The expression “life’s a beach” has particular meaning for France’s Eric Fraboulet. He lived and worked selling his own T-shirts in a restaurant on the sand in Nha Trang after relocating from another continent. He hasn’t looked back since.
Coming to Vietnam during its infancy as an emerging market and starting your own clothing line is no mean feat. Bambou Company was created in 2001 with Fraboulet its CEO, along with CIO Jean Lledos. In addition to 14 shops in Vietnam and six in Cambodia, the firm creates and produces private collections on request, and has a license agreement for export that allows the manufacturing and sending of items all over the world.
The concept behind the brand invokes quality, accessibility, souvenir traits, being fashionable and innovatively designed, while professional service is the standard set in their locations.
After working for some time in similar and relevant fields across multiple countries, the guys behind Bambou were looking for a new challenge. They found that challenge in Vietnam and, after initially selling T-shirts on the beach in Nha Trang, they invested in their first shop.
“When we sold 10 T-shirts in a day [at the beginning] we were so happy,” says Fraboulet, who at one time operated a restaurant in Nice. “Now if we sell that in one day, it’s a problem. Before, the target was tourists. But now it’s all customers.”
Lledos, a former personal trainer, echoes this changing perspective. “Ten years ago, the T-shirt market was empty. [But] building your brand at the beginning is difficult.”
But as with all things, commercial success still hinges on location, location, location. After that first year in Nha Trang, the company began to expand to new markets throughout the country.
“For the frequency of customers, [you need to have] the best place in the city,” Fraboulet says in an interview at the flagship Bambou store on Le Loi in District 1. “When you want to be successful, it’s very important.”
And the Le Loi shop is a good example. Bright and colourful with attentive but non-aggressive staff, it’s a world different from the hawking atmosphere at Ben Thanh Market, a mere few blocks away. A potential customer will emerge from there and be relieved to browse in the shop’s more relaxed atmosphere. The team behind Bambou point to a more western shopping experience and well-trained staff as other keys to building the success story.
Another adjustment for the company was the move away from traditional cotton materials to bamboo, soybean and other fibres in producing Bambou goods. But part of the brand is having durable, comfortable and breathable clothing in this tropical climate. The company also has expanded its line to all kinds of clothing and accessories, although the variety of T-shirts has also grown.
“If someone comes into the shop and doesn’t want a T-shirt, they can get something else,” Fraboulet says. “This is a concept you can apply for every [market].”
As for budding entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in a diverse but complicated market, Fraboulet says Vietnam is a wide-open spot full of opportunity in a number of fields.
“Be tenacious,” Fraboulet says. “Understand the country and the people. Be aware, be open. The future right now is Asia.”
Bambou has stores throughout Vietnam, with new shops opening throughout the continent. For more information visit bamboucompany.com