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Vietnam serves a growing demand for handicrafts and pots

Although Vietnamese families and cottage industries make most of the pots and containers sent to European or U.S. markets, expansions of handicraft factories continue.

TNL Handicrafts relies on the work of families who have been making ceramics for more than 100 years, TNL Executive Director Jeremy C.D. Martin said. "For a big order that comes in, it takes the skills of many families," Martin said. "It's not like China, where they have big factories."

Making porcelain and indoor pots requires the greatest expertise, Martin said. Although gas kilns are commonly used now, wood-fired kilns remain the primary method for making outdoor pots and containers. TNL does not exhibit at Spoga Cologne because it has clients who have shown its goods there for many years. For the last two years, TNL has been part of the International Pottery Alliance booth at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas.

"The European market is quite familiar with Vietnamese products," Martin said. "Particularly for the American market, Vietnam is very new. I think if the ceramics industry is going to expand here, we really need to have the American market.

"While there will always be demand for glazed and terra cotta pots, the looks now are more stylish and contemporary," Martin said. To meet customer requests, TNL is supplying more pots made of zinc or black clay.

Hands-on production of indoor and outdoor accessories combines with that of solid bamboo tables and chairs or hand-woven water hyacinth inside LTC Handicraft Co.

LTC, a manufacturer of rattan and bamboo handicrafts, room screens, cafe sets and chaise lounges, is expanding its 10,000-square-meter plant in the Ho Chi Minh City area by 2,000 square meters. Founded in 1992, the company employs about 300 workers. LTC's total sales increased to $4 million in 2004 from about $3 million the prior year, LTC salesman Ly Chanh Si said.

"For the first few months of this year, we shipped about 50 to 60 containers to Europe and the U.S.," Si said. "It's getting better, growing all the time."

LTC's indoor and outdoor accessories were shown at the 2005 National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, and also are sold in the United States through Home Depot and the Internet, assistant director Tran Quoc Khang said.

Nearby in the Tan Binh district of Ho Chi Minh City, Anco focuses its attention on containers and pots. After opening 11 years ago as a trading company, the privately owned company grew into a ceramic pottery manufacturer specializing in planters. Anco became one of the first Vietnamese companies to use zinc to make its planters, but also uses whitewashed and gray terra cotta, Anco Director Bui Van Cuong said. Fiber stone planters are increasing in popularity while galvanized steel is declining, Cuong said.

In Europe, Anco's distribution is primarily through garden centers at mid-level price points. About 20% to 25% of its customers are in the United States, with Home Depot as one of its first. "The United States is an attractive market, but also difficult," Cuong said.

Anco employs about 1,000 workers in the height of its production season and 600 to 650 in the low production season. October marks the start of its shipping season, which ends in May.

Phi Long Viet supplies a few U.S. customers but has not exhibited its architectural styled birdhouses, baskets, ceramics or furniture in the United States, Chairman Ngo Tien Hoang said. In response to customers' requests, the birdhouses have antique color schemes and roofs made of copper, zinc, bamboo or stone.

Nguyen Thanh Minh, president of Minh Phat Furniture Co. in the Binh Dinh province, said his company opened 26 years ago as a government-owned company serving as a handicraft specialist for rattan and bamboo export to Russia.

As the company matured, it began supplying small-cut bamboo products to Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Europe as well as Russia. Minh now works with eight subcontractors representing about 1,000 workers making handicrafts in the Binh Dinh province near Qui Nhon City. Although its primary material is still rattan, Minh Phat uses other environmentally friendly Vietnamese materials such as banana leaf and seagrass.

Minh does not export to the United States yet but, like many other Vietnamese vendors, sees its potential and aims to in the future.

LTC Handicraft workers weave rattan and bamboo products inside its expanding factory in the Tan Binh district, Ho Chi Minh City area.

Tam Khac Nguyen, left, with Ngo Tien Hoang of Phi Long Viet and an architecturally influenced birdhouse.

Using a variety of natural materials to make handicrafts is tedious, sweaty work for Minh Phat worker in Qui Nhon City area.

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