It was in Vietnam that KeapSake's journey into ethical consumerism first started and where the inspiration for the initial collection came from. As a country it is as beautiful as it is complex with a history of wars, conquest and colonialism leaving the people of Vietnam remarkably resourceful, stoic and strong.
In today's Vietnam, tradition and communism appear to be vying for space with capitalism and modernity. With the country's bloody wars in the past, there are new battles to fight: against corruption, unbalanced development, the loss of cultural and historic values...and a rapidly developing economy that is still leaving it's most disadvantaged citizens behind.
Flying into Ho Chi Minh, from above the city looks like children's Lego spread out in a semblance of low-rise building order; faded through decades in the sun. The city sprawls beneath me and as the plane waits in the loop, my own internal butterflies take flight.
This is my first time traveling on my own since starting a family, having left my husband and a network of good friends to look after the kids. Adjectives such as trepidation, excitement, risk and adventure all take turns for space in my head. I chastise myself for having my fears. This is a journey I take not only for my own benefit, but also for the hopeful economic independence of some of the people within the ethnic minorities who make up more than half of the poor in Vietnam.
Through research and contacts at the CBI Netherlands (who do a fabulous work in developing countries to help organizations work towards more sustainable economic development), I have made plans to meet with several artisanal groups who make varied, traditionally based handicraft products. One of the first groups to make contact with me through Vietcraft are the women within the Pa Co group living in the highlands of North Vietnam. Here 24 women of the Hmong ethnic women supplement, and in some instances completely support, their families through their traditional handicrafts and indigo batik.
The hope of KeapSake, like many other likeminded companies and organisations, is to protect the interests of ethnic minority people. By enabling them to preserve and continue their traditional handicraft making skills, allowing them to market their handicrafts to a wider customer base and sharing their story, the hope is that this will empower them economically and socially.
The trip to Vietnam was the first tentative step in that journey for me and what would eventually become KeapSake. With the plane fast beginning it's descent into Ho Chi Minh, that moment is drawing ever closer.
It was a good decision to arrive in the early evening as the seemingly chaotic vibrancy of Ho Chi Minh City is even better projected in a background of neon. I had wanted risk and more challenge in my life and it appears that my first taste of it here in Ho Chi Minh would be in crossing the road!
Cars and a throng of multi-passengered mopeds jostle for space on the road. The pedestrians appear to be playing the same game. So I gulp, then follow the example of the locals and step out into oncoming traffic. Just as well the kids aren't here!
Although, I'm sure that they would be totally into trying out all the fantastically different food! Below we can see barbecued chicken feet and the refreshing dessert of Che Ba Mau being constructed.