Today I was able to meet with the Vice Dean of the School of Architecture and the Arts at HUTECH University in Ho Chi Minh City. She explained to me how the fashion industry in Vietnam is almost exclusively compromised of manufacturing for foreign brands and designers. The design side of the fashion industry is far from developed in Vietnam even though some small, family owned clothing and accessory businesses will design their own products for sale. The Vice Dean explained that the actually the fashion industry from a holistic perspective is very underdeveloped and will be very difficult to fully develop if it ever is. This is largely due to the structure of the fashion industry on a global scale. Richemont, LMVH, and Kering serve as the dominant powers in the global fashion scene as they are considered the three largest fashion companies in the world. Each of them own multiple other well-known brands, many of which have established themselves as international brands serving a global customer base. These large companies have smaller companies either under them or that they contract out to, and each of these smaller companies do a part of the production of the garment or product. These smaller companies are strategically chosen and managed in order to reduce overall costs while still meeting the needs of the designer of the products and owner of the mother company. For example, many of these larger companies have manufacturing factories in Vietnam or outsource some of their manufacturing to Vietnam because labor in Vietnam is very cheap in comparison to that in other countries around the world.
Local Vietnamese fashion brands and companies cannot compare to that of theses large companies because they simply don’t have access to the same resources and global infrastructure within the fashion industry that the larger companies have. For Vietnamese companies to truly compare, they would have to be able to do all parts of the production process to the same extent that the larger companies can and at comparable prices. This is simply not possible right now in Vietnam. Designers in Vietnam are limited by the resources, including materials and manufacturing capabilities, that are available to them. Despite the fact that Vietnam is known for manufacturing, the manufacturing factories in Vietnam typically only do the first stage of the manufacturing process of products, as they don’t have the capability to add much customization to the products. For example, a large brand might have a Vietnamese factory produce a basic style of jeans and then send those jeans to another non-Vietnamese factory to add rips to the jeans to make them distressed. As a result, Vietnamese designs are often very simple in comparison to their international competition because the Vietnamese designers aren’t able to add much variability to their designs.
Overall, the Vice Dean was able to explain to me how Vietnam doesn’t have a developed fashion industry due to the structure of the international fashion industry that functions as a global hierarchical network of companies, of which a few dominate and manage a multitude of smaller companies that specialize in the different parts of the production process.