In the ancient silk village of Van Phuc, textile artists with disabilities are preserving traditional art forms and saving the planet while making cool t-shirts with scraps of discarded fabric. Vun Art co-founder Le Viet Cuong showed us around the workshop.
Van Phuc village is known as the oldest silk village in Vietnam. Its reputation stretches back to the 13th century and its name is still synonymous with quality weaving.
Just 10 kilometres from central Hanoi, it’s a great place for a daytrip if you’re in the capital. Its laneways are festooned with bright umbrellas and its shopfronts are brilliant with silk products of all kinds. But while Van Phuc is a place that’s steeped in tradition, it’s also a hub of creativity and innovation thanks to the team at Vun Art.
Co-founded by Le Viet Cuong in 2017, Vun Art is a social enterprise that trains and employs people with disabilities to make handicrafts and apparel using discarded fragments of Van Phuc silk. And there’s no shortage of fragments. It’s estimated that Van Phuc village discards around 10,000 kilograms of silk scraps each month.
‘It’s a problem with the village here, how to use all this leftover silk,’ says Mr Cuong. ‘Using the leftover fabric helps the environment and is helping our students and workers here also.’
The signature Vun Art style sees Vietnamese folk-painting designs reimagined and repurposed with silk fragments using collage techniques. The artists make handicrafts, postcards, paintings, t-shirts, wallets, purses and more.
The team is proud of the work they’re doing to preserve Vietnamese folk designs in the 21st century. ‘It’s one of the things that makes Vun Art a success,’ says Mr Cuong with pride. ‘It’s the creativity and the people. One of our creative ideas is our t-shirt, with this traditional picture on the back.’
Above all, for Mr Cuong, the non-profit Vun Art model is about enabling people with disabilities to upgrade their skills, live independently, find artistic expression, make friends and engage in meaningful work. In Vietnam – as elsewhere in the world – there are still too many barriers for disabled people seeking jobs.
Mr Cuong lives with disability himself and says the struggle to find employment can really affect people’s confidence and quality of life. ‘It makes people really shy,’ he says. ‘With this project, it helps to have a job, build confidence, and have an income so disabled people can be living by themselves and don’t need to always rely on support from family.’
Vun Art has come a long way in a short time. In the earliest days, Mr Cuong personally walked around neighbourhoods, knocking on doors, trying to convince people to come to train or work with him.
Vun Art now has two workshops and they’ve enhanced the range and quality of their products, too. With the support of clients, community and partners – including the Intrepid Foundation – the talented Vun Art team have been able to build a thriving upcycling enterprise that breaks down stereotypes.
‘It’s a win-win,’ says Mr Cuong.
Well, Vun Art is a thriving upcycling enterprise that breaks down stereotypes and celebrates Vietnamese artistic traditions. So technically, it’s a win-win-win.
Vun Art is a partner of The Intrepid Foundation. You can learn more about this organisation and their efforts here.