Mrs. Huong’s speech at Asia Society, New York, 2004.

I have a shop in Hanoi. It is small, but it means everything to me. It is a an embroidery business that my mother built nearly 40 years ago. Now she has passed it on to me and now my daughter has joined me in the business.

While I was growing up, life was hard. The wars in Vietnam made our lives very difficult for 40 years.  Our family, like everyone else, had to figure out a way to stay alive. For us,  luckily, embroidery was the answer.

Embroidery is a skill that all women in Vietnam once had. My mother was a pioneer: she built a business making embroidered pillow cases and handkerchiefs. She made them for people who were getting married. She made pillowcases with two embroidered doves and the initials of the couple intertwined.

During the war years , everything was rationed: food, rice, and fabric – three meters per person a year. Our family didn’t have extra fabric, so people would bring us cloth.  We would embroider pillow and handkerchiefs with birds and flowers and loving words such as hanh phuc (happiness), chung thuy (faithfulness) doi cho (waiting for you) and mai mai (eternal love.)

We made the handkerchiefs for soldiers. They put them in their shirt pockets and walked south on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, all the way to South Vietnam. For many men, this was a one-way trip.

A woman who gave a soldier a handkerchief was sending him off with all her heart. It was not a simple gift: it was a symbol of commitment, like an engagement ring. The handkerchiefs had the tears of the person left behind.  And it had the tears and blood of the one who went on one way-journey, of sacrifice, and of death.

Sometimes, soldiers might lose their handkerchiefs and they would go back, looking, looking and hunting for the handkerchief. ‘Tang Anh mot tam khan nay’ (I give you, my love, this handkerchief) ‘De lam ky niem nhung ngay xa nhau’ (So you can remember when we are apart) ‘Nhung ngay song chung’ (So you can remember the days when we were together).

This was the foundation of our family business. After the war ended in 1975, we built it into what it is today. After many years of struggling to recover from the war, the economy of Vietnam is growing rapidly – at the rate of 8% for the past decade. We are part of that recovery and we did it through intuition, hard work and good timing.

We have our shop in Hanoi , and we do wholesale business around the world. It takes a lot of dedication  to do this work. I have the help of several hundred people I employ in Tu Van village, where the embroidery is made.

And I have a loyal staff at the shop in Hanoi who are my family. We have worked together for years.  If you treat your employees with love and respect, they will work hard, be partners and they will feel pride and ownership in the business too. This is also the secret of building an enterprise whether in Vietnam or America.

Some of you have been to my shop.  You know quality is also the basis of my business. Every item that I sell must meet the highest standards.  Everything is made as if it were being made for me and I am a perfectionist. I wear the clothes made for Tan My. Come to my shop and I will show you my favorite clothes.

Embroidery is an art.  It requires patience and precision.  And it must be made with love.  When you acquire clothes from Tan My, you are not just wearing a piece of cloth. You will carry with you the heart and soul of the artisan who made the handkerchiefs for soldiers 40 years ago.

Mrs. Do Thanh Huong_ The Owner of Tan My Design