A mere week before the opening of her first Hanoi flagship store, Rustea owner Jo Lam hears from her landlord that their minds have changed and that they will no longer rent out part of their building to the young fashion entrepreneur. It’s clear to everyone around Jo that this store opening, that she and her team have been working on for over two month, will have to be postponed. That it’s time to go back to her native Saigon, hit the reset button, and re-think the entire Hanoi operation…
But that’s not “the way of Jo.” Equally strong-willed and remarkably relaxed, Jo doesn’t have to think twice. She takes in all the advice, smiles, and does it her own way. Yes, there will be a lot of work to turn this situation around, but with all the energy that went into it so far, it would be the last thing on her mind to retract to Saigon and start anew.
And so Jo, only 27 years old but with 3 years of experience in running a small apparel empire in her back pocket thanks to her successful bag company Jamlos, takes a deep breath. She reminds herself of what’s important to her. How she got here and what her ambitious plans have in store for her and the world.
Confidently, she steps out of her Airbnb onto the then rainy streets of Hanoi’s Hoàn Kiếm district. She senses that she needs to get a real feel for this city. She walks, and keeps walking. Looking up and down the streets, the buildings. Determined to change her fate, she sets out to do the impossible – find a new store location at the last minute. “The more difficulty we face, the better we become,” she tells me.
Not one day after receiving the bad news, she has secured a new location, negotiated the lease, inked the paperwork, and is ready to instruct her team on the new address, that now has to be on every invite, poster and business card. Materials that were already concepted, designed and printed, back when no one could have foreseen this sudden change of events.
And there it is, the big moment, just a few days later than planned. It’s 5pm, and droves of people are waiting excitedly but patiently for the doors of the new Rustea store to open. Jo looks outside and smiles. “It was all worth it,” she thinks silently to herself, “no matter what anyone may have said.”
Calm is the key
It is exactly this attitude that describes Jo to a tee. “How on earth did you stay cool throughout all of that?”, I ask her. It’s a question she doesn’t need long for to answer. “I somehow knew that things would turn out alright. I told my team to trust me, to stick with me. Over time, I’ve learned to not give into my immediate emotions, but to overcome them. This was not a time to get worried. Not to feel down. It was the time to look the situation straight in the eye and concoct a new plan.”
It’s a story that forms the red thread through Jo’s life. Even in middle school, she was the go-to person to plan, organise and successfully execute anything from a birthday gift to a big event. And it’s an attitude that helps her significantly in her new business, where she isn’t just the owner, but also it’s chief designer, book keeper and marketing head. “I even still love being the sales person, never letting my customer in on the fact that I’m the owner. I simply adore the feeling of conveying my ideas behind the clothes directly, and hearing feedback first-handed.” Jo shares open-heartedly.
Putting the tea in Rustea
With such a personal approach to her business, it’s no big surprise that Jo chose a name that truly reflected what she wanted to brand to stand for. Combining the words “rustic” and “tea,” Rustea was born. Especially the tea part plays a big role in the brand’s story.
“I wanted to create clothing that give the same feeling as drinking a cup of tea. A moment where you can just sit and not think about anything around you.” Jo says. “This moment of dreaming away, is what I wanted to instil in our clothing line as well. It’s why we call it “your everyday getaway.”
It’s a choice we all have, to live simpler, to distill our lives down to just what’s needed, but it’s not something we often do. Jo wants to change that. For her, simple means choosing natural fabrics, that make each peace of clothing unique, but also basic cuts that fit everybody. “I had no specific experience in creating clothes, so I worked with a fashion lecturer to turn my initial sketches into full-blown designs, and finally into samples. It was a very rewarding process to see my thoughts come to life.”
“Just like tea, clothing can solve everything. It can make you stand out while still being comfortable.”
And so here we are, days after the Rustea store opening, when Jo has returned to her trusted and beloved Saigon. How is she feeling now, after the whirlwind of events she just went through? “The response really has been overwhelming”, the proud owner of Rustea says, but at the end of the day, more than anything, it’s that sense of satisfaction which fuels her. “My measure of success is the amount of satisfaction I feel, it’s the fulfilment I get out of it that drives me more than anything.”
After speaking with such an inspiring person, one can only hope that there will be no limit to the amount of fulfilment that life will have in store for her.