Portrait of Thao, founder of Kilomet 109
Thao is Vietnamese from a little village located 109 kilometers away from Hanoï. This is the reason why she chose this name for her brand. She studied journalism but after her first child was born she decided to focus on her first passion : designing clothes. She decided to study at the London Fashion School, which has a campus in Hanoi. There, she studied design and sewing. Thao started to work for two companies in the UK and Germany before launching her own brand in 2012. She decided to work with ethnic minorities in North Vietnam. But collaborating with these communities takes time. You need to build a relation of trust and of mutual respect between artisans and the entrepreneur. It’s also important to establish a fair price to value their work. With these conditions you can build a rapport of trust. By working with them, she learnt a lot about spinning, weaving and dyeing technique.
She collaborates with the Black Hmongs to grow the hemp next to Sapa, in the mountains North of Vietnam. Weaving the hemp is complex and it takes a lot of time. In order to make the textile softer and shiner they use a technique with bees’ wax. They put the wax on the textile, and crush it with a stone. Thao uses this technique for mid-season jackets. Then, she collaborates with the Hmongs to to the dyeing process with indigo. You need to dye the fabrics about 40 times to obtain a dark blue. They realise Batik with a wax resist technique. You can draw the design with the wax on the fabric and then dye it by plunging it into indigo. When you take it out you obtain the design by unsticking the wax.
Today, Thao works with 4 differents communities so about 30 people. Once the fabric is made, it is sent to the workshop in Hanoi where 5 sewers work to make the clothes. In the construction of the garment you can find the expertise of the designer. Thao mixes know-how and modernity very intelligently.
In terms of environment, Kilomet109 is part of the Slow Fashion movement, with one collection per year. Indeed, it takes six months to weave and create the fabrics and then six months to tailor and make the clothes. Everything is made locally. There is a real transparency on every step of the production chain. Thao chose to use only natural materials and vegetable dyes.
For some special pieces she uses leftovers of factories. Concerning the waste management, the quantity of waste is quite small but when there is waste it is redistributed to the students of a fashion school in Hoi An.
Concerning the social aspect, Thao advocates for the preservation of a traditional know-how in Vietnam. She also enables the communities to have a decent life and to earn stable incomes. It’s also a way to promote traditional vietnamese textile and the related professions for which the young generation are not interested in anymore.
The brand sells mostly online but Thao will open her first shop in Hanoi in the summer 2018. Her objective is to grow organically.