Meet Trang Nguyen, founder of Vietnam’s first conscious consumer company, House of Chay, who is striving to help her city make better choices on behalf of themselves and the environment.
When she first began House of Chay in 2016, Trang Nguyen thought of it as more of a hobby. In just two years, however, it has become a cornerstone of the conscious consumerism movement in Vietnam as a purveyor of sustainable products. From nutritious meal plans to eco-friendly goods, House of Chay now sells to a big community in Saigon that is keen to make sensible purchasing choices – on behalf of both their own health and the world around them. Here, she tells us how she did it.
A self-confessed health addict, Trang Nguyen has always harboured an interest in leading a healthy lifestyle. Hanoi-born, she travelled throughout her early life, moving to Saigon and then Australia, holding down various jobs in the mining industry, as a Management Accountant, an ERP Assistant and finally as the CFO of a pharmaceutical retail chain. But it was her own conversion to veganism that opened her eyes to a new way of living. Realising that there weren’t many outfits in Saigon that catered to this new lifestyle, she set up her own. “House of Chay is the Conscious Home Company of Vietnam,” she explains. “We curate and offer nutritious plant-based meals, farm-to-table groceries and safe eco-friendly consumer products. When House of Chay first started we were just a meal delivery service and the main objective was to feed me, my cousin, our families and a few close friends.”
Growing fast and comprising of an even split of expats and locals, the House of Chay community now runs to its thousands. “Chay members share a specific lifestyle, they want to create a conscious home, regardless of how busy they are. They are aware of what they consume and the footprint they leave on Earth and they want products that are safe, effective to use, environmentally friendly, beautiful and affordable,” Trang explains. Her favourite product, she says, has to be their meal subscription plans. With a family background in the food industry, it took Trang six months to create, test and complete their offerings which often include a healthy spin on typical treats – for example, a pizza made with fermented wholemeal flour, balsamic vinegar, eggplants and vegan cheese. Updated weekly and prepared daily, the meal plan covers lunch and dinner five days of the week. Meals are delivered directly to the customer’s door with the simple click of a button, providing fast and easy service. In addition, product ranges vary from organically sourced personal care products to their zero-waste collection. At the moment House of Chay is an online shop run by 15 team members, and is growing fast.
To service this, the company has three eco-friendly farms located in the highlands of Dalat and Lamdong. “All of our products have to adhere to our very strict House of Chay standards. Our produce is grown from USDA certified organic or local, non-GMO seeds and we follow eco-friendly agricultural practices such as using all-natural plant-based insecticides, intercropping and crop-rotation to sustain soil fertility. We also believe that the best way to store our produce is in the soil where it grows, not in cold storage rooms. Our plants are harvested fresh and delivered directly to your kitchen within 48 hours. This is the best way to ensure we’re maintaining the food’s nutrition while delivering the highest quality product possible.”
Even with 10 years of solid experience in business, getting House of Chay up and running has not been without its challenges. “Nothing actually prepared me for when I started my own company because you really have to prepare to do everything,” she recalls. “I was cooking, packing, delivering, and doing it all out of my home.” In addition, just two short years ago, there wasn’t much of a community campaigning for sustainable practices on her doorstep. “People told me no one would care to pay more for our sugarcane food packaging, as we didn’t want to use plastic. But I said, if we don’t start, then who will? We were the first ones, and look at it now, so many people are using better packaging, too.”
Trang believes that Vietnam is catching up fast, as its own conscious consumerism movement develops. “Two years ago no one knew about all this, but now we have a no-waste community, we have other companies that have started using bamboo straws. We just introduced the first Vietnamese-made bamboo toothbrush on House of Chay and the support has been amazing. People have started asking for more and more, as they worry about their health and what they buy.”
Given all of this, Trang is optimistic about both the future of both conscious consumerism and her business in Vietnam. “By 2020, it would be great if House of Chay was the go to platform for conscious consumers and we had built a larger community,” she says. And it seems that she is well on her way.