On a recent trip to Hanoi, in Vietnam, I wandered the streets to see where the day would take me. This included going into lots of little art galleries, all housing incredible oil paintings and photography. In L’Institut Français de Hanoi, there was an experimental installation where a series of life-size photographs leaked onto the floor, and a white sculpture hung down from the ceiling like a cloud. Upstairs there were lots of neat illustrations from a range of artists. There was one smaller gallery that stood out from the rest where the eccentric art dealer with short turquoise-dyed hair spoke about the meaning behind each painting, telling me about Vietnam’s history with lacquer paintings as I admired a large glittering image of space.
My previous visit to Hanoi had included larger buildings such as the Fine Arts and Women’s Museums. Both were particularly interesting in terms of gender representation, featuring images of strong women, but also exploring the complexity as to what that means. Another gem amongst Hanoi’s many galleries was actually a shop that I stumbled upon during my wandering. It’s called “Ginkgo”, and caught my eye because of the cool designs in the window. However, I discovered it was so much more than that.
Firstly, the clothes feature work by local artists and designers, and are 100% made in Vietnam. The clothes are certainly not as cheap as some of the other places you will find in Vietnam, but the stores (several across the country) feature top-quality products that are sure to stand the test of time. Not only that, but they stress the importance of fair-trade, and feature products made from organic cotton. Both of these factors are incredibly important in terms of the progress of the fashion industry. This is also a feminist issue as it is a majority of women who are subject to slave labour in factories and the poor working conditions that led to the horrific deaths of workers not so long ago.
The company, also now a travel agency, is aimed at tourists, with unique clothes about Vietnam. With a sense of humour, they do make great souvenirs – for example there are designs showing the way the traffic lights are viewed by motorbikes, the different things that are piled on top of them (including whole families), and visual comic strips of life in Vietnam. So, if you find yourself in Hanoi, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City or Nha Trang, and you do want to buy some clothes, this is one of the best places to do it. If all that doesn’t convince you, it also has Feminist credentials – ran by a couple, the Director is a woman and the company as a whole has an equal gender balance.
Check out the website here: http://ginkgo-vietnam.com/world-of-ginkgo
Featured image © Ginkgo