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Traditional designs in need of a makeover

HA NOI (VNS)— Diversifying designs for Vietnamese vietnam handicraft and fine art products is becoming essential for the country””s craft villages to stay competitive in tough times, according to officials and experts.

According to Viet Nam Handicraft Villages Association, the country now has 3,355 craft villages producing 200 product categories, with an estimated 12 million people working in the sector.

Vietnamese handicraft products have been exported to over 100 countries and territories in the world. Between 2000 and 2010, export turnover increased 10 times from US$274 million to $2.8 billion.

However, in the last two years, the global economic slowdown has hit Viet Nam””s handicraft villages badly, resulting in high inventories and sale declines of 30-40 per cent.

Dao Van Ho, director of the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry””s Agriculture Trade Promotion Centre, said the decline was due to an absence of creativeness in Vietnamese designs and the shortage of professionally trained designers.

He said that most of the designs were made tens of years or even hundreds of years ago and have become outdated.

In other cases, domestic handicraft producers were still passive as they made products with ordered designs and patterns or “imitated” ones.

Director of the Centre for Handicraft Designing Bui Van Vuong said that changing demand called for changes in designs.

Compared to handicraft producers in other countries like China, South Korea and Malaysia, Vietnamese makers are equally skillful but less sensible to market changes, he said, adding that foreign producers were more professional in tems of material processing, designing and packing.

Meanwhile, carpenter artisan Nguyen Van Duc from northern Nam Dinh Province””s La Xuyen Village said that 90 per cent of handicraft workers in his village did not undergo any design training course. They just learnt from experienced artisans from former generations, so it was difficult to create new designs.

President of Ha Noi Embroidery Association Mai Van Huong said that handicraft producers should pay more attention to three key points: design and pattern, material and target market.

Vietnamese designs must present the country””s cultural values, urging the combination of designers”” talent and technological application. Time-consuming processed materials can be replaced by those made by machines, which help speed up production and reduce costs.

“It is crucial to study export markets, including their customs, tastes and product use,” Huong said.

He also recommended establishing design classes in craft villages and mechanisms to help trained designers claim their products and have their patent rights ensured.

Meanwhile, in the last two days, the Industry and Trade Ministry””s Trade Promotion Department and southern An Giang Province””s People””s Committee held a conference aiming to provide local handicraft producers with Governmental policies and suggestions to overcome these difficult times.

The department deputy head Bui Thi Thanh An said greater access to policies, market information and shared experiences was expected to help handicraft producers raise competitiveness.

Lecturer Do Duc Khai from HCM City Economics University said a major problem for handicraft producers, particularly households or small to middle sized enterprises (SMEs), was finding capital to invest in production.

According to a survey by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, only a third of SMEs can access loans, while another one-third find loans difficult to obtain and the final third cannot get them at all.

Meanwhile, a study by the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry shows over 74 per cent of enterprises seek capital by asking for bank loans.

“Such thought is hindering the flexibility of enterprises,” he said.

Dr Pham Quoc Luyen from HCM City Marketing University said there were many reasons for enterprises”” difficulties in accessing bank loans but the major one was that failure to create a business plan, complete with deposited assets and a financial overview.

He suggested enterprises mobilise capital through issuing corporate bonds, public-private partnerships or via investment funds.

For handicraft enterprises, brand communication and distribution played a vital role, he said, noting four basic steps to establish distribution channels.

They were market study, market approaching measures, market share holding and human resource development. — VNS