Designer Spotlight: Valerie Gregori McKenzie
Before I went to Vietnam, I searched ‘eco-fashion’ on google to see what, if anything, I would find there. Valerie Gregori McKenzie‘s name came up time and time again. Her dedication to sustainability, preserving Vietnamese artistry and supporting workers is just one of the reasons she has legions of fans in the country. I caught up with her to find out how she found herself in Vietnam and why she stayed.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your educational background?
I am from France – went to esmod Paris then worked as a designer between France & Italy for Taverniti- a sportswear/jeans company then moved to LA where I worked for an other sportswear & sunglasses company called Vuarnet.
How did you come to start Song and what were its beginnings?
I met my (now ex) husband during a trip to Nevis in the Caribbean and we moved to Hanoi, Vietnam where he worked for World Bank. It is in Hanoi I discovered the handmade traditions and embroideries. I started working from my house, sending out my design to be embroidered by surrounding villages, then opened stores then moved to wholesale etc… our biggest wholesale markets are Scandinavia, Australia and Japan.
What matters to you most as a designer?
The right mix between design and business. You have to feed both sides equally to enjoy and succeed at the same time.
How would you define the style Song exemplifies?
Song is a lifestyle – a way of life based on comfort and well being. Handmade traditions are the hallmark of the brand. To remain a luxury product made on human scale.
Everything is made in Vietnam – how does location contribute to the brand ?
Yes, all is made in Vietnam. Of course VN artisans contribute a lot to the actual products but not only Vietnamese artisans, we also work with ethnic minority groups as well as other artisans within the regions.
What are your favourite fabrics to work with and why?
All fabrics. Due to our search for interesting textures most must be imported – we do a lot of experiment[ation] with fabrics. We are currently working on Egyptian cotton thread, naturally dyed with plants in Egypt, which we will weave in Vietnam for our beautiful range of bed linens. These types of projects are complicated to put together but results can be beneficial to all partners and I find them interesting to develop. Bringing people together, each of them adding skills to propose a premium, original product.
What does eco-fashion mean to you?
Eco-fashion or also eco-lifestyle: [means] doing things differently, having fun with what I come across, design or recycle a craft or a material to make it into something new and valuable. My next project will be to recycle coffee trees from Buon Me Tuat, central Vietnam. They pull out the trees if they do not produce enough coffee beans after a few years. We will collect this lost wood to wood carving villages near Hanoi – we are currently working on a range of wooden item for the kitchen just for this tree to be recycle. That is the freedom I get, leaving and working from Vietnam.
You’ve now launched Maison, Monsieur, Petites – was it always part of the vision to increase the lines?
Since we are a lifestyle brand, we want to propose options to individuals or family looking for well being in all areas of their life. New capsule collections come out every month. For example: SO wellness Lounge / weekend collection will be available early March [images shown above], Maison early April, NU PIEDS for beachwear / resortwear early May etc…
Where in the world can people find the collections?
A bit everywhere but of course not enough yet. Australia, Scandinavia – we design and produce for large brands for example: TINE K HOME at Palacio de Hierro in Mexico, in Japan Kobe/Tokyo etc..
What is in the future for the brand?
Our next store opening will be in Paris le Marais, [at the] end of 2013 then we will see what comes next. I am also introducing the brand on Japan Television end of May and we also work with the HYATT Group on Fashion Uniforms. We are currently handling 3 projects for the group in South East Asia and shall start China after our TET New year.
If you could give advice to a young designer living as an expatriate, what would you tell them?
Every place has something to offer. I would advise to believe and go!