November 2021

Designer Huong Nguyen showcases her design with Flocus™ kapok fabrics at "GROW: The Future of Fashion” exhibition - Fashion for Good Museum, Amsterdam

In the past few months, we had the pleasure to be invited by Fashion for Good Museum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to take part in the “GROW Talent” project. Here, young Dutch design talents have transformed brand new sustainable, natural materials – that have never been shown in museums before – into unique fashion statements.

The pieces created during this wonderful journey are now part of the exhibition "GROW: The Future of Fashion" at the Fashion for Good Museum in Amsterdam, open until April 2022.

Designer Huong Nguyen, one of the selected talents, worked with Flocus™ materials to create a wonderful design comprising of a long tunic and wide-leg trousers.

In this interview, we give voice to her creative mind and vision, which guided her in the use of natural and innovative materials to create timeless pieces.

Hello, can you briefly introduce yourself and your professional path in fashion?

My name is Huong Nguyen and I’m a 26-year-old designer, born in Vietnam and grew up between Norway and the Faroe Islands. I graduated from London College of Fashion in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Fashion Design and Development and received the Suling Mead Award for my final project, followed by a Master of Arts in Fashion Enterprise Creation at Amsterdam Fashion Institute where I focussed on designing a circular economy for fashion.

My design practice is rooted in an exploration of my intercultural background, the nuances and interplay between these influences. As a designer, I strive to elevate the everyday experience for the modern woman.

As you took part in the Fashion for Good call for talents, what is your personal vision of the future of fashion? And how important are sustainable materials in/for your creations?

I grew up in places where outdoor life is part of the culture, so I have always been drawn to nature. My middle name, Sơn, has a double meaning in Vietnamese: “mountain” and “paint”. With that, I want to build a bridge between people, product and planet, honouring traditional craftsmanship and making use of innovative (bio)materials that leave no human footprint behind.

I would like to return to the way clothing was made before: when things were made with care and in tune with the rhythm of nature, when tradition was more important than trend, when there was a purpose to every piece. My work challenges the throwaway culture and pushes the boundaries of what it means to design for both physical and emotional durability. In a world where there is already plenty of clothes, I question the relationship we have with what we wear and how we can connect on a personal level with our clothing through the power of storytelling.

Can you describe the concept of the look™ you designed?

Working with FLOCUS™ kapok textiles for the exhibition, I was particularly fascinated by its link to my childhood home: Saigon (the former name of Ho Chi Minh City) took its name from the many kapok trees that once surrounded the city – Sài means “wood” and Gòn stands for “kapok”. I reimagined the shapes of the kapok tree trunk and fruit pod, as metaphors for my roots and the ever-changing notion of home. Ripe kapok fruits splitting up to reveal the soft, white fibres inside visually allude to coming out of one’s shelland taking up space. With this interpretation, I hope to become part of the cultural conversation and representation of diversity that I yearned to see growing up.

The oversized silhouette and exaggerated proportions of my design were created exclusively with geometric shapes, using zero-waste pattern cutting techniques to maximise fabric usage. As a nod to Norwegian hiking gear, I opted for a water-repellent fabric with 20% kapok and 80% REPREVE® recycled fibre for the trousers. The fabric of the long tunic was also a deliberately choice for its organic melange texture and the fact that the yarn was dope-dyed, which has a lower environmental impact than traditional dyeing methods.

I further combined my respect for nature with a highly conceptual investigation into the concept of White by Kenya Hara, the negative spaces in the series of drawings titled Rifts by Richard Serra, and the displaced vertebrae in the 23-piece sculpture Broken Column by Antony Gormley that is scattered across downtown Stavanger, the city where I grew up in Norway. At once introspective and poetic, they all embody the constant cultural tug-of-war and disruption in my peripatetic life – and the lens through which I view the world.

The garments are complemented by metal-framed earrings made from MIRUM® plant-based leather with 100% natural inputs and zero use of plastic. Designed and crafted in collaboration with Yizon Jewellery, the sculptural jewellery piece took inspiration from archival Viking armour and weapons as a play on contrasts.

Could you share with us the impressions you had working with a FLOCUS™ kapok-based fabric?

From the very first meeting with Jeroen and Sara, I felt an instant connection to FLOCUS™ and their commitment to creating a responsible and regenerative supply chain. The fact that kapok can grow self-sufficiently and the fibre is carbon-neutral with natural hydrophobic and antibacterial properties really intrigued me. I was overwhelmed with the range of materials that FLOCUS™ produces.

As a designer who designs from the material, it was very difficult to choose which fabric I wanted to use. I eventually decided on two black oxford fabrics for my final garments. I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate the 20% kapok and 80% REPREVE® recycled material with durable water repellent coating in my design, in homage to the functionality of Norwegian hiking gear and skiwear that I grew up with. I then fell in love with the 64% black dop-dye polyester 6% HTPE 20% kapok 10% Tencel™ for its beautiful melange texture that adds depth to an otherwise plain surface – you can see the white kapok fibres! – and light, crisp hand feel yet still retaining its softness against the skin. They happened to compliment each other well and were both relatively easy to work with, despite a slight resistance to heat and steam due to the compositions. While immersed in the process of design development and prototyping, I actually got carried away with a lot of ideas and had to fine-tune my concept. I see so much potential in exploring further with FLOCUS™ kapok textiles!

What were the challenges of the material(s) and what do you think is the creative potential of this material?

I am quite persistent on using mono-fibre materials and the only drawback with kapok is that the fibre is too short to be woven into a 100% kapok fabric. Kapok has to be blended with other materials like cotton, which of course can already save tremendous amounts of water in the process. However, I realised through research that blending kapok with other natural, regenerative or recycled fibres can result in highly technical and innovative textile solutions with untapped potential.

As forward-thinking as the fashion industry appears to be, innovative materials such as FLOCUS™ kapok textiles are still not widely used in mainstream production and the hesitation is partly attributed to high bargaining power of existing suppliers, uncertainties in their application and lack of consumer awareness. While there is not much I can personally do about the first, I am proud and excited to be part of the change in the latter two through my creation for the GROW exhibition at Fashion For Good in partnership with FLOCUS™.

I am obsessed with functional performance fabric that does not compromise on comfort, appeal and application. I have always been interested in developing and customising fabrication with beneficial properties for specific purposes and types of garments that ensure the lowest environmental impact. I truly believe that there is still so much that is possible with kapok and the new generation of materials that FLOCUS™ is contributing to. The kapok tree is incredible because every part of it can be used, so there is absolutely no waste if the tree is ever cut down. In the Vietnamese rural areas, the tree trunk is turned into bridges and wall partitions, while leaves are rubbed in water as hair shampoo and also an alternative to soap bubble for kids to play with, or dried and processed into powder for incense sticks. I find this very inspiring and close to my heart.

(Images courtesy of Huong Nguyen)