Designer Vu Thao © Kilomet109

[INSIDER GUIDE] Kilomet109 Designer Vu Thao’s Unique Hanoi
Vu Thao is the designer of Kilomet109, a fashion brand pursuing sustainability. She has rediscovered Hanoi with her delicate gaze. We had an in-depth conversation about inspiring places, comforting landscapes, her design philosophy and conscious lifestyle that prioritizes the environment and local community.
“Hanoi is such a special city. Tradition and modernity form an exquisite balance. Traces of the 1,000-year-long history are found across the city, while the presence of heritage of old craft villages, each with their own traditional art practice, still plays a key role in the city culture. Although Hanoi has gone through rapid urbanization and modernization these past 20-30 years, it continues to exude its own ‘Hanoi’ charm that cannot be found in other metropolitans of the world.”
Vu Thao, designer of Kilomet109
킬로밋109의 2020 컬렉션 © 킬로밋109

2020 collection by Kilomet109 © Kilomet109

A favorite place?
Manzi Art Space is truly special to me. The first-ever show of Kilomet109 was held at Manzi. It is an art gallery and cafe. It is also a space for artists like myself to hold an exhibition. That’s not all. Manzi Art Space is located in one of the best places to enjoy the local culture of Hanoi. There are a number of street food stalls lining the alley, and you can buy all sorts of traditional Hanoi cuisine, snack food, and desserts in the nearby Hang Than street. So I would like to say this. “Check out Manzi first. We shall start from there.”
I also like to visit Work Room Four, a multidisciplinary art and design space dedicated to diverse projects in the form of exhibitions, workshops, and lectures. The place serves as an ‘artistic hub’ offering inspirations and stimulations to artists and connecting human to human.
· Manzi Art Space 14 Phan Huy Ich, Nguyen Trung Truc, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
· Work Room Four 31 Ngo 67 To Ngoc Van, Quang An, Tay Ho, Hanoi
© 워크 룸 포

© Work Room Four

© 만지 아트 스페이스

© Manzi Art Space

A favorite museum?
To me, museums are a source of creativity. I love watching the lives and costumes of ethnic minorities in the women’s museum and ethnology museum. When I’m in the mood for some art instead of fashion, I visit the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum.
· Vietnamese Women’s Museum 36 Ly Thuong Kiet, Hang Bai, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi 
· Museum of Ethnology D. Nguyen Van Huyen, Quan Hoa, Cau Giay, Hanoi
· Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum 66 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Dien Ban, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
A special shopping item?
Handcrafted Shigeru Eyewear. They make glass frames with natural materials such as buffalo horn and bamboo. Their designs are second to none. I already own several of their products.
· Shigeru Eyewear Ng. 663 Truong Dinh, Giap Nhi, Hoang Mai, Hanoi
© 시게루 아이웨어

© Shigeru Eyewear

A favorite bar?
Tadioto Bar is a place run by Nguyen Duc who is a journalist and art aficionado. The bar plays an important role in Hanoi’s creative scene. It reveals the modern and dynamic aspects of the city. I read books there by myself or meet friends, and watch performances on weekends.
· Tadioto Bar 24 Tong Dan, Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
© 타디오토 바

© 타디오토 바

© Tadioto Bar

A place offering a glimpse of daily living of Hanoi people?
Hanoi has indefinite charms, but without any doubt, the Old Quarter is the heart of them. Everything about the Old Quarter—its scenes, scents, and sounds—fascinates me. Whenever you go there, you encounter something fun, buy whatever you are looking for, and see the real life of Hanoians. There are craftsmen working on traditional paper and stamp-making, seniors wearing Vietnamese traditional hats, and young people wearing modern clothes--all in one sight. That’s the unique color of Hanoi.
하노이 구시가지 © 전혜인

Old Quarter in Hanoi © Jeon Haein

The best vista?
I adore the view of Hanoi from the Island on the Red River. It is quite an unexpected scene, considering that the commonly-perceived scene of Hanoi can be described as chaotic with lots of noise. From the Red River Island, Hanoi is simply a place where local produce such as bananas, pumpkins, and morning glory grow well, kids play on the river beach, and boats sail on the lake. Before calling it a day, I like taking a walk or riding a bicycle there, basking in the peaceful atmosphere. It’s such a blessed moment in my life.
About Insider: Fashion Designer Vu Thao in Search of Meaningful Work and Life
Vu Thao launched Kilomet109, a Hanoi-based brand pursuing sustainable fashion, in 2012. The number 109 in the name indicates the distance from her hometown to Hanoi. As can be guessed from such a title, her brand seems to reflect a sense nostalgia for her hometown and childhood memories.
Vu Thao’s fashion develops from the ground up, literally. From natural fiber weaving to natural dyeing using indigo, mulberry, various colors of flowers, and minerals, the entire process relies on materials that can be collected from the ground. Traditional craft art using batik or hand embroidery is applied to the fabrics to be hand-sewn. From start to finish, nature and human work together. Vu Thao’s brand has been featured on global media outlets including CNN and < The New York Times > for its reflection of ethnic cultural diversity, innovative designs that reinterpret tradition from a modern perspective, eco-friendly making process, and effort to work with the local community. Kilomet109 is now adding a chapter on sustainable fashion to the world fashion history.
하노이의 킬로밋109 스튜디오 © 킬로밋109

