My Khanh, a remote village in the central province of Thua Thien - Hue, is profiting from its clothing store business, with multiple fashion shops across the country now run by its villagers.
A Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper correspondent arrived in My Khanh on a scorching hot day as the sun beat down on the roofs of the hundreds of houses huddled together on a sandy hill.
Being quite empty, it was rare to catch a glimpse of even one villager, with the children even harder to catch.
“The village is so empty because most of the young villagers are opening shops elsewhere,” Nguyen Van Tin, the head of the village, explained.
Many houses remained locked and abandoned because of the clothing store business, which has compelled many My Khanh villagers to leave and set up shop in bigger cities.
The family of Phan Van Tuat, a villager with five sons, is a one example.
In mid-2000, Phan Van Hong, Tuat’s second eldest son, followed his friend to Saigon to open a clothing store.
Hong’s venture was a success, prompting his older brother, Phan Van Cuong, to move south of Saigon and open another clothing store there.
Phan Van Hoan, Phan Van Trong, and Phan Van Xe, the younger brothers, then also decided to follow their elder brothers’ footsteps.
Phan Van Hong and his wife Nguyen Thi Hieu, who wished to stay close to their children, also locked up their home and moved south five years ago.
The Phan family is now the owner of ten clothing stores in Ho Chi Minh City and other cities in the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta regions.
Nguyen Van Ly, who now lives with his son in Saigon, is another typical My Khanh story.
His son, Le Van Quoc, also found success after moving to Saigon to open a clothing store, with his parents moving to Saigon with him in order to help with the family business.
Quoc, who is in his 30s, owns a chain of clothing stores and has built a house for himself in Ho Chi Minh City after ten years in the business.
Out of 420 families in the village, there are very few who do not work in something related to the clothing store business. Some have opened their own clothing factories, some work in them, while others design clothes or supply fabrics to factories.
Every city and town south of Quang Binh Province has clothing stores owned by My Khanh villagers.
In total, there are over 200 My Khanh stores distributed throughout the country, with 30 of them concentrated in Saigon.
Not satisfied with staying within the confines of Vietnam, the villagers have even considered setting up shops in Cambodia and Laos.
“It’s very easy to know whether a store is owned by a My Khanh villager, because you can hear the unmistakable Hue accent spoken inside the store,” one villager said.
‘Father’ of the business
Truong Van Quynh, 33, considered the father of My Khanh’s clothing store empire, greeted Tuoi Tre (Youth) correspondents in a house filled with clothes on Le Van Phan Street in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City.
One hand stirring his coffee, the other surfing through live videos from cameras installed at several of his clothing stores on his smartphone, Quynh is managing his eight shops remotely, all with the name “Thai Phat,” in Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang, Can Tho, and several other cities.
When asked about his reputation as the father of My Khanh clothing stores, the man humbly replies “people are just kidding calling me that way.”
“I’m not the father of anything,” he added.
Quynh is the fourth of seven children from a poor family.
He dropped out of school in the ninth grade with his best friend Nguyen Van Nghe and learned how to fix motorcycles to earn a living.
After struggling to make a living in his village, Quynh moved to Saigon to search for jobs in 2001, at the age of 18.
He found a job fixing motorcycles at a shop on Bach Dang Street, but decided to give it up after realizing how hard and dirty it was.
After a short stint selling chickens at a local market, Quynh switched to selling clothes, buying clothes from clothing factories and selling them on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City markets.
Quynh managed to save enough money to open a shop at Tan Binh Market, and asked his best friend Nguyen Van Nghe, who was still fixing motorcycles in My Khanh at the time, to move to Saigon to work with him.
Quynh married his wife in 2005 and had a son, whom he named Truong Van Thai, in 2006, the same year he opened his first clothing store on Le Van Khuong Street in District 12.
He named the store “Thai Phat,” combining his son’s name (“Thai”) and his dream of success (“Phat” means “getting rich” in Vietnamese).
Quynh then opened several stores in District 4, District 11, and Thu Duc District, and sought help from his siblings, who moved in with him to join the family business.
He has also opened a clothing factory, and hired dozens of artisans to produce quality clothes for his stores.
Quynh’s dream of affluence, which began as a wide-eyed 18-year-old who had just moved from a remote village to metropolitan Saigon, has been realized.
His best friend Nguyen Van Nghe has also prospered, opening clothing stores in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, and several other cities.
At My Khanh village, a large village hall is being erected from the contributions of several My Khanh villagers across the country.
It’s a sign that the wealthy villagers, no matter where they are, will never forget their roots.