Their latest creation is fibre hats, the idea of Nguyen Phuc Sang, a student at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics and Finance.
“My home town produces a huge amount of coconut fibre. However, as a raw material, it is not worth much," Sang said. "To produce a kilogram of coconut fibre is hard work and the endless task can affect the health of workers. Therefore we try to create products from it rather than selling it for next to nothing."
Sang’s family makes its living mainly from producing souvenirs from coconuts. The idea of a coconut-fibre hat flashed into Sang’s mind during school holidays when he returned home to help his parents transport the goods.
“I accidentally dropped a plant pot made from coconut fibre onto the floor, and realised that it looked exactly like a hat without a brim," Sang said.
He thought of inventing a coconut fibre hat, but concluded it was "mission impossible" because the fibre is difficult to stabilise with glue, making it itchy. Step by step he figured out ways to minimise the drawbacks. One of them was to make a special glue that can bond all the fibres at high temperature.
Sang encountered many obstacles. First, he still had to attend school and do a part-time job. He also had little experience at deciding on manufacturing processes. The lack of specialised machinery made things difficult, so Sang created the hats manually, learning as he went by referring to the internet.
Sang said the hats go through many stages, including drying, pressing and decorating. “Every stage is important. If one is not done on time, quality goes down,” he said, adding that it normally takes him about 20 minutes to make a hat.
After several days of trial and error, Sang succeeded in making his first coconut-fibre hat. Feedback from his relatives and friends has helped him improve quality day by day.
“My product is unique because it is the first hat made from pressed coconut fibre. The hats are also water-proof,” he said.
"I have already registered a patent for my creation.”
Sang’s creative work recently won first prize in the Business Ideas competition held by the HCM City University of Economics and Finance, and third position in a similar competition for students from different universities hosted by Van Hien University.
His coconut fibre hat has also been included in the top 100 business start-ups nationwide.
According to the deputy head of department of business administration at the university, Nhan Cam Tri, the utilisation of cheap and eco-friendly material made Sang’s product competitive.
“The hat is a new and unique product. The cost of production is reasonable, so its introduction to the market is much easier," he said.
Sang’s business idea has received offers from four enterprises in HCM City at the competition. Tran Huu Doan, director of Viet Sin Food Joint Stock Company, decided to support the young creator by providing consultation on project development and investment.
“In the first phrase, I am targeting the local tourism market,” Sang said. “In the future, I will aim at the international market. The first coconut-fibre hats will be introduced to the market by the end of this year."