Kilomet109 Studio in Hanoi © Kilomet109

Q. What is sustainable fashion that Kilomet109 seeks?
A. We use natural materials and rely on traditional handcrafting techniques from start to finish. Small production, slow fashion. We try to minimize our negative impact on the environment throughout the course of production and distribution. It includes saving water and electricity. We want to design clothes that can be worn for a long time. We want to achieve zero waste so that when the time comes for the clothes to go, they can easily return to nature. It is feasible because our fabric, dye, and all the other materials come from nature.

Q. What prompted you to launch a sustainable fashion brand?
A. I’m from a small village called Thai Binh, about 2 hours away from Hanoi. Looking back, I remember my childhood being ‘culturally rich and colorful.’ My hometown had an advanced traditional craft, folk art, and local native culture. Almost all the essential items for survival were provided within the community, including clothes. It means I grew up watching the entire process of the most traditional and environmentally-friendly garment making. Back then, it felt so natural to me that I didn’t realize how special and valuable the work was. Even after studying design in Hanoi, I had no idea I would become a sustainable fashion designer. One day, suddenly, I was pulled into this world. On second thought, I think I had all the relevant, important values kept inside of me. Should I say it runs in my blood? When the time came, it was activated.
장인의 기술에 부타오의 디자인이 더해졌다. © 킬로밋109

장인의 기술에 부타오의 디자인이 더해졌다. © 킬로밋109

Vu Thao’s design adds to excellent craftsmanship. © Kilomet109

Q. How do you work with handicraft artisans of ethnic minorities?
A. I pursue a complete collaboration throughout the entire process. I don’t want to, for example, buy textile created by ethnic artisans and then make clothes alone. From harvesting the right vegetation for the work to fiber weaving, natural dyeing, batik, embroidery, and design, we do everything together. I often stay in the ethnic community to share as many ideas and visions as possible. My task is not just preserving traditional craftsmanship, but achieving modern design innovations based on tradition. Our work can be completed only by enduring the challenges in proposing ideas, experimenting, and incorporating the opinions and expertise of the artisans. For one idea to become a finished product, it could take years in some cases. It is a difficult task, but totally worth it.
능안(Nung An) 텍스타일 장인들이 얌루트와 나무껍질로 염색한 천을 세척하고 있다. © 킬로밋109

Nung An textile artisans wash cloths dyed in yam roots and tree bark. © Kilomet109

바틱 드로잉 © 킬로밋 109

Batik drawings © Kilomet109

Q. Where do you find inspiration for your work?
A. Design is, in fact, very personal and emotional that everything you encounter in your personal life becomes an inspiration. I particularly pay attention to details, for example, like the tiny patterns embroidered on a piece of clothing. I also collect texture. Not just fabrics, but diverse objects of different properties, such as timber, steel, rock, and glass. I collect them and their textures or unexpected shapes would give me inspiration.
Vu Thao wearing Shigeru Glasses

Vu Thao wearing Shigeru Glasses © Kilomet109

Vu Thao’s desk, full of inspirational things © Kilomet109

Vu Thao’s desk, full of inspirational things © Kilomet109

Q. In your life as a fashion designer, what was the most exciting moment?
A. It’s a recent episode. In the ethnic village I work with, there had been a pink blanket from a long time ago. The color was so lovely that I asked around to find out the dye, but nobody knew. Several years went by without finding the answer. A little while ago, I was working with the artisans in the village and a piece of rock accidentally cracked. We realized that the dust from the rock had a strange pink tone. The artisans then gathered the dust to use for dyeing just to experiment. Bam! It was the very pink color I had been searching for all this time. Now I know where the rock cluster is. It means I can use the special pink for my Kilomet109 designs! These things excite me.

Q. What is your future goal?
A. If the ethnic artisans work with ‘tradition,’ I try to create a ‘new tradition’ by adding a layer onto the existing one. I would like to present new design techniques every year through partnerships with new communities. Another goal of mine is to contribute to preserving the diversity of local flora. Some rare native plants are disappearing because they are considered useless. If we find whichever way to utilize those plants, local communities will refresh their interest in them, which will increase their chances of survival. I want to continue working toward preserving local nature, activating local culture, and making contributions to local people and their communities.
장인의 기술을 바탕으로 디자인 혁신을 접목한 결과물. 흐몽족이 삼으로 직조한 천으로 만든 비건 가죽 코트, 2018 © 킬로밋 109

Vegan leather coat, made of fabric woven with hemp by the Hmong people, 2018. This is the kind of things you get when combining craftsmanship with innovative design. © Kilomet109

Kilomet109 Studio
64 Quang An, Tay Ho, Hanoi
Inquiry +84-91-237-09-02
October 2021 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Writer:Jeon Haein

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  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
    Writer: Jeon Haein
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