The Swedish designer Sofia Holt recently left Vietnam after 7 years in the country. In a recent post by the Embassy of Sweden in Hanoi, she talks about some of her highlights during her time in Vietnam, impressions, and thoughts about similarities and differences between Sweden and Vietnam, and what she misses the most from Vietnam.
Sofia Holt came to Vietnam in 2014 to design furniture and decoration for a company with shops in Saigon and Hanoi. After a while, she started to freelance with projects of fashion, illustration, concepts, furniture, and crafted items. On the side, she held creative workshops for adults and last year for the Embassy of Sweden in Hanoi on Pippi Långstrump’s 75th anniversary.
“Saigon is on fire when it comes to entrepreneurship and business development, which fostered my creativity and motivated me to take quick action, not getting stuck in over-thinking,” Sofia Holt says.
Some of her highlights in Vietnam include a concept to bring new life to waste pants from the German fashion brand DAWN, exhibited at Berlin Fashion week 2019. 17 illustrations showing sustainable travel for EXO Travel. A collection with Vietnamese LIBÉ to motivate young women to a balanced lifestyle. Illustration of the VN-ENG bilingual children’s book ‘The Lost Sandal’, and perhaps her most popular work; the BABES collection which is a collection to support women to be comfortable with themselves.
Now back in her home country of Sweden, there are things she really appreciates about the country up north. “It feels cold in Sweden even at +15C, but it’s fantastic to be back and rediscover Swedish wildlife and all the habits I’d forgotten about, meet family, listen and talk Swedish, dust off autumn clothes and sleep with a thick duvet without a noisy AC,” Sofia Holt says.
Sofia Hold hopes she can keep the mindset she has from Vietnam in Sweden. “I’ve learned to set standards of my design processes, but also the importance of flexibility since every project is different. Vietnam has allowed me to test many different subjects within design, to find my way. I’ve seen different living standards, another way of ruling a country, another spiritual belief, and other views of life in general. All this knowledge is excellent for me as a designer, whose main task is to solve problems or create usable concepts for not only Swedish people.”
Before returning to Sweden Sofia Holt started a project called “Painting Against Covid-19” where she painted 16 everyday items during quarantine in her apartment and auctioned them out online to donate the money to charities helping against the pandemic. “We collected 30,900,000 VND and it was nice to show how art and design can help societies in times of crisis.
It was also a way to keep sane during the lockdown. Hopefully, it inspires creativity at home by recycling old items instead of buying new,” Sofia Holt says.
Speaking about the most dominant differences between Sweden and Vietnam, Sofia Hold says, “Sweden is silent, slow, calm, ‘lagom’, equal, democratic, and expensive with the dominating design expression ‘less is more’. Compared to Saigon’s noisy, fast, hot, energetic, eclectic, family-oriented society with bigger economic gaps and design expression is more ‘over the top’. Both countries are kind, caring, and helpful in situations of emergency, and both peoples are quite shy.”
“After seven years in the Asian country, there are things she misses. “I miss my organized home studio setup and easy access to design material. I miss the unexpected inspiration I got daily just by walking outside, facing Saigon’s vibrant reality. It woke me up from the introverted work world. I also miss the multicultural environment,” she says.
About her future plans, Sofia Holt says, “Now I hope to establish myself as a freelance designer in Sweden. However, design concepts delivered by CAD files can still be sent anywhere. I’m contacting shops to sell my designs and translating ‘The Lost Sandal’ for publication in Sweden. My mum and I have also been asked to have a collaborative exhibition in the Swedish town of Säffle. She’s a crafter too and has a ceramic workshop. I’m eager to start working on new designs for my own brand but also open to collaborations around the world. I’m excited to see what comes next!” Sofia Holt says.
Sofia Holt’s BABES collection is available around Saigon and Hanoi. According to the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi, she also plans to return to Vietnam at some point but until then, you can reach and follow her through here.