Pham Xuan Long, 21, still remembers the extreme shock of looking at around 20 plastic bags after coming home from a traditional market and the feeling that he needed to do something to help.
Even though he is young, Long compared what he saw in the past when his grandmother and mother often carried straw bags to go to the market to the piles of plastic bags people use now in Vietnam.
They used banana or lotus leaves to wrap food without the need to use a plastic bag.
With that thought in mind, Long also felt sad seeing straw bags woven by elderly villagers who could not sell them due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weaving straw bags is a traditional craft in Long’s hometown in Vu Chinh Commune, located in the northern province of Thai Binh.
During the pandemic, many of the village’s handmade products had to be stacked in warehouses because there was no way to sell them.
|Pham Xuan Long’s grandparents, who are now over 80 years old, make straw bags as a traditional craft handed down by ancestors in a supplied photo.|
Among the people whose livelihood relies on making straw bags is Long’s grandfather, who is over 80 years old now.
Despite his old age, he still works hard every day in the hope of keeping his ancestors’ traditional craft.
Feeling an urge to do something to help his grandparents, Long tried promoting their straw bags online during his four-month online learning.
He introduced handmade bags on his Facebook account and got much positive feedback from people who support a green lifestyle.
“Two years ago, I asked my grandfather for two straw bags and carried them to Hanoi,” recalled Long.
“I took one to the market, where many people kept looking at it.
"Many of them asked me where I got it as the straw bag reminded them of the old days."
Seeing that many people found the straw bags interesting, Long arrived at the idea of posting the images of them online to seek buyers.
“I got the support from many people when I offered the straw bags online for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he recounted.
There are around ten separate phases conducted for completing a straw bag, including harvesting straws, sorting them out, cutting and drying, pressing, weaving, and more.
At first, a straw bag was sold at an extremely low price, just over VND10,000 ($0.44).
"A skilled person can only weave merely three to four bags a day,” Long told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
“That price is not worth the labor, so I tried to offer them online and fortunately my grandfather’s bags sold out,” said Long, adding that he continued to vend more bags after the lucky first sale.
|This supplied photo shows two straw bags made by Pham Xuan Long’s grandfather.|
To date, Long has found more partners who distribute the bags in Hanoi.
He gets more orders from the central city of Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City.
The young man becomes 'an ambassador' for his villagers’ handmade bags, helping them to sell more products during the pandemic.
According to Long, using straw bags will help decrease a significant number of plastic bags when someone goes to the market.
They can carry some boxes to buy meat or fish at the same time.
“Straw bags can be reused for one to two years depending on how a person uses and preserves them," said Long.
"When they cannot be utilized anymore, we can transform them into organic fertilizer.”
Long intends to look for new models of straw bags with the aim of attracting young customers.
In his opinion, the bags are not only suitable for market-going, but they can also be used for going on a picnic or traveling.
“I was told that I should focus on my studies now instead of selling straw bags since the profit is meager, but I'll try my best,” he underlined.
“I am happy to find that people are paying more attention to environmental issues now as well as to green products.
"I was called ‘a straw bag entrepreneur' by the old people in the village."