Updated: Apr 21
As COVID-19 continues to affect small businesses, we thought we'd do what we can to continue to introduce you to all the amazing things small local brands and creatives have been doing in Saigon, in the hopes to help them once our economy gets back up and running again.
For this edition of WHATCHA THINKIN' we speak to An Hà, Saigon based digital marketing guru, self-proclaimed foodie, fashion admirer and co-founder of swimwear brand CòladaBay. The brand started in late 2019 by An Hà and her friend and well-established fashion designer Diệu Anh who is also an instructor at Vietnam’s Fashion and Design Institute (FADIN). Their aim: create swimwear that is made by women for women.
Hidden Saigon (HS): What is the concept behind CòladaBay?
An Hà (AH): Our initial inspiration for the name was drawn from the infamous beach cocktail Pinacolada. During our development phase, we called it Cò La Đà, an interesting and visually intriguing name.
Using the definition of a coastal bay, we would like to see our brand go beyond just swimwear to an ecosystem that represents the beach lifestyle. Imagine you’re in any beach bay, which its sole purpose is to bring joy to woman, where the products, services and experiences are designed, manufactured and executed exclusively around female empowerment and tailored to women’s needs. Like any woman, we have desires, dreams, and ways of expression and enjoyment unique to us.
And so CòladaBay positions itself to be on the side of females, supporting our ladies to enter such a world; romantic, bold and daring, comfortable yet chic - a positive energy to be yourself.
HS: Why did you decide to start CòladaBay?
AH: It was a small catch up over coffee that as always, lead to drinks. Diệu Anh started telling me her idea about creating swimwear that is for women like ourselves because frankly speaking there ain’t many choices out there for us. It’s always ok to start selling to the 18 to 25-year-old segments but that isn’t something we can compete nor set our minds to. We felt like we could make a difference to women and contribute to the messaging of being yourself. I personally feel that the market and media here are still not behind this aspect of empowerment.
HS: Can you talk a bit about the creative process behind the swimwear design.
AH: At the helm of the design and creative is designer Diệu Anh and a co-founder An Hà who both launched the brand in the last few months of 2019. They sell online and exclusively at Diệu Anh’s current concept store Le Saigonais.
From design to production, CòladaBay has 3 main ethos: Inspired by Women and Coastal Living; Designed for 25+ Vietnamese womanly bodies, and last but not least; Design that brings Joy, Happiness, and Confidence to Vietnamese women.
Vietnam’s 3,400km beautiful coastline; nature’s gifts to our backs - the sunrays, the smooth and warm sand, and the gentle waves; these all have lifted our soul and enriched our minds. It does not matter where we travel, we always think of home very fondly.
CòladaBay Swimwear understands the need to be beautiful yet also feel confident in expressing your own body shapes. We use ‘export’ quality materials, dynamic colours and cuts that are a solution to those beach lifestyles. All products are UPF 50+/Work in Eco, Colour Stay Fabrics.
From ‘bánh bèo’ (feminine) to ‘boyish’ to romantic, every woman wants to express her own self. CòladaBay hopes to be the ‘second skin’ for women.
We have our first CAPSULE COLLECTION with 6 ‘MUST HAVE’ designs that are: “The Special Prints”, such as “Blue Tides”, that we made in collaboration with other artists, which celebrates the ocean and marine life. “The 80s” which are classic 80s shape and also reflect our age. “The Romantic”, “The Bold Moves”, “The Fashionably Chic”, and “The Sporty”.
Photos by Christian Berg
When we launched CòladaBay, we had our friends share their own stories. Ordinary ladies, as well as a ‘model’ who is also ‘normal’, has 3 kids, but look at her body! Crazy.
CòladaBay has quite a large range that covers different aesthetic styles because we believe everyone should be able to express themselves regardless of what their body looks like.
HS: Where do you see CòladaBay in 2 year’s time?
AH: Actually, the intention of CòladaBay is to be an ecosystem, not just swimwear. So we’re looking to see if we can expand the product to other coastal lifestyle goods. We’re exploring decoration right now!
HS: If you were to describe your brand in 3 words, what would they be?
AH: Attitude, Pretty, Curious
HS: What is the fashion scene like in Vietnam now?
AH: Oh, I don’t know. Hahaha. I’m not an expert ‘enough’ to make a judgement. I see the challenge of conformity is still out there. I can see how the participation of big brands are perhaps going to push and change the scene. It’s not even an industry yet. There’s progress but it's slow and there are not enough choices out there.
HS: What is needed to bring the fashion scene in Vietnam to the next level?
AH: Guts and lots of it. Then followed by the right investments into those guts. There’s Cong Tri who has represented the local scene in the international world and we have total respect of him for that. There needs to be a call for a wider acceptance of beauty or the definition of beauty should be cherished so that designers who are not following the typical path aren’t shy and the buyers will accept those different expressions. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough for future designers to survive and thrive. I think it’s a lot to do with culture.
HS: What’s some challenges you face as a female entrepreneur?
AH: Money and like I said, Culture. Money here is about scale because the cost of branding is high in fashion and the margin isn’t that great. If we do online sales without a store it hurts the brand because it’s still a brand new brand at such a tiny ‘scale’. Getting press coverage that would convert into commerce is a long-tail game. Most people in fashion need a lot of capital and often fail. Who knows. We are just being optimistic I guess.
HS: What book/song/artwork has influenced you the most? And why?
AH: I like contemporary arts and a lot of colourful prints. I listen to Soul Button & Café Delma type of music. Diệu Anh loves and inspired by Australia landscapes and the sounds of their ocean waves. She still has a huge love for France; Paris in particular, where she spent her younger years. I also get inspired by brands I love, such as Karen Walker, a New Zealand brand, and BimbayLola, a Spanish brand. They’re both witty, quirky and always have a point of view.
HS: What’s currently on your Spotify favourite playlist?
AH: I listen to Sound Cloud and Youtube, I don’t have Spotify.
HS: If you could only eat 3 Vietnamese dishes for one week, what would it be?
AH: Bún Bò Huế, Súp Cua, Cá Kho Tộ.
HS: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected CòladaBay and what are you currently doing for a small brand like yours to survive?
AH: We have to put the business on hold in terms of marketing and sales. We can’t communicate anything in relations to the lifestyles we promote and stand for so it’s basically dead. However, we are in the midst of making a collaboration collection, so production is still going on on a small scale and safety first. We just need to wait it out, maintain the spirit of positivity.