In Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, the wild sedge that blankets the region is providing a serious boost to the local economy as local entrepreneurs transform the grasslike plant into beautiful handbags and totes.
Tran Van Hung, a 27-year-old from Nga Truong Commune, Nga Son District, Thanh Hoa, has made a name for himself among the local community thanks to his creative use of the sedge plants that grow wildly across the province.
Hung’s company, Co May, which focuses on crafting handbags and totes from sedge, rattan, bamboo, and wood employs several locals who help produce the eco-friendly goods.
Each bag can be purchased online, from both at home and abroad, for VND800,000 (US$35) to VND3 million ($129) apiece.
The business earns him an annual revenue of nearly VND200 million ($8,627) and provides jobs for many local youths with a monthly salary of VND4 million ($172).
Though Hung spent a few years bouncing between jobs after graduating from a local college, his love of crafting pulled him back to his hometown about two years ago to set up a business where he could dedicate his time to his passion.
Now, thanks to Hung’s ingenuity, Thanh Hoa’s sedge plants which were once used for just carpet and mat weaving are now repurposed to create durable, eye-catching bags.
Aside from sedge products, Co May markets products made from all natural materials, including leather, shellfish, gravel, flowers, and grass to college students, business people, and everyone in between.
The company also allows customers to choose personalized inscriptions for the accessories.
Despite Co May’s current success, getting the business off the ground was no easy task.
“We had to build a workshop, train our staff, create designs that suited young customers’ tastes, and scout various markets,” Hung shared.
“When we first started, we suffered a lack of capital and experience.
"We had no name recognition either.
"It was really tough going.”
Hung takes pride in employing staff entirely from his hometown to satisfy his passion for creating handmade goods.
Currently, Hung’s workforce creates products of all shapes and sizes, ranging form laptop-sized bags to small jewelry holders.
“We pay close attention to each stitch, pattern, and add-on. Hung and all the workers here work to make sure every customer is satisfied,” a young female worker said.
In the two years since Co May’s inception, dozens of customers have sent Hung photos of his bags on their trips in other countries.
Hung could not feel more honored that they have chosen to travel with his products.
“When you’re in love with your job, a whole new world opens up,” he said.
Hung's next steps with Co May include working with local fashion brands and retailers from other countries to expand his markets and provide more jobs for local youths.
His project, 'Handbags crafted from a fusion of traditional materials and modern leather,' recently took home the first prize from a provincial contest for local youth startup initiatives.
He has also been awarded a certificate of merit from the chairman of Thanh Hoa Province People’s Committee.
According to Duong Thi Thoa, secretary of Nga Son District’s Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union chapter, Hung’s company is one of more than 100 successful business models that have been launched by the local youth.
Apart from his entrepreneurial role, Hung is also active in the district's community service as well as charitable work.
Nga Son District’s Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union chapter plans to help Hung access state bank loans to further develop his facility and create more jobs for young people.