Style in the Making: Behind the Scenes of our Llama Tray

I often talk about having style with story, and that’s not just for our jewelry and accessories - it’s also for how we adorn our homes! Traveling to Vietnam last April enabled me to see styles up close, and put them into the context of the rich cultural history of handmade crafts there. After a lunch complete with coconut water straight out of the coconut, my friends and I headed to Bat Trang, an ancient ceramic village. About 1500 years ago, emperors established areas that would specialize in specific crafting skills, to create beautiful things like what they would see in China. They brought in master craftsmen to establish artisan movements in Vietnam, who handed skills down through generations, continuing today. Even while walking through the many shops in Hanoi, I could tell that the Vietnamese take a lot of pride in handmade crafts.

Bat Trang was chosen as a crafting village because it is situated on a river for easy trade. Traditionally, Bat Trang carries great prestige and has generally provided ceramics for the Vietnamese market - both with a local market (which we shopped) and through trade - and did not export much. In recent years, however, it’s become more difficult to compete with factory-made goods, and many young people in crafting families are losing interest in the trade.

So, our partner business Au Lac Designs works to help Bat Trang artisans expand to global markets. This allows them to continue supplementing their farming income, especially in the months leading up to Lunar New Year, when there is high demand for ceramics (many families purchase a new tea set) but little work required in the rice fields. Au Lac partners with the group that, during our visit, was producing a piece for Noonday for the first time.

At the shop producing for Noonday, we got to meet the family (Mrs. Ngat, Mr. Khanh, their son Hung and his wife Oanh) who are third- and fourth-generation owners of the shop. We saw their process of pouring the wet mix into a mold, letting it dry, and removing it. The piece is then hand-painted and placed in a kiln for 16-18 hours. They employ 18 artisans, or more during the months leading up to Lunar New Year.

The piece they were creating that day - our Llama Tray - is a perfect example of collaborative design. It follows the ancient tradition of their craft, while bringing in expertise from Noonday’s design team. I’m often asked, “this is from Vietnam? Are there llamas there?” The answer is, no! But llamas are totally trending in the US. What a cool way to bring US design trends into the discussion as Noonday’s team and Khanh Ngat’s team work together to create a design that is so squarely in their tradition, but with a twist that makes it a hit with Noonday’s audience.

Scroll the photos to see this design come to life!