Starting from a small boutique selling glass bottles and bamboo straws, two young female entrepreneurs in Vietnam have created an ecosystem of more than 50 eco-friendly products ready for launch on Amazon.
The art of 'zeng' — a traditional technique of textile weaving of the Ta Oi people in the mountainous area of A Luoi District in central Thua Thien-Hue — was first introduced to a bevy of audiences in mid-May to great acclaim.
'Zeng' was one among the handicraft specialties promoted in the recent showcase event 'Tinh Hoa Hue' (The Essence of Hue) — an effort to raise awareness on cultural heritage and eco-friendly lifestyle by Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tram and Dang Thi Thu Huong, founders of the sustainable consumer initiative Eco Green Hub.
A yearning to 'live green'
Donning a bob cut hairdo, 24-year-old Huong gives off the impression of a young, savvy businesswoman.
Her journey with sustainable entrepreneurship started from a vision of 'a green ecosystem' she has had since she was still a university student.
After graduating from the Hue College of Economics under Hue University in Thua Thien-Hue with a degree in marketing in 2018, Huong initially worked for a consulting firm specializing in company establishment and later moved on to the task of promoting innovation for businesses in the province.
Though these jobs paid well, they could not drown the voice inside Huong that yearns for a sustainable way of living.
“As I work in the startup territory and have a passion for a green lifestyle, why not try to start a business from sustainable products?” Huong pondered.
She then decided to quit her financially-rewarding job at the time to pursue her vision while inviting Tram, who is two years younger and was attending her third university year, on board as a co-founder.
Having an inclination toward a holistic lifestyle and a marketing background in common, Tram took no time to accept Huong’s offer.
Their brainchild, Eco Green Hub, was launched in July 2019, working to connect suppliers and consumers who share the notion of responsible consumption and production in the locale of Hue City, the provincial capital.
Their first showroom had a humble premiere with glass bottles and bamboo straws as its sole products.
While starting afresh with barely any market expertise, the project is also faced with the deep-rooted complacency of customers toward sustainable products. At the time, the majority of the shop’s patrons were friends of the founders.
Finding the balance between financial incentives and the core value of environmental sustainability was the biggest challenge to the project, said Huong.
“Being deficient in market experience, Tram and I had to juggle between work and research, which made a 12-hour working day, or even more, the norm,” Huong recalled.
The extended arm
That the two women invested some VND150 million (US$6,500) from their savings and loans from friends in the brand-new venture confronted by a myriad of challenges has been considered a bold move by their community.
Now, the product ecosystem that grew from the investment is proving its worth with a diversified range of items displaying sustainability and indigenous values.
Among the recyclable products that Eco Green Hub supplies are peculiar accessories: earrings made from macadamia nut shells, decorative flowers made from dried banana trunks, dishwashing sponge from dried loofahs, and more.
The shop also sells local specialties from Vietnam, the most notable of which is zeng handbags and Ha Village essential oils.
To establish quality criteria for each supplier and their production is key to ensuring the standards of the products before delivering them to customers, according to Tram.
The price for each item at Eco Green Hub ranges from VND10,000 ($0.43) for a bamboo straw to VND550,000 ($23) for a zeng handbag.
“The only common grounds of our products are their resonating ‘green’ wavelength, eco-friendliness, and safety for consumers,” Tram said.
Both the office and showroom of Eco Green Hub are currently based in a cozy, greenery-embraced space on Ngo Thi Nham Street in Hue City.
Their products are gaining traction among the youth, building a solid customer base and shifting consumer behavior to sustainable products.
Prior to January, their ecosystem consisted of 13 locations sharing a vision of 'green' living — from supermarkets to restaurants and hotels partnered to display Eco Green Hub products.
After the ravaging effects of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the massive shift in consumer patterns, as well as the abrupt drop in foreign tourists in Hue, has led to the closure of five locations in the network.
Taking account of the situation, the duo is envisaging new schemes to keep their business thriving.
On top of reaching out to consign products to more locations within and outside of the province, they are also pushing their online commerce channels and finalizing the last procedural steps to launch their products on Amazon.
The two entrepreneurs are committed to making Eco Green Hub an 'extended arm' mediating the connection between suppliers and consumers.
“Our catalog of more than 50 products from ten partners means that our vision is slowly falling into place,” Huong proclaimed.
In less than one year of operations, Eco Green Hub has organized five events on the theme of environmental preservation, plastic recycling, and sustainable consumption.
Despite a guest list of no more than 20 people, the on-site attendance count always falls between 50 to 100.
According to Huong, Eco Green Hub prioritizes products made by the disabled in their ecosystem as a way to connect even more with the community.
“The ultimate benefit that our project has yielded, more than anything else, is the development of a ‘green,’ eco-friendly and environmentally-aware lifestyle in our society,” she said.