Three years ago, special education teacher Greg Hitz teamed up with his girlfriend to create Saigon-based unisex jewellery promoting your individuality via his venture Armory.
In early 2016, Greg Hitz took the plunge and moved to Vietnam. Trained as a special education teacher from the U.S., he landed himself a job teaching in Ho Chi Minh City, but that’s only half his story. Now, as a side hustle, Greg and his girlfriend Oanh have started a small Saigon-based jewellery business called Armory. Creating handmade pieces named after places in Vietnam, their hope is to bridge the gender divide in the jewellery market with their unique blend of simplicity and individuality.
“Travelling in India and Sri Lanka, I noticed men often wore a bangle or a piece of simple jewellery on their wrist. It wasn’t like they were decked in jewellery, but they had that one significant piece they wore, and I thought that was really cool,” explains Greg of his inspiration. Intrigued, he tried to find something similar in Vietnam. And when he couldn’t, he took matters into his own hands. Joining forces with his girlfriend Oanh, whom he describes as the “engine” behind their brand, it wasn’t long before Armory was up and running. “Oanh is from Saigon. She grew up here around her family’s stall in Ben Thanh Market, knowing all these different vendors. She knows how to get things done around the city,” explains Greg.
With metals sourced from Northern Vietnam, the couple picks up their materials on their doorstep in District 2 before they are cut and hammered over 300 times into shape. “Each piece takes about an hour and a half or so. For me, it takes almost a day to make a single bracelet. So, for practical purposes, we now employ two blacksmiths full time!” Greg jokes. “It’s expertise. It’s respect for a lifetime of work.”
Simplicity imbued with meaning are the core values of Greg’s brand, as well as creating items that work for both sexes. “I want it to be for the individual,” he explains. “I want to wear something that makes me more sure of who I am in a way. Our idea is that you can engrave whatever you like on the interior of your jewellery. It’s not something that you’re broadcasting, necessarily: it’s for you and not for everyone else.” And it is here that Armory tries to stand out from the crowd. “So often, at least in Vietnam and parts of Asia, jewellery is very costume; it’s like a status statement.”
Despite what you might think, Greg’s experiences as a special education teacher aren’t entirely unrelated to his second life as a jeweller. He works with all kinds of students, some on the autism spectrum and others with emotional or reading disabilities. “With these kinds of kids, you’re always trying to come up with creative solutions, and that’s kind of like Armory.” With that sort of broad approach, he is looking to evolve his sideline. “The whole idea when I had this business is that I wanted simple jewellery. But, if you make too many designs, it naturally evolves into something that’s not simple anymore.” With T-shirts and denim potentially in the pipeline, his pared-back approach to design is something he thinks can translate. “I have a few out-there ideas for Armory. Jewellery is only step one.”