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Chiecquanque Breathes Life Into Patchwork to Create Unique Handmade Clothing

Chiecquanque is an independent fashion brand presenting clothing items, backpacks and bags that were handcrafted. Each item that the store carries is a one-off creation that exists on its own due to the way they are formed.

I paid Chiecquanque a visit at their location inside an old tenement in Hanoi. The house is nested right next to a narrow alley on Kim Mã Street. This is the workplace of Nguyễn Trung, the young designer behind Chiecquanque. The store name is a humorous wordplay on a Vietnamese slang word that literally means “crippled trousers.”

Trung moved into the location nearly a year ago from a previous homebase inside a breezy, sun-drenched tree-top hut on Thái Hà Street. “I used to be so proud of Chiecquanque for having the best shop location in Hanoi. Alas, the landlady needed the space for something else, so I couldn’t stay there anymore,” Trung recalled with an obvious tinge of regret in his voice.

Each clothing item here is a unique piece that was created by hand.

From a risky move gone wrong

The idea behind the brand was conceived after Trung got into a minor accident in Đà Lạt: “I attempted a risky move by going down a steep slope on a board. I fell over, rolled around on the ground a few times, and my clothes were all torn up. That included my favorite pair of pants. I couldn’t bear to throw them away, so I patched them up. It turned out to be really good, so I kept wearing them. That’s how I thought of Chiecquanque.”

The idea behind Chiecquanque really began from a pair of quần què.

The first product Trung ever made under the brand Chiecquanque was a small sac to hold a USB. He took a photo of it and posted the design on Instagram, which still had the name title “Nhà khởi nghiệp” (lit: A startup founder). Trung didn’t anticipate that such a spontaneous piece would receive so many compliments and even custom orders, so he decided to rename the account to “Nhà thiết kế” (A designer) and began to seriously invest time and effort into Chiecquanque.

Trung’s tool kit.

During the early days of the enterprise, Trung faced countless setbacks, especially on the financial side. To independent designers, funding is always a major hurdle that threatens to put a stop to everything if left unchecked for too long. To help the business tide over, Trung tried to work with materials at hand, sell products and then immediately invest back into the business. “Money was the main issue. Idea-wise, I just started making things when I feel inspired. But now I have to be proactive, all because of the pressures to make ends meet,” he reminisced.

Attention to the tiniest details

At first, Trung produced designs using old denim, then he expanded to other materials like old leather or indigo. He even recycled scrap fabrics collected from a close friend working as a tailor.

Trung doesn’t operate with a fixed set of standards, but tries to mold his design to the condition of the fabric. If the piece has tears, he may opt to retain those imperfections, or even reshapes them to look better.

A vest being worked on. 

Trung employs Japanese techniques like sashiko embroidery patterns and boro patchwork to stitch the fabrics together. “Before, whenever a piece of clothing is worn out at home, the matriarchs would patch it up, after a few rounds, the clothing item will look like this. It looks like a sky, really pretty,” he explained of the reason behind his fondness for the techniques, while showing me the piece he was working on.

Selecting the textile, opting to embroider or stitch are all phases in the production process, which takes up a lot of his time as he feels a need to polish everything. Trung usually crafts a prototype first and then irons out the faults before putting the design up online. “I want to dedicate all my efforts into the products like how I would make things to wear myself. No matter how many times I sew something, I want it to be just like the first time.”

The iconic Thượng Đình shoes have also received makeovers by Chiecquanque

Perhaps it’s thanks to Trung’s razor-sharp-focused approach to creating that most pieces that Chiecquanque have put out share that distinctive quirk. “My most memorable design is probably Thượng Đình shoes. That was when it suddenly became a hot trend because rapper HIEUTHUHAI was wearing a pair.” Thượng Đình is a domestic brand of sportswear known in Vietnam thanks to its affordable prices and utilitarian design. Trung put his own spin on them using denim patches and spontaneous patterns. These made-over shoes climbed to the top to be Chiecquanque’s most highly sought-after items, to the point that there were days that Trung’s workstation was inundated with the iconic striped shoes.

“Sustainable fashion may not exist”

Observers of Vietnam’s handmade fashion landscape might encounter a plethora of names heralding an operational philosophy that involves “sustainable fashion.” To Trung, this concept might be a misconception by some. He believes that even in the case of clothing items crafted from recycled materials, there are many steps in the production process that have negative impacts on the environment. Moreover, the cycle of trends churns rapidly on a daily basis, so the amount of discarded old clothes just increases over time.

“Maybe in the future, the idea behind ‘sustainable fashion’ will be viable when science develops more. But currently, ‘sustainable fashion’ doesn’t really exist, or maybe people simply consume fashion like in cartoons: every day they wear the same outfit and accessories.”

From pants to boots and notebooks

Trung shared that Chiecquanque doesn’t identify as sustainable fashion, and he feels that hand-crafted clothing doesn’t necessarily have to follow this philosophy. When I asked about what distinguishes Chiecquanque from other names, he explained that the techniques are not that different, but the color palettes and patterns of each item might differ. “I personally don’t think I’m that special. People always feel the need to find that difference.”

“Oh, maybe there’s a difference in prices. Some customers picked me because my prices are lower,” Trung laughed after giving the question some thought.

Affordable and detailed

In the near future, Trung wishes to keep Chiecquanque running, though he also wants to share more techniques and experiences with those keen on exploring handmade fashion. To Trung, that kind of knowledge should be promoted even for free.

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