The famous wooden sandals of Yen Xa Village in Hanoi's Thanh Tri District is being threatened in the face of tough competition.
Plastic and foam replace wooden sandals
Yen Xa Village is famous for textile production, weaving and especially wooden sandal making, which are well-known for their design and quality.
Between 1980 and 1985 most families in the village made their living by making wooden sandals, which were recognisable for their trademark elephant.
Yen Xa is also the hometown of Truong Cong Duc, one of the few remaining sandal makers. He is also one of the artists who helped create the largest wooden pair of sandals in Vietnam, which was 1.2 metres tall and weighed 300 kg.
Duc said, "I'm the third generation in my family to take up the craft of sandal-making. It's in my blood and I plan to keep doing it as long as I can."
The process is done as it has been for generations. The wood is chosen, cut and sanded before attaching straps and soles.
"Making wooden sandals is a strenuous work but gain little in return. That's why many families gave up on this craft." Duc said.
Vu Van Thieu a sandal maker said, "Living in this village, you can't help but love the sandal making. But it's nearly impossible to earn a living by this craft nowadays. Now I only make sandals during my free time, during breaks between crops or on weekends."
There are two types of sandals made in the village, fashionable and simple. The 'fashionable' sandals are made mostly for export, while the 'simple' ones are largely used in the theatre or for domestic trade.
A pair of 'fashionable' sandals usually goes for VND95,000 (USD4.5), while the simple ones cost VND17,000 (USD0.8).
"Nowadays, people prefer plastic or foam sandals, so making wooden sandals is not profitable anymore. The money for the wood, straps, nails, electricity already comes to about VND14,000 a pair, and we only sell them for VND17,000. Most of the villagers have turned to other trades or businesses." he said.
A skilled sandal maker, such as Duc, can turn out 30 pairs a day. Duc also makes 'fashionable' sandals and earns about VND200 million per year. However, he said that his income is above average because he is the only wholesaler in the village for the northern market.
Nguyen Van Duc, Deputy Head of Yen Xa Village said, "We would like to preserve this craft, but it will require attractive designs. Right now the profit margin remains low, so this will be a difficult task."