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HCM from A-ZThursday, 10/05/2006, 02:55

Fashion Has Great Potential

Zen Plaza, a lOO%-Japanese investment fashion center, plans to seize opportunities in Vietnam's growing fashion industry
Fashion Has Great Potential

Fashion Has Great Potential

Zen Plaza, a lOO%-Japanese investment fashion center, plans to seize opportunities in Vietnam's growing fashion industry

Early December marks the full thrust of winter in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, and it is one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. It was at this time in 2003 that the 1,200-year-old Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto witnessed a fashion performance. The fashion event, entitled Return to Paradise, was from Vietnam.

This original event would have been unlikely had it not been for an initiative of Shiro Fukukawa, general director of Zen Plaza, a fashion center in HCM City's District 1. "In my opinion, this is a special event because all the people came from Vietnam and all were Vietnamese, from designers, to models and make-up specialists," Fukukawa says. The materials, too, were from Vietnam. Return to Paradise was able to attract the attention of the Japanese public as 20 media organizations, including four TV channels, covered the event.

It was not by chance that Kiyomizu Temple accepted Return to Paradise. The fashion performance marked the 30th anniversary of Vietnam-Japan diplomatic ties. Fukukawa says another important reason is that the temple's highest leader has a special affection for Vietnam.

Bringing Return to Paradise to Japan was a tremendous effort by Fukukawa and his staff only two months after Nhat Nam Shopping Center reopened as Zen Plaza. The Kyoto success prompted Vietnamese and Japanese officials, including the Japanese ambassador to Vietnam, to push for a similar performance in Vietnam. In February 2004, Return to Paradise made its Vietnam debut at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, another historic site.

These events were organized to make Vietnamese customers know more about Zen Plaza, Fukukawa says. In August 1999, Nhat Nam Shopping Center was put into operation as a joint venture between Vietnamese and Japanese partners. In August 2002, the Ministry of Planning and Investment endorsed the plan to turn the joint venture into a 100% Japanese-owned project, and in October 2003, Zen Plaza came into being.

Fashion industry potential

The difference between Nhat Nam and Zen Plaza is that Zen specializes in fashion. "We see Vietnam's potential in this industry," Fukukawa says. "First, many more Vietnamese are interested in fashion as the economy develops." Another reason for Zen to be a fashion center is because this 12-story building is on the part of Nguyen Trai Street dubbed Saigon's fashion street. A third reason is that Vietnam has a strong garment industry and a contingent of young and talented designers.

However, these young designers are encountering difficulties in developing their career. "They lack professional training, lack materials to realize their creations, lack a stage to make the public know about their designs and lack capital for start-ups,"

Fukukawa says.

One of Zen Plaza's ambitions is to help bridge these gaps by providing young designers with finance and space so that they have a place to show their creativity. Zen is one among a few organizations in Vietnam to hold regular fashion shows. These shows always feature young designers. "We were a co-organizer of the Vietnam Collection Grand Prix 2004, the biggest stage for Vietnam's young fashion designers," he says.

In 2005, Zen Plaza will push its plan to produce garments under the Zen brand. Japan and some other countries are the target markets. "Some foreign customers are interested in Vietnamese designs for sale at Zen Plaza," he says. "But sizes are a big problem. We all know that measurements of Europeans are quite different from those of Vietnamese. Therefore, we must pay attention to this difference."

After four and a half years living in Vietnam, Fukukawa says there remains a heap of work to be done to carry out all the plans for Zen Plaza. But business results are not bad, as Zen Plaza has had better sales this year. It has 248 staff members, plus more than 500 staff of tenants working at any moment during a day. Of the US$29-million�plus pledged capital, it has realized almost US$26 million, or nearly 90%, a typical Japanese company as far as the realized capital is concerned.


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