Lisa Rosenthal and Binh Hoang pose with their recycled products at their office in Ho Chi Minh City on April 24, 2015. Photo: Thao Vi
When Lisa Rosenthal came halfway around the world to Ho Chi Minh City in 1996 to look for materials for designing craft items, little did she think she would find much more including a husband.
The American, an arts graduate from Columbia University, recalls, “I went to a very local market in Ho Chi Minh City and saw some people using simple bags made from animal feed sacks for shopping.
“So I thought ‘If you can make a simple bag with this material, you can [also] make fashion bags with this material’.”
To her surprise, she then met a Vietnamese man who had similar thoughts.
Binh Hoang was running an ethnic handicrafts shop on De Tham Street at that time.
Hoang, who grew up in the central city of Da Nang, says: “When I was young I saw a lot of houses built with bamboo and coconut thatch and covered with animal-feed sacks in the countryside. I also saw some people make tote bags from these sacks for carrying food when going to their farms.
“When I grew up I saw many people use that kind of bag to shop at local markets. And I thought ‘Why don’t we make more beautiful bags and sell?’”
Rosenthal says: “We met, fell in love and found common ground from my experience in design and his experience in production.”
Today their company, Blue Dragon, has around 100 different products ranging from small wallets to handbags and travel bags made from woven polypropylene animal-feed bags.
It has shipped the recycled products to the US, Australia, Japan, and some European countries for over a decade.
The couple introduced the bags to Vietnamese customers on Zalora last December and plans to set up shop in the country “in the near future”.
“For young women interested in eco-fashion, they really like this product, it tells a story of recycling, and it looks different,” Rosenthal says.
Their office is in HCMC’s District 5 and their four workshops in the neighboring provinces of Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Long An, and Vinh Long where livestock farming is popular and their 15 employees can easily buy the bags. They then clean, design, cut, and sew to make bags.
“Since animal-feed sacks come in different sizes, designers have to look at them one by one to get nice designs when finishing the product,” Rosenthal says.
“We want people to see this material through a different lens because many see this material and think ‘Oh, it’s so dirty and cheap’.
“We want them to see ‘Oh you can think about it in a different way and make some different products with it’.”
Being keen on turning recycled materials into art, the couple also makes clocks, vases, picture frames, pendants, and ornaments out of old magazines, calendars and packing paper.
“We focus on using recycled materials that we find in Vietnam and we want to promote designing of reclaimed materials because we think it’s important to try to reduce the use of new materials,” Rosenthal says.
“It’s a great way to educate consumers about recycling and the environment.”
Bike panniers made from animal-feed bags in a picture taken in the front yard of Rosenthal and Hoang’s office in April. Photo credit: Blue Dragon
A handbag made from animal-feed sacks. Photos: Thao Vi
A satchel made from animal-feed sacks. It is sold at VND245,000 (US$11) on e-commerce site Zalora, which has been Blue Dragon's partner since December 2014.
A backpack made from animal-feed sacks.
Purses made from animal-feed sacks.
The vase is made from discarded paper and the flowers from animal-feed sacks.
A lamp shade made from animal-feed sacks in Rosenthal and Hoang’s office.
A clock made from waste paper.
Replicas of animal heads made from waste paper decorate the couple's office.
A replica of a butterfly made from waste paper.
Ornaments made from waste paper.
A picture frame made from waste paper.
A pendant made from waste paper that costs VND245,000 on Zalora. Photo credit: Zalora