Launching a start-up at the age of 19, Helly Tong, also known as Tong Khanh Linh, now 27, has been a vegetarian for a long time because of her big love for nature and animals.
It is the love that guides her to find her own path in life: making the green lifestyle her center.
However, after a long time of reading books and having had more experience in life, Helly would like to call it a style of living in adaptation to nature rather than a green lifestyle.
Living green or not, it's a choice
For many young people, the name Helly Tong reminds them of a green lifestyle. They love her beauty in photos of fashion collections, and they are inspired by her positive and hopeful view of life while in talks with her.
Despite her popularity in terms of leading a green life, Helly does not consider herself a leader or a person who has a dominant position.
At the age of 27, Helly is the founder and CEO of The Yen Concept, a business model devoted to trees with the aim of bringing balance back to modern life.
She is also the co-founder of Lại Đây Refill Station, a chain of stores selling 'green' products made in Vietnam with the philosophy of 'refill' in the hope of increasing recycling and decreasing waste.
When it comes to business, mass production in a short period can cause environmental consequences.
“I let my business model grow slowly instead of seeking speed,” said Helly.
“I like the word ‘nature’ as it has two meanings. While the first one refers to all the plants, animals, and things that exist in the universe that are not made by humans, the second is the type or main characteristic of something.
“The nature of human beings has a strong attachment to the natural world, which was proven by scientists.
"The things that flow naturally forward will attract people to follow eventually."
The businesswoman not only sells products but also shares useful tips for leading a green life with everyone and holds many 'green' events.
Among them are the Green library project with more than 100 books on living a green life, workshops for recycling, a market for exchanging old items, libraries of seeds and trees, waste collecting and recycling events on Earth Day, buying agricultural products from farmers, preventing food waste, and more.
In 2019 and 2020, Lại Đây called for donations of used items to give to needy students who live in Ta Lai Commune, Tan Phu District, Dong Nai Province, and in the two provinces of Tien Giang and Dak Lak.
With Lại Đây Refill Station, Helly focuses on the green origin of the products and the information is published in detail on her shop’s website.
In addition to business, Helly has a passion for doing activities for the community. She is both a director of communication and a creative impact director at Song Foundation.
Before becoming a member of Song Foundation, Helly got involved in many community activities, among which are environment activities from organizations like Change and WildAid.
Helly has experienced a long journey since she found a philosophy of life that she wants to follow. Her image is associated with a green lifestyle and a business model based on that lifestyle as well.
In 2021, when many Vietnamese entrepreneurs struggled to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, Helly launched the #TogetherRecover campaign, which helps other companies that share values with The Yen Concept have a chance of sharing and connecting their brands for free.
A total of 28 companies were supported in the campaign.
“What attracts customers is that not only can they bring their bottles to refill but they also know the origin of the products and whether they are green or not,” said Helly.
“They are smart customers. They can access information and learn about the sellers’ supply chains too."
|Helly Tong used to have long hair like in this photo but she cut it for donation to make natural hair wigs for cancer patients with chemo-related hair loss.|
Happiness is green, too
Living a green life, in the smallest meaning of the concept, is decreasing the usage of plastic items in daily life.
On a larger scale, leading a green life is conducting activities to fight climate change and bringing a pure and healthy environment back to the people on the planet.
Although many overuse plastic, Helly believes that even small actions can help change the world eventually.
In her profound belief, she has patiently done many things, from bringing a bottle of water along while going out, reusing plastic bottles to contain cosmetics, to replanting trees.
Along with Song Foundation and Hanh Phuc Xanh (Green Happiness) Program, in 2020 and 2021, Helly took part in afforestation programs in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long and Ninh Thuan Province, located in the south-central region of Vietnam.
The two projects planted 37,400 and 41,000 trees, respectively. In particular, the rate of tree survival in southern Soc Trang Province is 99 percent.
Hanh Phuc Xanh promotes tree planting for 70 years with the aim of increasing Vietnam’s tree density.
The program sets a goal of planting 640,000 trees in urban cities and forests in Vietnam by 2025. This is also toward attaining the objective of the government to grow one billion trees by that year.
“I choose to lead a green life because of myself rather than anyone else. I do not want to become a role model for such a lifestyle,” said Helly.
“It is a challenge for us to live in our way.
"When we've managed to do that, we do not have to persuade others.
"Living like that way is a choice.
"I do not want to force others to choose what they do not like to do."
Appreciating the true value in afforestation
Taking part in many afforestation projects in the hope of leaving dreams and expectations for the next generations, Helly has a realistic perspective.
How to make the trees grow after being planted is the most important question to her, as Helly does not like to turn afforestation into a way of making her well known.
“I am not the person who is in charge of planting trees in terms of the technical aspect but I'm a project planner. However, I experienced a situation that crashed my dream sometime,” Helly told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
“I used to think it would be simple to grow trees, which is just coming to a forest and plant them.
"But when it comes to reality, the chance of survival for trees is a big issue.
"What is the problem if we plant 3,000 saplings and they all die?
“Nowadays, factors like climate, environment, and others are all more complicated.
"It would cost us VND40,000 [US$1.70] to plant a tree before but now it would cost more than VND100,000 ($4.25)."
Thanks to real experience, Helly realizes that to make afforestation a success, it is necessary to have scientists forecast potential natural crises and the locals who know how to plant and care for trees.
It is the locals, with practical and extensive knowledge in planting trees, who have enough experience in growing and protecting the forest, she said.
Helly acknowledged that sometimes her presence in some projects is just a decorative image as she is not good at everything.
“Of course, let’s send the image to those people who would like to contribute to the environment although we know that planting trees in a forest is not as easy as growing them in houses or in an apartment building,” she added.
Afforestation helps Helly realize the true value of nature.
“A forest is not only about big trees but the lives that came to an end. Nature has its own language and it does not need to explain anything,” the woman observed.