Breathing new life into old clothes

By Quynh Nguyen   November 6, 2023 | 04:00 am PT
Linh Chi’s jeans were worn out, but she didn’t want to throw the beloved fabric, so she decided to try her luck with one of Hanoi’s clothing “redesigners.”

When the 18-year-old from the capital sent her denim to this new kind of tailor in Ho Chi Minh City, she didn’t have high expectations placed on what she’d get back. She figured it was best to be prepared for disappointment.

A striped dress (left) turned into a clothing set (right) by a tailor in HCMC, August 2023. Photo by Do DIY

A striped dress (left) turned into a clothing set (right) by a tailor in HCMC, August 2023. Photo by Do DIY

However, when she received a well-tailored denim skirt in return, she was thrilled to have a fashionable new item – designed in her style and fit to her body – for only VND100,000 (US$4).

After that, she sent in dozens more pieces of her old clothing to be redesigned.

Twenty-five-year-old Thanh Ly, a self-proclaimed "shopaholic" in Hai Phong City, said her addiction had her buying four to five sets of clothes every month.

It became a problem when her overstuffed closet began overflowing onto her floor. She couldn’t handle the sheer volume of the extreme collection she’d garnered. On the one hand she didn’t want to sell any of her clothing, particularly because most of her items were still new, and on the other her need for newness and variety made her incapable of not buying more.

But Ly was able to abate the issue in the beginning of August when she discovered redesign service.

"I never thought that an old, outdated pair of jeans and T-shirt could be turned into something else," she said.

So instead of buying more new clothes, Ly simply began having what she already owned redesigned for VND30,000-200,000 per garment.

"It’s so much cheaper than buying new clothes, and it’s still high-quality," Ly said.

Clothing redesigners began cropping up in Ho Chi Minh City last August, and they soon spread to Hanoi and other areas. According to a VnExpress survey, there are about 100 accounts advertising these tailor-like services in Vietnam via TikTok alone.

Videos detailing their design processes have attracted hundreds of thousands of likes and comments.

According to Dr. Do Minh Cuong, a former professor at the University of Economics and Business (part of Vietnam National University, Hanoi), the fact that young Vietnamese people are enjoying old, redesigned clothes is no unordinary.

The vintage/thrift-store look continues to be in style across the globe, and the trend has economic and environmental angles as well, according to Dr. Cuong.

"This way of consuming products is very smart and helps to lessen the amount of waste and excess, especially when the economy has been affected by two years of the pandemic," he said.

He also argued that by introducing a new profession to the world, the redesigner boutique industry was creating sorely-needed new jobs.

At the beginning of August, Dao Mai Uyen, 25, opened her clothing redesign service north of Hanoi in Bac Ninh Province after seeing the demand in the capital city. Her clientele is mostly women under the age of 30.

Most of the clothes they send to her are fairly new and are made from high-quality fabric. Some even boast high-end brand labels.

For Uyen jeans can be repurposed into a skirt and styled with a spaghetti strap top because denim tends to be sturdy and keep its shape well. An oversized, long T-shirt can be transformed into a dress, while some dresses can be turned into crop tops or backless dresses.

Compared to traditional tailoring, Uyen said that redesigning old clothes is more challenging because there is a limited amount of fabric, and some clothes are difficult to work with because they are old and wrinkled.

She’s had to deny requests because some fabric has been too difficult to style, and sometimes there’s simply just not enough fabric to use.

In the beginning, Uyen received only one order every few days. Now she’s accepting an average of more than 10 packages per day. She usually finishes each order within 15-20 days, with her price for the service ranging from VND80,000-200,000, depending on the order.

Xuan Nhan, 24, who also offers this type of service in HCMC, said that the number of orders she receives is increasing day by day. She used to work as an accountant but decided to quit after seeing the potential of this new line of work and realizing she could make a living doing what she loves.

As soon as she shared her first video of her designs, the 24-year-old woman immediately received 30 to 40 orders. Even so, Nhan now only accepts a maximum of 70 orders a month to ensure the quality of her work, and to avoid making her customers wait.

There have been times when her customers complained that she did not satisfy their requests and she’s had to fix many products many times.

"Fixed clothes will definitely not be as perfect as the original, but I try my best to satisfy my customers," Nhan said.

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