When Lise Nguyen-Owen came to Vietnam in 2008 to volunteer at a non-governmental organisation, she noticed a disturbing dearth of tea towels.
Then she discovered a series of beautiful images of Indochina on turn-of-the-century French postcards, and it seemed only natural to think about how to transfer the images to one of her pet loves, tea towels.
It also seemed only natural to pursue the project in consultation with her partner Nguyen Minh Hieu, who had a background in fashion and textiles.
Lise and Hieu launched Very Ngon Homewares in 2010, with Lise dusting off the screenprinting skills she studied at art college and Hieu working her fashion contacts to source high-quality fabrics and non-toxic ink.
Their first products featured black and white images, including an iconic photo of Duy Tan, who became emperor of Annam in 1907, aged seven.
Another beautiful image that graces Very Ngon’s cushion products is the woman from Hai Phong, who wears a quai thao, a flat, wide hat popular with Tonkinese women in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
At first, Lise did all the screenprinting herself, in the kitchen of their little house in Phu Nhuan District. “We had printed fabrics draped over all the motorbikes in the yard and slept admist towers of fabric,” Lise told AsiaLIFE. “It’s such a shame I never took any photos!”
Very Ngon Homewares now produces a range of tea towels, cushion covers, placemat sets, coasters, tote bags, clutches, iPad covers and yoga mat bags that make perfect light-weight gifts.
As well as the original black and white images, Very Ngon Homewares recently launched new products featuring coloured postcard prints.
All Very Ngon’s products are still hand-made, but production has moved to a local workshop with full-time staff.
“We tend to employ women with limited employment opportunities – older women, women from rural communities, women with limited work experience, and mothers needing flexible working hours,” Lise said. “We provide them with secure, long-term employment. And as we grow our business in the future, we will be able to create more opportunities for local women who find it difficult to obtain long-term work.”
Very Ngon Homewards also has a strong focus on sustainability, sourcing leftover fabric from larger company orders, finding creative ways to use offcuts and misprints, using environmentally-friendly ink and upcycling Vietnamese newspapers to make their product bags.
Very Ngon Homewares are available online at www.facebook.com/VeryNgonHomewares and at selected gift shops throughout Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, you can find their products at Duy Tan Saigon Artisan at 84 Le Loi Street in District 1.