News, Technology

Embrace unique local flair over generic design

Amie Haven

Amie Haven, Journalist

Footwear brand Một is challenging the trend toward generic consumerism with a new footwear product that took inspiration from Vietnamese culture, architecture, and landscape.

Globalisation is more than just an economic process. It has opened up the world to share knowledge, technology, resources, culture, activism, markets, and social activity. What before was unique and mysterious, lying hidden in far off lands, is now accessible to keen consumers and the culturally curious. Access to the world’s treasures has been globally transformative, with knowledge and technology spreading across the globe and inspiring innovation. However, globalisation has also allowed big Western brands to stake their claim and push their products to a larger market. But the cost of overemphasising popular brands involves the loss of diversity and uniqueness in product design.

We are inspired by the work of others. As is our human nature, we incorporate that which we see into our own designs, wants, and wishes. Big companies like Nike, Apple, and McDonalds advertise their products and services across the globe, influencing the preferences of consumers. Producers supply what consumers demand and the rabid pursuit of economic growth stifles creative design processes, leaving us with generic products for mass consumption. But once we realise how influential major brands are in shaping our preferences and guiding trends, we can step outside of the rigid corporate system and introduce unique threads into globalisation’s web. 

Here, the term ‘generic’ refers to the overall group we call big brands – made up of specific brands with global power and influence. ‘Generic consumerism’ refers to the lure of those big brands, where the design and end product aren’t nearly as important as whether they come under the big brand grouping. Whereas ‘generic design’ refers to the lack of specificity and meaning in the design of the product, beyond the desire to produce cheaply and sell widely.

Globalisation challenges the very nature of identity. With the wealth and power of the West, globalisation has visited Western identity across the globe. The question is whether unique local flair can incorporate the benefits of Western preferences whilst maintaining diversity and originality.

One company bucking the generic trends of globalisation are footwear brand Một. Huynh Quang Ngoc Han, co-founder of Một, told Dezeen that in Vietnam, “Foreign goods have always been objects of desire and benchmarks for local product brands.” This inspired Huynh, owner of design consultancy DCSG, to create a product that reflects the contemporary identity of Vietnamese people. 

Vietnam is an economically vibrant country, aiming to reach the status of a developed nation by 2020. Extreme poverty has been reduced to below 3%, and women are an increasing force in the labour market. Whilst technology is the major export, Vietnam’s 3rd largest export is footwear. Since 66% of the country’s population have access to the internet, the Vietnamese people have a window to the world and all the big brand consumables on offer. This impacts not only demand but also influences designers, as there is no point in designing products that no one wants.

Undeterred by the footwear trends led by such giants as Converse and Vans, Huynh took inspiration from Vietnamese culture, architecture, and landscape to design trainers that suit the lifestyle of modern Vietnamese people. This bold decision resulted in footwear that is both stylish and unique. The trainers come in a range of vibrant colours, are wide fitting and unisex, and marketed to all ages. What makes the footwear special is the attention to detail and the subtle design quirks. The pattern on the sole reflect a length of Vietnam’s coastline, whilst the sole’s edging is decorated by traditional roof tile designs. In contrast, the upper maintains a minimalist look, with laces hidden under flaps and clever stitching which eludes to the eyelets beneath. 

But Huynh was not alone in her design endeavour. She enlisted the help of factory owner Pham Do Kien Quoc, who has 30 years of experience producing footwear for foreign markets. This savvy decision allowed the designer to forgo her own research and development process and use Pham’s expertise instead. 

Huynh has managed to reflect the peculiarity of the local whilst appealing to a global market. This is an essential skill in the fight against the loss of uniqueness and diversity in a globalised world of generic consumerism.

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