Tran Thi Viet
Viet Trang Handicraft
Tran Thi Viet is the founder and managing director of Viet Trang Handicraft, a company with a long history of handicraft production that specializes in natural fibres such as seagrass, jute, water hyacinth, corn leaves and banana leaves, and bamboo. One hundred per cent eco-friendly, the products are made without any chemical substances. The natural fibres are handwoven by talented and passionate women artisans, located in the oldest traditional seagrass-weaving villages of Thanh Hoa Province.
Annually, Viet Nam exports more than US$100 million in handicraft products, made of natural fibres, to the European Union. Tran Thi Viet has differentiated her products by integrating modern design and using a combination of materials inspired by local traditions. In 2013, the company’s sales amounted to US$115,000 and rose to US$185,000 in 2014 and to US$360,000 in 2015, thanks to increased exports. In parallel, the number of full-time employees rose from 10 to 35 and the number of weavers from 100 to 250. Their monthly income also increased by 40% in those three years. Part of the company’s profits are regularly spent on vocational training activities for the employees. At the managerial level, all of the nine posts are occupied by women.
In 2012, Viet Trang Handicraft was in danger of bankruptcy due to the withdrawal of one core buyer. Tran Thi Viet had to decide whether to continue with traditional products or move up the quality ladder towards higher-segment products attuned to the export markets. As a single mother with five daughters, in a tight financial situation, Tran Thi Viet spent sleepless nights trying to make the right decision. Encouraged by her youngest daughter, who had just graduated from one of the top business schools in the capital, she decided to seek financial support from relatives and banks. She also seized opportunities to obtain support from international and national organizations such as CBI (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries), Vietrade, Vietcraft and Hanoi Design Center, in order to improve her products and company image, targeting higher-end markets. Gradually, her persistence and demand for quality paid off, and her products started to be exported to Europe and to the United States, and to meet the demands of responsible consumers who were asking not only for high-quality products but also for products that meet social, cultural and environmental values. In 2015 the company’s exports had quadrupled, compared with 2012.
This success can also be ascribed to the Empretec workshop. Tran Thi Viet recalls: “Since I attended the training course, I do set goals, both short-term and long-term, for everything I do. Besides, I became more persistent in demand for quality, which was key to introduce a new look for the company and to expand and improve our product range”. She also learned to share her vision with her weavers and farmers along with her ultimate goal of preserving the weaving culture of her village. Before becoming an “empreteca” she was convinced that being a well-paid employee in a big company would offer the best future for her daughters, but after attending the Empretec workshop she asked her daughters to work with her, getting inspired together and becoming more proud than ever of their achievements.
In the future, Tran Thi Viet would like to learn how social business models work and how to pursue social, environmental and cultural objectives while doing business.