HANOI (Vietnam News/Asia News Network): For thousands of years, sericulture and silk production have been closely associated with Vietnamese historical, cultural and social development.
Silk has become part of national cultural and social life, helping confirm the beauty of Việt Nam, appearing in many events at home and abroad, often through the image of the national costume áo dài (traditional long dress).
Vietnam is one of the world's top six silk producers, the third largest silk exporter in Asia, and the sixth in the world. With its own identity, Vietnam has a long tradition of silk production and silk weaving.
However, the Vietnamese silk brand is faint on the world map, a silent shadow behind foreign big brands. This concerns those who make Vietnamese silk, love traditional values and have national pride.
Experts and businesses say Vietnamese silk is highly valued worldwide for its unique qualities, but the country is not a global hub of prestige.
"While Vietnamese silk fabric is exported and ordered by the world’s leading fashion brands, the country is not on the world’s silk map. Products made in Vietnam are often sold in the international market under foreign brands," according to Huynh Tan Phuoc, chairman of the Board of Members of Vietnam Silk House.
Vietnamese silk has a high-quality standard with the best foundations in South-East Asia but is often exported in raw materials or through an intermediary. Thus, most consumers could not recognise a brand name of Vietnamese silk, Phước tells Vietnam News.
Minh Hanh, a fashion designer, tells Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper that a paradox occurs within Vietnamese silk.
"It is impossible to find a 'Made in Vietnam' silk product in the global market because Vietnamese silk is exported under world-famous brand names. It is a disadvantage for the country," she says.
International Silk Union Secretary General Fei Jianming agrees that the country has yet to become a strong brand globally as it mainly exports silk yarn rather than finished products.
There are numerous reasons for this, but low, competitive capacity, inadequate cooperation among domestic producers, and a lack of effective management and relevant support policies are the driving factors.
Experts say the country's silk industry needs to focus on expanding sericulture areas, investing more in high-tech production and encouraging locals to apply new advances in sustainable mulberry cultivation and weaving.
Vu Can Giang, a Hanoian businesswoman with a deep passion for the material, says to boost silk products made in Vietnam, domestic silk producers and the business community need to closely cooperate in promoting their products while exporting worldwide.
"Strict management is also needed for the domestic market, which is now developing randomly and spontaneously with abundant imported materials with unclear origins," Giang tells Vietnam News.
"It is tough for consumers to identify real products made with local Vietnamese materials, even those made in Van Phuc, a long-existing silk weaving village in Hanoi. Only a few shops there sell high quality silk."
Giang spent many years researching Vietnamese silk before engaging in her own business in the industry. She is now CEO and founder of Gam Voc, a young local brand with the primary goal of promoting the beauty of áo dài fashion as well as preserving traditional silk culture.
Phuoc says it is necessary to gather business enterprises with a standard motto to bring Vietnamese silk to the world and create opportunities for foreign consumers to access many different brands in Vietnam.
The businessman says a boost of investment in improving production and labour, with more application of high technology, are needed to increase quality, along with a focus on creativity in designs,
"As a solution, Vietnam Silk House has been established by a group of famous producers and designers to promote high-quality silk 'Made in Vietnam' to the world," he says.
"It is more than the silk business; it is about the Vietnamese brand name. Vietnam Silk House is a venue for producers to share experience in the industry and learn from each other, creating diversity for products in the future."
According to the Vietnam Mulberry Association, the material has become more and more favoured in the world market, with the value of the raw silk market alone estimated at US$20 billion.
Since domestic production faced an increasing shortage of materials, Vietnam has imported about 1,000 tonnes of materials from China and Brazil to make products for export. However, the industry will likely undergo rapid modernisation in the coming years.
A Vietnam Sericulture Research Centre report says the country is gradually overcoming its continuous materials decline. The cultivation of mulberry [whose leaves are used to feed silkworms] has increased rapidly from 8,200ha in 2016 to 13,200ha in 2021.
A total of 16,500 tonnes of silkworm cocoon was produced in 2021 nationwide, marking a 10 per cent increase over the previous year. In 2019, the country's total silkworm production stood at only 11,855 tonnes.
Among Vietnam’s traditional silk farming regions, including villages existing for over 10 centuries, such as Vạn Phuc in Hanoi's Hadong District, Nam Cao in the northern province of Thai Bình, and Nha Xa in the province of Hanam, those in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong's Bao Loc district have an important role to play in bringing 'Made-in-Vietnam' silk to the world.
"Today, I think only Bao Loc could become a prestigious locality that provides real 'Made-in Vietnam' products to the lucrative world export market," says Giang.
"Natural products are often soft and smooth. They can absorb sweat, keep cool in summer, warm in winter and be durable over time. The silk material made in Bao Loc can meet all such quality, at the same time often have creativity in designs and production with new, advanced technology."
Bao Loc is considered the capital of silk production in the country. It is home to many large factories and private workshops. Some estimates say that more than 80 per cent of domestic production will come from Lam Don in the future.
In the 1960s, Japanese experts discovered regions which had geographical conditions suited to develop the industry, including Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Lâm Đồng's three districts of Duc Trọng, Di Linh and Bao Luc.
After five decades, Bao Loc has left its imprint on the nation’s and region’s silk industry. It is famous not only for its enormous production base but for its premium quality.
Products made in Bao Loc have been showcased at many domestic and international silk cultural events, including most recently in October in San Marino.
To introduce Vietnamese silk to foreigners, designer Minh Hạnh and Vietnam Silk House presented the "Silk & San Marino" fashion show featuring the shiny lines of Bao Loc through áo dài and fashion sets with designs based on imprints of San Marino.
The event held in October was expected to be the starting point for Vietnamese silk to take a stand on the world map.
Along with Bao Loc silk, other local brands are also set to preserve the prestige of Vietnamese silk among domestic consumers and confirm its reputation in the market through a series of national events and celebrations.
The programme Muôn Nẻo Đường Tơ (All Silk Roads) was held on Nov 18 as part of a series of cultural events to celebrate National Heritage Day (Nov 23).
The programme introduced products in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It featured an áo dài fashion show along with contemporary folk music performances.
A space introducing traditional silk production and the fabric weaving process in the northern delta region was also set up for visitors to experience the authentic local silk occupation.