers each year on their birthdays.

Khoi inherited the passion from his mother, volunteering to arrange flowers at a local church as a kid. During middle school, he invested money, bought flowers and sold them from his doorstep to local boys to gift their girlfriends. After graduating high school, he came to Saigon to apply for an apprenticeship at a flower shop. In just two months, the young apprentice became the main floral arranger. But Khoi's income is still low compared to former classmates who found jobs after graduating college.

"At the time, I realized being hard-working and having the right skills are not enough, and that I had to improve my value," he said.

Khoi later switched to another flower shop where he was promised training by foreign experts, developing his skills by reading more books and watching YouTube videos. For his 23rd birthday, he received more than 10 cakes and other gifts from grateful customers.

Khoi poses next to his arrangement design Xuan Doan Tu (Spring Reunion) that he created for spring 2020. It took him two weeks to prepare all the materials and one day to complete with the help of four other people. Photo courtersy of Khoi.

Khoi poses next to his Xuan Doan Tu (Spring Reunion) arrangement created for Spring 2020. It took him two weeks to prepare and one day to complete with the help of four others. Photo courtesy of Khoi.

Khoi's foreign teacher advised him to take an exam to become a member of the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD), a long-standing organization specializing in discovering and promoting the art of flower design as a professional profession.

He passed the theory round with 50 questions in 40 minutes about flower arrangement techniques, but Khoi could not go to the U.S. to take the practice exam. Two times, he failed to obtain the visa because of his English skills. 

With keen determination, he registered to attend a 6-month English course at HCMC Youth Cultural House. After a third exam, Khoi impressed the U.S. Consulate interviewer with his improved capabilities. He finally came to the U.S. to take the practice exam in 2016. At the age of 25, Khoi became the first Vietnamese to become an AIFD member.

Around Christmas 2016, he was invited to France to oversee an arrangement of buttercups, hyacinths, and tulips to grace the cover of floral art magazine Nacre’s Spring 2018 issue.

Nacre stated Khoi's work carries vitality and a pure Asian beauty that lent a fresh touch to the European magazine.

Khois floral arrangement on the cover of floral art Nacre magazines Spring 2018 issue. Photo courtesy of Khoi.

Khoi's Nacre arrangement. Photo courtesy of Khoi.

Khoi went on to win the Vietnam International Floral Expo, featuring 14 contestants representing 14 countries, in 2018.

Using his savings, Khoi opened a flower shop in Hanoi at the end of last year and earns between VND300 million (nearly $13,000) to over VND1 billion (over $43,000) a month.

Nguyen Le Don Vinh, a colleague, recalled staying awake for three days to complete an order, after which Khoi suffered a nose bleed, collapsed and was hospitalized to receive a saline transfusion.

"I have never seen anyone as perfectionistic or passionate," Vinh said, adding aesthetic always trumped profit.

Nguyen Chi Thanh, 41, a wedding organizer, remarked: "An artist with a strong passion like Khoi can surpass any limitation."

This spring, another of Khoi’s arrangement’s made the cover of Narce.

Forbes Vietnam named him one of the 30 most outstanding faces under 30 years in 2020 in its February edition.

"During a workshop at Boerma Instituut International Floral Design School Holland, the Netherlands, in February last year, German floral designer, teacher and author Gregor Lersch 'was touched and impressed' after talking about Khoi's talents," Forbes Vietnam wrote.

One afternoon in early March, a customer entering his shop ordered a small arrangement for his wife, saying he was after something displaying delicacy, vitality and that represented reunion.

Khoi smiled and nodded, donned his apron, picked up a pair of scissors and commenced to craft a basket of brilliance.

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