Fashion for the environment? A huge shared wardrobe? Coco Dressing Room’s founder and CEO, Thu Vu, has faith in the power of collaboration and community to drive fashion forward. Here, Thu Vu, nicknamed Coco Cha Bong, reveals the contents of her bag. The little things that help her in her battle against our throwaway culture.
Read on in Vietnamese
“Girls would always come to me and nag about having nothing to wear,” Coco Dressing Room’s CEO and founder, Thu Vu, begins, “even though they have a wardrobe full of clothes!” That set Thu Vu, a graduate of RMIT University with a Bachelor of Fashion (Merchandise Management) degree, on a train of thought, “what if there were shared wardrobes where people could find high-quality products for much more affordable prices.”
And so she set about creating a shopping experience “where used products and new products live alongside each other”.
A big inspiration was James Reinhart, the co-founder and CEO of thredUp. “He made an important point at the Upfront summit,” Thu Vu remembers. “He said that clothes stuck in a wardrobe have zero value – or even negative value because they add stress to their owner when deciding what to wear.” And so Coco Dressing Room has become a platform where both sellers and buyers do good and feel good about their wardrobe. “Fashion should boost our confidence, not lower it, and I wish to bring a giant closet to all. One that upgrades our quality of life and can alter our fashion consumption habits going into the future.”
Obviously, the environmental element is key too. “We are living in a throwaway culture and fashion waste is accelerating. Making one cotton T-shirt consumes 2,700 liters of water, and one pair of jeans 7000 liters. One single wardrobe’s water-heavy production cycle can fill up a whole lake! Textile production is also set to account for 25% of all global carbon emissions by 2050,” Thu Vu reminds us. “Buying a second-hand product contributes to reducing its profound environmental impact. We all are almost certain we can give up shopping in exchange for the planet’s survival, but is it really that easy?” Thu Vu asks.
Besides growing Coco Dressing Room the inspirational fashionista also takes time out to speak at conferences and for companies about professional styling. Like at TedXBaTrieuSt where she shared with the audience “How we change the world by our dressing power”. So we wondered what possessions are powering Thu Vu’s journey as a public speaker and start-up CEO for the latest in our What’s in your bag series.
“Reading soothes me and so I read whenever possible,” the Coco Dressing Room founder and CEO whispers warmly. “But,” she adds pragmatically, “a giant bag with laptop, notebook…plus a hardback book will sooner or later cause me some shoulder problems.”
Instead, she opts for a light, mobile Kindle to bring to take everywhere with her. “That way, I could read multiple books at one time and travelling is definitely more enjoyable!”
Currently, she’s into spiritual, life-affirming books like If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path by Charlotte Kasi which “delivers a different perspective of love that is altruistic and unconditional.”
“Though not a religious book, If the Buddha Dated frequently references Buddhist concepts and beliefs,” Thu Vu smiles.
“The book encourages readers to fathom the essence of love, the existence of humans, the inborn demand to be loved and the woes caused by the desire for possession. It’s enabled me to open up to welcome everything into my life naturally – both the good and the bad; the fears and truths I never thought I could accept.”
Of course, in Thu Vu’s bag is an iPhone. It serves her personal and professional demands. Standard things – checking email, taking photos, browsing the news, making video calls, getting directions. “Even when I’m out without a wallet, I’d survive with my iPhone’s online documents and internet banking,” Thu Vu says assuredly.
“And sometimes the front camera is essential to retouch my lipstick. Or to act as a ‘dental mirror’ to make sure no leftover food is there on my teeth!”
3. Macbook Air
Despite the flexibility of her smartphone, Thu Vu still prefers to work on her laptop. “The three essential applications I use are Slack, our team’s professional communication platform, Google Drive to store documents to share them with our collaborators, and Note because I have a thousand ideas each day, and it’s important to jot them down somewhere!”
Thu Vu’s job means never staying in one place, so she uses a neat, light-weight, portable Macbook Air. “This is the first pricey present I gifted myself. It’s decorated with stickers of Coco Dressing Room’s logos and stamp as a reminder of why I walked this path in the first place.”
4. An A4 Notebook
Next Thu Vu show us an A4 notebook customised with Coco Dressing Room’s logo. Although Note on her iPhone is useful for jotting down ideas, she still relies on a notebook like this for brainstorming and mind mapping. “The notebook has to be large enough to hold my ideas with enough space to expand upon them,” she says. “So I always use at least an A4-sized notebook.”
But, she adds, “If I need to note down one or two things quickly, Note on my iPhone is still my go-to. But this is my drawing, mind-roaming place…” she excitedly shows us her inspiring hand-drawn outfits.
Thu Vu is an avid collector of local brands. We realise it the second she pulls out her Katko wallet. The elegant, rectangular wallet has a unique appeal. And it was relatively inexpensive. “The patterns on each wallet are distinctive and are based on traditional patterns – they reference the history and symbols of Vietnam,” she nods approvingly. Patterns are inspired by the Imperial Palace and Vietnamese cacao beans. “Carrying this around, I feel a strong sense of patriotism and pride to be a Vietnamese woman.”
“It’s a secret weapon every woman should own. You don’t need heavy makeup layers. Healthy, well-nourished skin and a touch of lipstick already create a naturally effortless look!” Thu Vu advises us as she opens her Katko wallet to reveal a lipstick.
She receives a lot due to her reputation in the industry and connections to different brands. “But I still prefer local organic brands like Poulo Condor or Lipstick Atelier,” she confides. That’s partly out of respect for the efforts of these startups to beautify customers through healthier, more natural products. “I hope these brands will get recognised more for their thoughtful, environmentally conscious products. Customers also need to be more aware of products’ origins, especially the ones they consume daily…”
Photos by Khooa Nguyen and Nam Tran Duy.