The founder of Vietnamese sandal company Saado has much more than selling shoes on his mind.
In 2018, Phung Le Lam Hai recognized an opportunity in the Asian market to create lightweight, versatile and affordable sandals for casual wear and exploring. The brand has taken off in Vietnam, as well as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar—and Saado is now preparing to take on the Indian, Nepalese and Thai markets over the next year.
The company is also testing its viability in the U.S. market with an exclusive launch on Amazon. Phung hopes the brand’s launch will raise the profile of Vietnamese footwear, he said in a statement. Today, Vietnam is the second largest footwear exporting country in the world, behind China, its market share steadily ramping up as the trade war with the U.S. roils China sourcing.
Saado has applied for a U.S. trademark on its signature design: a 250-gram sandal made with durable Phylon foam (made with EVA pellets), which boasts a slip-resistant surface, elastic rubber insoles and straps across the vamp and ankle that are made from leather and quick-drying parachute cloth. The sandal’s active silhouette has a subtle platform, and is reminiscent of popular styles from athleisure sandal brands like Teva or Chaco.
Phung said obtaining a U.S. trademark would allow Saado to protect its products and sell them competitively within the country. But his main goal is to promote the product’s Vietnamese origins, because he believes the value of the country’s goods have been overlooked.
“We are well-known to help big brands manufacture their products, but our own products have never been recognized,” he said. “Through Saado, I would like to help rectify this situation.”
He also hopes his success with Saado will help set an example for other Vietnamese entrepreneurs looking to build businesses and expand into international markets. To date, Saado has operated entirely on a direct-to-consumer model, and Phung warns young brands against the temptation of setting up physical storefronts for minimal gains. “My motto is ‘Don’t open a store to sell a few pairs of shoes, sell 1,000 pairs before opening one,‘” he explained.
His real goal for the sandal brand is to replicate the successes of a tech startup, or the “Uber in Retail,” Phung said, using Saado’s supply chain infrastructure to help young people start and run their own business ventures.
“The education system in Vietnam doesn’t offer concrete experience and I would like to provide opportunities for future generations, to provide them with the hope of running an internationally recognized business,” he said. “These inspired entrepreneurs only have to bring in the orders and we will back them up with the customer service, logistic and warehouse requirements.”
Saado has already built up a network of business partners spanning 40 of the 64 provinces in Vietnam, and the company plans to build out its network of partners globally.
Its inventive business model won the Best Innovators Award in Asia in 2018, and Saado was one of three Vietnamese start-ups to present its business plan to the international SEPT Program of Leipzig University in Germany—an event attended by entrepreneurs and customers.