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How a Vietnamese-Ethiopian Designer Built Her Fashion 'Dynasty'

“I’m young so I still have big dreams,” Kim Berhanu begins our chat on an early September day. At the tender age of 23, Berhanu is already the CEO and creative director of the fashion brand Dynasty the Label. And that’s just the beginning for the half-Vietnamese designer.

Read the Vietnamese version of this article here.

Born in Australia into a family of a Vietnamese mother and an Ethiopian father, she understands more than anyone what it means to feel different. That sense of not fitting in nurtured Berhanu’s aspiration to travel the world to experience cultural diversity. “After saving enough money from part-time gigs in high school, I decided on France because I love the arts and culture scene there,” she reminisces. “When I returned, I resolved to explore more destinations because Australia has become my ‘comfort zone.’”

Filled with hope and determination, she moved to Vietnam in 2018. To her, Vietnam is a promised land where many of her personal plans could become a reality. Berhanu said of the opportunities she’s gotten since her return: “As long as you have a big idea, you’ll quickly be able to find kindred minds to actualize it.”

Building the Dynasty

In the early days in Saigon, Berhanu made ends meet by teaching English while delving deeper into the culture and market and brushing up on her knowledge of the fashion industry. Even though she had major ambitions in the fashion world, she didn’t expect to open her own brand one day. “Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved reading fashion magazines,” she recalls. “When I got older, I enjoyed trying on new styles to see which one fits me best. I even started designing some outfits, which even got compliments from friends, but I didn’t think that this could be my career. Besides, there are many fashion entrepreneurs in Vietnam so finding a corner where I stand out has been hard.”

Then, thanks to the enthusiastic support of friends, family and her boyfriend, Berhanu established Dynasty the Label with a simple website. This is where she showcases new designs; it also helps give a big-picture perspective on everything she produces. Something that’s immediately apparent about her creations is their connection with traditional materials and imperial motifs. Dynasty celebrates the intricacy of embroidered patterns on bomber jackets, kimonos, skirts, and even face masks. Every creation from Dynasty is unique because Berhanu wants to infuse a personality in her brand.

Outfits by Dynasty epitomizes the confluence of Asia and Africa.

To fulfill that vision, she maintains a level of precision, from picking fabrics with eastern patterns to incorporating seaming techniques from African fashion. The details of clothing items from the continent always excite her: “Not only do they have an incredible sense of style, [people from Africa] are also very confident in dressing in their own outfits. I too want my customers to be proud of the clothes that I made.”

Even though its business is confined to online channels, Dynasty the Label is growing every day. There were periods during the worst stretches of the COVID-19 pandemic when Berhanu only recorded three orders, but from May until now, she’s amassed a considerable number of loyal customers and made consistent sales. Now, every working day is a day of happy memories, from learning how to juggle a business to being recognized while out in town. “Had I still been in Australia, I wouldn’t have experienced these feelings, so I feel very grateful for Vietnam,” she gushes.

Kim Berhanu wearing the Phoenix Rising Reversible Bomber.

During the infantile stages of her journey in fashion, Kim Berhanu faced a number of challenges too. “Through Facebook, I managed to find a very experienced seamstress; she even gave me advice on design and brand management, so I hired her immediately,” she explains. “But, after a few weeks, her work started to lag behind and she even made errors. Most seriously, she couldn’t finish a major contract that I planned to ship to Australia and deliver the products myself.”

Berhanu saw this initial fiasco as a crucial life lesson on the importance of picking the right teammates, leading to her finding two dream collaborators now. They are a tailor couple with 20 years of experience and are helping her turn passion into actual products.

One of the best-selling items at Dynasty: Heavens Gate 2-Sided Bomber.

“Not only should fashion be beautiful and unique, it also needs to be sustainable.”

Dynasty the Label follows a key mission — becoming a brand of ethical fashion. To its founder, if her brand achieves growth in a way that tarnishes the environment or the livelihood of the people involved in it, it will go against the mission. Therefore, Berhanu and a small team of workers focus on maintaining high quality with small orders.

Additionally, she also pays tailors 30%, or even 60%, more than similar boutiques. She shares: “Some people think that I’m overpaying my garment sewers, but I appreciate their work, so I want them to continue to contribute [to the company] and help us grow.”

Most recently, Dynasty the Label presented a new collection of face masks crafted using excess fabrics from other clothing designs. Each mask is a small step towards minimizing waste in the brand's business. To Berhanu, fashion shouldn't just be beautiful and unique to look at, it should also be sustainable.

The road ahead

The year 2020 brings countless hurdles to small businesses, but for Kim Berhanu, existing successes should be treasured. She wishes to keep designing and chronicling new knowledge gained from everyday life. “I’m just a normal human, so I really want to show the world many facets of myself,” she explains.

An intricate face mask by Dynasty with a reflective exterior and soft cotton interior.

Knowing how to employ resources, finding brilliant teammates, and doing everything with heart are essential to Berhanu’s business operation. To reach the current progress is not easy, but she’s still constantly finding ways to finetune her creations. She also hopes the brand will reach more people in Vietnam and elsewhere. “The concept of ‘perfection’ doesn’t exist in the creative industry,” she opines. “We’re all learning, and if you need help, that’s completely fine.”

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