A Belgian fashion designer in Hoi An, located in central Vietnam, has been running a boutique specializing in the ethnic costumes worn by the local Co Tu people, adding a touch of modernity to elevate the traditional dresses thanks to help from local collaborators.
Hoi An plays home to hundreds of fashion and fabric stores, with a variety of products to meet the varying needs of locals and tourists alike, many of which draw inspiration from Vietnamese ethnic minority peoples’ fashion.
For Aldegonde van Alsenoy from Belgium, her interest lies in the unique costumes of the Co Tu – an ethnic people southwest of Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam.
Alsenoy’s store is located at 57 Le Loi Street in Hoi An and offers visitors the opportunity to browse outfits unique to the Co Tu people.
What sets her products apart from lookalikes is that her clothing is made using fabric manually woven by the Co Tu people themselves, as well as traditional Vietnamese silk.
The new settlement
Alsenoy, known to the locals as Ava, was lured to Hoi An by the blissful beauty of the ancient town during a trip to Vietnam in 2005.
The 48-year-old Belgian fashion designer could not resist the call of rustic roof tiles on the vintage golden cottages stretching along the city’s streets.
Eventually, she married an Italian man and settled in the city.
As part of her job, Ava began seeking supplies of Vietnamese silk to cater to the surging number of tourists visiting the city.
In 2012, the International Labor Organization hosted a project to strengthen tourism in Quang Nam Province, a sector of which was devoted to fabric supplies from Co Tu artisans.
Ava realized this tough material, with its peculiar patterns, was the jewel she was looking for and began rushing to Co Tu textile villages in Dong Giang, Tay Giang and Nam Giang Districts in Quang Nam Province to source products which might otherwise never have been accessible to tourists visiting Hoi An.
The final product
It was not long before she decided to create modern costumes based on Co Tu fabrics.
She soon began bringing her designs to the Co Tu artisans.
The modern design from a European mindset blended with the fine skills of textile workers in the mountains and spearheaded the beginning of her magnificent fashion collections notable for their outstanding patterns and sophisticated mix of materials.
She now partners with hundreds of artisans from remote areas of Quang Nam, sending them her designs, which are then ‘manufactured’ and sent back to Hoi An for refinement.
From a single store at 57 Lo Loi Street in Hoi An, Ava has expanded it to several boutiques in Da Nang City.
The Belgian designer says she is deeply indebted to Hoi An.
This “urban village," as she calls it, has given her a little family and helped her pursue her true passion.
“Both of our children have Vietnamese names. Every day I stroll along the streets and interact with potential customers. Then, I’m off to the mountains to work with the Co Tu workers,” she said.
“Our lives are far from complicated since we are living our happiest moments.”