Veteran model trainer Ta Nguyen Phuc always tells young men to keep their day jobs.
"Men need a lifelong career to take care of their families," said Phuc, who co-owns the PL modeling company in Ho Chi Minh City. "Modeling can't help them do that."
Almost every male model who has ever set foot on a Vietnamese catwalk considers modeling just a part-time gig.
Hoang Anh is an architect, Tien Doan (a.k.a. Mr. International 2008) is a teacher, Duc Vinh has a clothing business and Hai Anh trades gems.
Quang Tuyen, a prominent stylist in the magazine world, used to be a model.
Tuyen started modeling as a college student and told himself "it's just for fun." Once he gained experience and acquired contacts, he became a stylist.
"I think no one can live a life on modeling in Vietnam," Tuyen said. "The fashion world doesn't have enough jobs for them."
It's a small world
Vietnam's modeling world is, indeed, small. What's more, it's largely a woman's world. Normally, a show features 20 female models and only two or three males.
In shows where male models accompany the females, the men are expected to bring their own clothes and get little time in the spotlight.
Every year, only one fashion event the Dep (Beauty) Fashion Show gives male models a chance to shine.
"In order to afford a life in HCMC, if you don't have a house, you have to earn at least VND10 million (US$513) a month, a sum that is way above a male model's pay grade," Tuyen said.
Owners of the two modeling clubs in the southern hub, PL and Venus, said famous male models typically only get six catwalk shows a month at most.
Usually, they only work one.
"Their income is somehow at the average," one of the owners said.
Venus employs eight male models and PL around 20. Each man is paid between VND500,000- 800,000 ($25.64-41) a show. Only major titleholders, who is winners of the "Supermodel" contest, Manhunt or Mr. International, can expect to earn VND1.5-2 million per show.
Male modeling in Vietnam only really became a career in 2002 when the first Supermodel contest was held.
Binh Minh, who won the Impressive Prize at the first edition of Supermodel, said any model, male or female, can only hope to make real money once they're make a name for themselves. But Supermodel has been the only domestic competition for male models in Vietnam.
Vinh Thuy, the silver prize winner at Supermodel 2009 and Vietnam's sole representative to Mr. International this year, can only makes a little more than $300 per show.
Industry insiders have also alleged that several male models earn extra cash from pairing up with rich businessmen though they're not gay.
Even so, Phuc, the PL trainer, said young men keep applying for his club every day. They tell him "male modeling is a dream world."
Screens the saver
Binh Minh (C) MCs an event to make extra money. Minh is one of the most popular hosts at big events
Binh Minh is one of the few male models to have won lucrative advertising contracts.
Minh won the Vietnam Model Award 2008 but he didn't start seeing the money until much later.
He diversified by landing roles in movies and theater productions. He even tried his hand at emceeing events and award ceremonies.
Other models such as Duc Tien, Hai Anh, Hoang Anh, Quach Ngoc Ngoan and Vinh Thuy have all tried their hand at acting.
Filmmakers prefer male models, compared to acting school graduates and singers, because they're good-looking, familiar to the audience, and can endure the rigors of the industry, according to insiders.
Male models make around VND2 million per episode in a TV series.
Normally, it takes two months to film a 30-episode series, which means the models earn VND30 million ($1,540) a month more than they might earn in a whole year of modeling.
One veteran model, who asked not to be named, said movies are the best way for male models to survive in the entertainment market.
"A lot of guys get into modeling hoping to springboard into an acting career," said Phuc, the PL trainer.
When Binh Minh first made it big in 2002, he said he ate VND10,000- lunches and could only afford to rent house for VND700,000 a month.
Now he owns a mansion and an Audi.
"Modeling didn't bring me those things. I've got them from acting, MC-ing and business."
At the same time, he added, "I had the chance at money-making careers because I was a model."
He said male modeling will grow as fashion continues to become more important.
Many models are also pinning their hopes on the debut of Mr. Vietnam this year.
The winner of the show's January 1 finale will get a whopping VND750 million ($38,460). He will also be sent on to compete in Mr. International 2011 in the Philippines.