Online marketplace Whoolala was launched to connect Chinese consumers with a growing group of homegrown Asian fashion brands. Now, it’s taking its show to Vietnam. Managing Director Suri Le tells us how and why.

Hanoi-born and hailing from a family of creatives, Suri Le has always harboured a keen interest in fashion. She discovered more about the industry whilst studying Business Administration and Fashion, specifically merchandising management, abroad in Canada and Singapore, before heading back to China three years ago to join her husband. There she met Lukas Hlavac, one of the founders behind the China-focused online marketplace Whoolala. Joining them first as Merchandising Manager, she is now their Managing Director in Vietnam. She sat down with Hive Life to talk us through Whoolala’s mission.

Whoolala’s story began in China, where it was founded by Lukas Hlavac and Steve Murray, whose joint love of fashion led them to starting up the e-commerce market. Lukas hails from the Czech Republic, was educated in Prague and holds two masters degrees in electrical engineering and business administration. Whilst Steve is from the UK and studied product design. Whoolala is an e-commerce marketplace, and a similar model to that of well-renowned fashion brand ASOS’s Marketplace. Differing from your typical, straight up e-commerce site in Southeast Asia, they host a variety of local designers’ garments and accessories on their site in order for them to reach a wider audience and gain more traction and take commission from them in return for this.

They also take care of the logistical side of things, organising shipping through their international partners to ensure the product reaches the customer in 7-10 working days. “They want to help local designers,” Suri explains of the website’s founders. “Lukas is a traveller and from each country he visits, he really wants to bring something special back. We’ve worked with a lot of designers and we think that the market is very hard. China is a huge market, but not everyone can reach it because they need to have knowledge of local customer service and languages and so on. We want our local designers to go abroad easily.” Two years on, Whoolala’s popularity has grown extensively in China. And, having seen particular growth in the popularity of Vietnamese brands on the site, the team decided to branch out there by setting up an office in Vietnam and welcoming local Vietnamese designers specifically onto the site.

The website had its official grand opening in Vietnam in June 2018, so its progress is still fairly fresh. Still, Suri is certain the timing is right. “You can see right now that the fashion scene in Vietnam is very developed. A lot of our designers are selling abroad and big brands like Zara and H&M are coming to Vietnam. So, with things developing as they are it seems the right moment for us to raise our standards. Firstly, we’re helping designers reach another market and, secondly, we’re helping Vietnamese customers buy more easily abroad.” She believes that it is helpful to be able to apply the knowledge the company has gained from China to Vietnam as the countries share similar cultural values and want the same things from a consumer’s perspective. However, whilst certain strategies translate, there is work still to be done in convincing consumers in Vietnam who have yet to adopt ecommerce with quite the same enthusiasm as those in China that buying fashion online is the way to go. “The most important thing for us right now is to focus on the trust from customers. How we can build that trust, and how they can accept us,” Suri states.

Still, she is extremely positive about the future of fashion e-commerce in Vietnam. Five years down the line, Whoolala hopes to be on top of the fashion e-commerce game, with the potential to expand further in countries such as the Philippines or Myanmar. However, this year is all about Vietnam: “We want to focus on this country first, we want a space in Vietnam and for customers to know and trust us.”