Victoria Eskdale, Associate Lecturer in RMIT Vietnam’s School of Communication & Design, journeyed to the mountains of northern Vietnam to learn about the traditional fashion of ethnic minority groups.
Inspired by Vietnam’s cultural heritage
Lecturer Victoria Eskdale has always been passionate about Vietnam’s ethnic minority arts and culture, so much so that she decided to commit to studying the traditional fashion of the country’s 54 ethnic minority groups.
Recognised with an RMIT Vietnam Excellence in Learning & Teaching Award, Ms Eskdale used part of the grant to fund a ten-day field trip in late October to the north-eastern province of Ha Giang, home to more than 20 ethnic groups who account for nearly 90 per cent of the province’s population.
Ha Giang is renowned for its majestic beauty, with rugged rocky mountain ranges and terraced fields, as well as its preserved tribal culture.
“The goal of the trip was to observe the existing life of these traditional dresses in all aspects: making processes, colours, symbols, fabrics, threads, as well as the difference in daily uses between tribes. I wanted to observe and absorb everything before I finalise my research topic,” Ms Eskdale explained.
The trip offered more than she expected. Ms Eskdale was fascinated by the way every minority group has their own traditional dress that transforms for different occasions and depending on who wears it.
“A dress communicates a lot of messages through different symbols and colours, as well as brings with it the historical and cultural quintessence of northern Vietnam,” she said.
“Seeing the traditional dresses in their cultural contexts – the landscape of dazzling slopes, hanging valleys, serrated mountains and terraced paddy fields – is breathtaking.
“It is a fruitful source of inspiration and materials for creative practitioners like me.”
Motivated to sustain traditional fashion
The trip helped Ms Eskdale gain insight into her research topic area. From this learning, she will now narrow and focus her topic.
The experience is also an inspiration in the two courses she teaches – Applied Management and Product Development – both of which focus on sustainability. Ms Eskdale turned her learnings from the trip into engaging class activities where students can learn about artisan processes and techniques.
Recently Ms Eskdale also delivered lectures, workshops and activities, including sharing about her research trip to Ha Giang, to 20 budding and established designers, along with Dr Marta Gasparin. Hosted by the British Council, the event was part of a fashion design competition aiming to bridge the gap between designers and artisans.
“The trip leaves me with questions about cultural heritage and its sustainability,” she ruminated.
“How can we make traditional crafts sustainable without needing to manufacture them? How can we make young generations value artisanship without turning it contemporary?
“I am going to work everyday thinking about that and trying to find the answers in the work that I am doing, be it teaching or research.”
Story: Thanh Phuong
Photo: Victoria Eskdale