This summer Leather School’s manager, Martin Walker, made a trip to Vietnam. Keen to seek out local leather production, Martin scanned the markets and shops in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the countries capital, Hanoi, to no avail. But then he visited the picturesque town of Hoi An, famed for its lantern filled streets and Chinese architecture. Martin was surprised ‘I couldn’t believe how many leather goods shops there were in the place, after I got to 30 I stopped counting; in one street there were three leather shops in a row!’
Martin’s daughter wanted a leather rucksack, so they explored a few shops with their different styles until they found one that she liked. ‘I had a good look at the quality of the leather and the bag construction and talked to the young woman serving in the shop. She told me it was buffalo hide, but when I asked about the tanning process it got lost in translation – it marked a bit like veg tan, but taking into account the volume of leather goods available here and in other Hoi An shops, I guessed it was more likely chrome tanned. She went on to explain that her father and other members of her family make the leather goods in their home to sell in the shop.
Plucking up courage, Martin threw himself into bartering: ‘once I’d established the quality of the rucksack I tentatively entered the haggling stage. It feels like quite an un-British thing to do because it appears to cause offence. I’ve experienced bartering in other countries; I was a bit rusty at it, although I remembered it’s mainly just play-acting. Probably I could have pressed for a bit of a cheaper price, but I think it was roughly half the price I would expect to pay in the UK.’ Would Martin recommend buying leather goods in Vietnam? ‘I think it helps if you know what to look for in terms of quality of leather and production skill; I saw some items that initially looked good, but didn’t cut the mustard on closer inspection. If you know you want to check out leather goods in a country like Vietnam it would make sense to do some research into what’s available in the UK – it can be a false economy in the long run if you end up with something that is cheap but inferior. Being prepared to bargain is a must if you want a good deal. I’d suggest trying out your bartering skills on some much cheaper items first; I practised by buying some spoons carved from coconut palm wood!’