“Classic, greenhouse, disco.” says textile designer Fanny Shorter when asked how she thinks people would sum up her eye-catching fabrics in three words.
“I check everything. Only when I’m really proud of something will I put my signature to it.” Even as we’re speaking, Anil’s eye remains on the designs being inspected around him.
“My daughter has just turned two. My parents and uncles all saved up to buy her a gold ring that she can wear on special occasions – it’s just like my wedding ring. We have to stop her swallowing it though; she chews everything!”
“I hate having my picture taken – I get very shy! I love to take pictures though, especially of my grandchildren. My son, his wife and their two kids live here with me. Thankfully, I get on really well with my daughter-in-law. She met my son in Guangdong through matchmakers.”
“My favourite thing to do on pay day is to buy myself some gold jewellery. My husband only owns one gold ring, but he’s very understanding of my habit and saves up to buy me things too.”
“I had a near-death experience in 2000. I came off of my bike in front of a car. I smashed my arm and chest and was in a coma for 15 days. But when my girlfriend came to visit she yelled at me to wake up. So I did. Then I married her!”
“I was born in the year of the goat. It happened to be the year that Tet celebrations took place this February. What happens during Tet is very important – it sets up what’s to come for the rest of the year. My Tet holiday didn’t go so well.”
“My designs tell stories about west Africa. When people are attracted to a piece, they’ll ask what inspired it. Beauty draws people in. It gives me the opportunity to discuss native parables and current issues on the continent. I always hope that when people hear them, they’ll want to help in the way I do.”
“I dyed my hair myself with henna for the Lunar New Year and girls seem to like it.” Phong is the workshop heart throb. Several of the women had mentioned him to us. We could tell just from the way he walked.
“When I’m not working, I spend most of my time playing football. I’m a fan of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. My favourite player is Messi because he’s so passionate. I’d love to be like him.”
“It doesn’t take me long to get to work – I live just 500m away amongst the shrimp ponds and rice fields. I’ve lived there my whole life.”
“I’ve been working here for three years, since I left my hometown in the south to come to Saigon. I used to look after baby shrimp in the delta, getting them to grow up big and fat.”
“The Vietnamese are very friendly – but not immediately! You have to spend some more time with us, then we’ll open up to you.”
“I moved to Saigon three years ago when I was 19. My older brother came too and now we live and work together, but somehow we never fight! We didn’t fight when we were children either.”
“My favourite colour is definitely pink. I bought this jacket a few months ago. When I saw the vibrant pink lining it just called out to me.”
“I bought this necklace in my hometown, Thanh Hoá. I was feeling a bit rundown and someone told me that the tooth would ward off fevers and colds. It’s true – it even cures hangovers!”
“I wear my camouflage jacket and matching hat every day to work. It’s my uniform. When I wear this outfit I feel prepared.”
“Where I come from in Hebei you can see the Great Wall from my village. It’s 60km away so I never actually went up it that often, but just seeing it there every day, looking down at you, was pretty inspiring. I still remember that view.”
Long rectangular planks of pine arrive wrapped in plastic all the way from New Zealand. Like gifts waiting to be opened. Artisans cut them down to smaller, more manageable pieces, piling them up in Jenga-like towers in the middle of the floor, ready for crafting the Mimi three-seater sofa.
Mimi has been living in Saigon for three years. She moved over from Denmark after university. “My connection to Denmark is much stronger than to Vietnam; although both my parents are Vietnamese. My father fled to Denmark during the Vietnamese war. He met my mother there. She’d run from the war too.”
In the designer’s studio, the walls are covered in mood boards, photos, magazine cutouts, hand-drawn doodles of sofas and chairs, and elaborate floral patterns. When it comes to designing a sofa like our Mimi or any of the beautiful pieces that come from the workshop, Bertil, one of the designers looks all over for inspiration […]
“I’m pretty keen on history. I like the Hung Kings,” he says of the kings who ruled Vietnam from 2879 BC. “I’ve memorised all their names. But if I could live in any time, I would want to live under Ho Chi Minh. That would be an honour.”
“My favourite films are romances, but I’ve never experienced anything overly romantic. Not even on Valentine’s Day – my husband and I just stay in. It would be so romantic if one day, he gave me a rose.”
Phúc hardly says a word, but his eyes are fixed on us at all times – occasionally he drags them away to look at the translator, but within moments they’re back again. “Is everything OK?” we ask him. “Yes, it’s just that I’ve never seen a foreigner before.”
“I had a difficult childhood. I lost my mum and dad early in my life and thinking about it still breaks my heart.”
Sitting on what looks to be an old wooden school desk in the corner of the sewing section of the workshop, is an ancient-looking button press. No one knows exactly how old it is; it’s been there for as long as anyone can remember. Vuong turns a wheel that’s bound with ragged material for grip, […]
“In the past 40 years a lot of things in the world have changed. At the core though, I don’t think I’ve changed very much as a person. I’m still the hard working person I was when I was 18. Work hard – that’s my secret to a good life.”
“Over the last ten years there’s been a renaissance in the feeling for African textiles. The colours are vibrant and edgy, because we combine colours that most people wouldn’t put together. Aesthetically, they’re just wonderful. The world has become so much more diverse, and in turn, so have people’s style. People want to make room […]
“I have two men in my life. My six-year-old son is incredibly naughty and just loves to play. And my husband, I nag him a lot. He seems to just deal with it, which is great…for me. What would men do without us?”
“My parents were expecting a girl so when I was born, they gave me a girl’s name. I got teased a bit at school because of my name, so I started trying to make everybody laugh. I was as nice to them as possible and it worked – after a few months no-one teased me […]
“I’m an adventurer. I left home at 14 and have moved from city to city ever since. The country is so boring. I love city life. And because I’m friendly and kind, people like me – so I always make friends easily.”
“My friends say the worst thing about me is stubbornness. That I never admit when I’m wrong.”