CEO Mai Son: From flight attendant to fashion empire
As a leader in the fashion retail industry, Pham Thi Mai Son, Founder and CEO of Maison Retail Management International (MRMI), believes that MRMI, with its two decades of developing core values, is perfectly positioned to capitalize on this growth and the opportunity it presents.
Pham Thi Mai Son, CEO of Maison RMI. Photo House RMI
We know that before you fell in love with fashion, you worked for a while in the aviation industry. What prompted you to enter the fashion industry?
I started my career as a flight attendant for Vietnam Airlines where I worked for seven years. This work allowed me to visit many places around the world and discover new cultures. It was an amazing time for Vietnam as the country opened up more and more to the world. There was a real sense of future prosperity for anyone who wanted it and was ready to seize the opportunities that presented themselves.
Fortunately, one thing I quickly realized while abroad was how many cool and famous fashion brands people wore that I had never seen available in Vietnam. I used to spend my free time shopping and when I came home my friends always noticed my new clothes, shoes or bags and asked me where I got them. I quickly sensed that there could be a huge opportunity in the market for international fashion brands in Vietnam.
Then one day, on a business trip to Singapore, which I will never forget, with $300 in my pocket, I bought two huge Mango bags. I was so happy with these items because they were affordable and beautiful and I sold some to my friends who all loved them. I thought this brand might be suitable for Vietnamese and soon after I started approaching Mango directly, taking the first steps in my fashion career.
Can you share your journey to start your business including challenges, opportunities especially when not many people thought of bringing international fashion brands to Vietnam.
When I originally intended to bring Mango back to Vietnam, I had no relationship to rely on. I had to create my own relationships by approaching people. At first, no one knew who I was. Many foreigners had not paid much attention to the Vietnamese market at that time, mainly focusing on the Chinese and Indian markets. But I persisted, calling every week, and eventually Mango invited me to Spain. We worked for nearly two years before securing the rights to bring the brand to Vietnam. We opened our first Mango store in HCMC in 2004 and have never looked back since.
I believed that I would be successful if I could clearly present the market and the opportunity and mention the points that I thought the partners were looking for. Ultimately, all of these international brands are looking for trusted local partners with local expertise. When I contacted Mango, I had to show them new products and the needs of the Vietnamese market. Understanding Vietnamese consumers and the Vietnamese market is key to securing brands.
A Maison RMI store. Photo House RMI
For two decades, what are the fundamental values pursued by MRMI? What factors made the difference and made the name of MRMI so famous in the field of fashion?
Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates were asked in an interview to choose a word they thought had contributed to their success. Without hesitation, they both said “focus.” For me, focus is key.
Very often, especially in Vietnam, it seems that once companies and entrepreneurs start to experience some success, they lose focus and start to over-diversify, trying to invest and grow in many activities not essential. To me, the more you diversify across industries and business models, the more your critical resources like time, capital, energy, and team attention become dispersed. Plus, you’ll be up against incumbents with a lot more experience and know-how than you. For me, I just do fashion. I will not let any distractions stand in our way that does not further our goal of being a leading fashion retailer in Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
Next comes high quality. I firmly believe that MRMI has the highest quality standards when it comes to fashion. For every brand we decide to bring to market, my team probably considers and rejects 20. We also spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about where to open our stores and reject many locations with other brands of high quality if they don’t. meet our internal criteria.
Integrity is equally important. MRMI encourages open and direct communication where everyone’s opinion is listened to with an open mind. Open and direct communication sometimes means having uncomfortable conversations, but it is essential to reach the truth and get the best result, which is in everyone’s interest.
Finally, playfulness and diversity. Work is going to be a big part of your life, so why not have fun while you do it! At MRMI, we respect diversity and people’s ideas. We work hard to ensure that there are always opportunities for our entire team, both in their careers and in their personal development. We believe that our human resources are an essential asset to strengthen our business and support our growth.
Vietnamese KOLs present at a Maison RMI event. Photo House RMI
How do you assess the potential of the Vietnamese fashion market?
Since the early 2000s, Vietnamese have become more affluent, with their purchasing power steadily increasing relatively evenly across all provinces and cities. It is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a particularly young population. Nearly 65% of the country’s 98 million inhabitants are under 35 years old.
There has never been a better time to be a fashion retailer in Vietnam, with consumption driven by the rapidly emerging middle and upper class. The fashion market in Vietnam is expected to reach +/- $8.6 billion by 2025, growing at a CARG of 8.6%, far outpacing our regional peers.
I can proudly say that our company is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this growth and the opportunities it presents. If you look at our portfolio, almost 85% of our brands are in the mass or sportswear segment, with another 15% in the mid-to-high end segment, which is where economic growth and growth come from. consumer demand in the years to come. years.
Add to that the excellent economic development coming from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities across the country and the incredible supply of high quality upcoming real estate developments and commercialized shopping streets across the country. When you consider all of this, the growth potential is really exciting.
What is your vision for the next five to ten years with MRMI in particular and the national fashion industry in general?
Today, our business generates over $110 million with 80% of our stores located in Hanoi and HCMC. Over the next five years, we expect Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities to account for at least 30% of our growth, and our overall sales are expected to reach $400 million by 2027, driven by expansion of our existing portfolio of popular brands, the introduction of new brands to the market, the expansion into new cities and the excellent growth of our e-commerce and online platforms.
With foresight and identifying fashion as a long-term development industry, in the next five years, MRMI will reach three times the current scale with more than 400 stores all over the country with several new brands, and will be listed on the stock exchange. MRMI aspires to become one of the leading fashion retailers in Vietnam.
Pham Thi Mai Son, CEO of Maison RM, started her career as a flight attendant. Photo House RMI
Can you tell us a bit about your style?
I am quite diverse in choosing fashion brands to suit my daily life and work. I can use Charles & Keith, Pedro, Coach, Gigi, as well as Ceci, and I also love MLB – one of the famous Korean fashion brands.
When I walk or hang out with friends, I wear Pinko and Marhen. J, Max & Co. and the weekend, Max Mara because the style and designs of these brands are very fresh.
I often wear Charles & Keith and Pedro’s clothes because for less than 2 million VND it is possible to own many beautiful shoes, sandals, bags and fashion accessories.
In 20 years of activity, what do you see yourself gaining and losing?
I often look at things positively to share what I have gained. We only have one life, so why choose a boring life? I love fashion, so I decided to start a fashion business. I have been in the fashion business for 20 years. For me, it’s joyful. If I came back, I might still choose fashion to start a business.