If you only go to Hanoi, North Vietnam with three phases, I recommend ‘chào’ (hello), ‘cảm ơn bạn (thank you) and ‘nó có điều hòa không khí’ (Does it have air conditioning?) In fact, if you only have time to learn one, the first two on that list can wait.
After braving the 20 minute walk in 35 degrees and 90% humidity from our hotel to our newfound business partner – AXB factory – I was pretty relieved to find out the answer to the air conditioning query was a resounding, cooling, restorative ‘YES’.
AXB is a small, family-run factory in downtown Hanoi, owned and operated by Van Hong, a Vietnamese born, English educated tailor/entrepreneur. A number of recommendations, a good deal of follow-up research and a healthy dose of luck had put AXB and Pin Collar Shirts together. I’d been told they had a reputation as fair and ethical employers. I also knew they counted Estee Lauder among their existing clients, so they knew how to make a shirt.
Upon arrival I was immediately impressed with the factory. Actually my very first impression was sheer relief that the air conditioning was working. I then noticed how clean the place was and that the staff were all dressed in matching uniforms. During my week there I found out they wear a different coloured shirt for each day of the week. I tried to ask if they had discovered the right colour for ‘Mondayitis’, but neither my Vietnamese nor their English quite stretched that far!
With the hum of sewing machines accompanying us, I got to know Van and the AXB crew a bit better. They have around 20 fulltime staff, all trained on particular aspects of building the shirt. In addition to this, there were half a dozen experienced tailors running quality control. It was nice to find out their days weren’t so different from ours. Starting at eight, finishing at five, and with an hour’s lunch, they could teach a few Londoners something about keeping civilised hours. For me, coming from a large commodities trading firm, quickly eating and returning to work or more often just eating on the job, became the norm.
All of the staff at AXB are paid above market rate as a monthly salary. Of course a regular pay packet is standard practise in Blighty. However, many factories in East Asia pay staff per garment. This approach incentivises shortcuts being taken and quality control goes out the window…if they’re lucky enough to have windows!
I ate lunch with the staff in the canteen, seated next to Quynh, the newest addition to AXB and, at 25, the youngest member of staff. With an average age of 38 and all having extensive experience in the industry, my designs were in safe and very experienced hands. Despite this maturity, when they weren’t humouring me and my five laboured phrases they were constantly laughing, largely at what seemed to be my expense (next time I’m bringing an undercover translator).
After seven days in Hanoi and three more visits to the AXB factory I left happy, reassured and proud to be working with Van and the rest of the team at AXB Vietnam. Cảm ơn bạn cho một chuyến đi tuyệt vời (Thank you for an amazing trip).
The Tailoring team in action: fabric cutting and quality control
The first unfinished samples…nearly there!
One last pic with the amazing staff at AXB with me before my departure. Pick the odd one out – nobody had told me it was off-white Wednesday!