Cool Communities - 02/15/18

Showcasing Saigon’s Talents Through Souvenirs

Written by Elizabeth P

Founded by a team of young entrepreneurs in 2013, Tick & Pick is a handcrafted souvenir shop hoping to shine a light on Vietnam’s young artistic talent.

Established back in 2013 by a group of friends, Tick & Pick started out as a small souvenir shop in Saigon selling keychains and other accessories to locals and tourists. With their own distinctive, retro take on Vietnamese design and history, the business has grown over the last 5 years into one with firm roots in local craft and culture and an ever-growing international reach.

Managed by Huynh Nha Mai (Michelle), a woman determined to change how the world sees Vietnamese craft, Tick and Pick was born of the idea that, “souvenirs should be made locally, they should be special.” Uncompromising in its approach to production, the business uses only local talents and collaborators to make items that are little pieces of Vietnam in their own, unique way. Here, Michelle tells us how they have done it.

Tell us a bit about the group behind Tick and Pick.

We are a team of young entrepreneurs. We all studied in different countries such as Canada, the US and Singapore. After finishing our studies, we came back to Vietnam to work for various companies before coming together.

What gave you the idea?

We all loved to travel. When we were overseas, we always bought gifts for our friends back home, but often we found that souvenirs were not very well crafted. Flip them over and they would say, ‘Made in China.’ We think souvenirs should be made locally, that they should be special.

What’s the story behind the brand name?

We wanted to have many designs, so the idea was you would tick what you liked from the shelf and pick it up.

How did you get the business off the ground?

To start, we contacted students from art universities to work on designs, and we also partnered up with some friends who already sold products on Etsy. At first our volume was very small, so we had to find a partner or supplier to print our products. As soon as we had enough sales, we started to do wholesale, and today we have our own production team and graphic designers.

Did you encounter any financial problems when starting the company?

We did have financial difficulties, but we also had a few partners who put some money into the business. Luckily for us, we were able to get wholesale distribution to many places. So far, we’re doing fine in terms of finance.

Why did you focus on illustrations of old Saigon?

We wanted to show not only Saigon, but the whole of Vietnam, because it’s so beautiful from an artistic point of view. Our concept is a bit vintage.

How did you get your brand off the ground?

We’ve been going for 4–5 years already and now have a team of 6. So far, our growth has been very organic and its down to our products. They are always practical – we don’t want to create something useless – and they are also very pretty. Now, some of our customers actually call us up and tell us that they want to distribute our items. At first, we had to make our own connections, but now they come to us.

How do you attract followers on social media?

The followers we get are real followers. They come through our collaborations with brands like Etsy and other artists we work on projects with.

What sets you apart from the other souvenir shops?

Our competitors often use plastics, but we only use good quality materials. We have postcards on craft paper, our magnets are encased with wood. We also do UV printing with a Japanese printing machine we bought in Japan. All our pieces are handcrafted in our own factory in the Him Lam area of District 7. We only hire local crafters, and we never mass produce.

What is your best seller item so far?

Our best seller is our souvenir kit. We thought it might work to add all our popular small items into one set together. It took 1 year to perfect the packaging, it’s designed to fit easily into your luggage, so tourists can take it home, and has drawings of Vietnam that can represent what they’ve seen instead of a photo. Really, it’s a way of promoting Vietnamese culture.

What impact do you think your products have on your consumers?

We want to make a statement that revolves around ‘practical beauty’ and celebrates a country with a diverse culture. And it’s also a statement to say that ‘Vietnam is no longer a low-end of cheap manufacturing country’. We’re able to create great quality items with our young and talented designers.

What are your future plans for Tick and Pick?

Up until now, our focus has been on Ho Chi Minh City but we want to increase our sales distribution channels in the future with a presence in Hanoi and other tourist spots in Vietnam. We’re also planning a new range of premium t-shirts, working with local artists on the design.

And finally, what are your thoughts on Vietnam’s arts and crafts scene, and what can we do to support it?

There are many young and talented artists still in school. When you go to a cafe at night you can see a lot of young singers performing their favourite songs. I feel that in Vietnam people still don’t really value pieces of art — they think it should be sold cheaply, but artists need to make a living too. We need to raise awareness of the value of their work. We should support them.

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