Doan Thu Hang was intrigued by the countryside markets she saw as a girl in her native Hung Yen and has transplanted the idea
A shop at Saigon Flea Market
A flea market in Ho Chi Minh City is selling handmade merchandise instead of used stuff, and its 24-year-old owner has succeeded in popularizing made-in-Vietnam goods among foreigners by letting many of them sell at the market.
The Saigon Flea Market, held on the second Sunday every month at the courtyard outside the Boomarang Bistro in District 7, has been attracting thousands of locals and foreigners since it opened last September.
The project is a combination of two things Doan Thu Hang has loved since childhood designing and going to the market.
At 17 she won an entrepreneurship contest held by Vietnam National Television with her fashion ideas, but was unable to develop them further.
"I was too young and had not even got into college yet. I was under a lot of pressure from my parents who wanted me to study and get a proper job first," she says in a video posted on her market's website.
"Now that I have graduated and am working, I want to pursue my dream," Hang, now an account manager at Venus Communication in HCMC, says.
She recalls, her childhood of going with her mother to her hometown in Hung Yen Province in the north, to many cho phien or countryside markets, that were only held weekly or monthly. There people would sell their own stuff like plants, animals, and handcrafts.
"I was amazed by those markets. And when I grew up and read about foreign flea markets, I wanted to have one."
After the idea got support from a foreign friend, Hang traveled to Australia and Singapore to see flea markets before she set up her own.
It showcases Hang's fashion brand Love Adam, and also provides a spot for other young designers to showoff their clothing, accessories, and decorative items.
She seeks to provide an opportunity for young designers without marketing skills or deep pockets to promote their products.
Saigon Flea Market's poster
They are charged a nominal US$15 rent for a booth where they sell products for as cheap as half a dollar to as much as $100. Some are collected from abroad, and some are only produced on a small scale.
Buyers sometimes find the products more expensive than at other places, but they appreciate the opportunity to talk about a product with its maker, Hang told news website VietNamNet recently.
She said many products at her market are personalized and unique. "There are no fakes or copycats."
"It took me months to put the project on PowerPoint and go to different people and organizations to find sponsors. Many said no. And I ended up doing a lot of work myself and got help from friends," she says on her website.
Before the first market meeting, she consulted again with her friends about 70 percent of the foreigners she talked to supported it as "they know what it is," while many Vietnamese were confused and only a few joined the project, Hang says.
After the market's early success, Hang received a lot of calls from young Vietnamese who wanted to put up stalls.
For the next market, to be held on May 13, Hang has had to turn down hundreds of requests since she has only 80 booths, half of which will be given to foreign vendors.
A western customer, identified only as Freddie, who works for an NGO, says on the market's website video that Saigon Flea Market is a good idea given the lack of community events in the city.
She says most markets and shopping tend to focus on indoor events. "For me it's really great that there are outdoor events like this, where you can enjoy the weather.
"And I think a lot of expats are really enjoying this."
Hang says she wants to make her market into a cultural bridge with foreigners, who mostly find Chinese handicrafts at night markets in the city.
While there is not much profit left after the lease, furniture rent, leaflets, and other expenses, she says she does not seriously consider it a business.
"It is just a project to popularize my own fashion brand and other Vietnamese products."