The Vietnamese countryside is a verdant landscape of rolling green hills, tree-dense mountains, and tropical lowlands — it’s picturesque in the strongest sense of the term. And for designer Hanh Merriman, it’s a place she’s lucky enough to call her home. “I grew up in a large family with many siblings in the countryside, so I learned to be resilient and independent,” she says. “Being in a rural environment helped me to appreciate so many deep, intense colors and shapes from dramatic landscapes, which I weave into my collection today.” Hanh’s collection debuted in September of this year and it nods to her heritage and family as sources of inspiration.
“I have fond memories of accompanying my mom to the market, pleading with her to buy fabric for me to experiment with,” she says. Eventually, around the age of 12, her mother agreed. Despite an early interest in design, her parents envisioned a different path for Merriman. “As a way to help others, my parents tried to steer me into the field of medicine, which I dutifully studied for some time,” she says. “But my heart was not in it, so I abandoned my studies and moved to the United States.”
Hanh relocated to Texas in 1994 and got her first job as a hairstylist while studying at university, an experience she reflects on having helped her find a path into fashion. She finished school right around the time street style began to take flight, and took interest in the creative expression it allowed. “I started to document my style and travels through my blog Life in Travel, which lasted a few years,” she says.
But, everything changed for Merriman in 2013 when her father passed. “I stopped acquiring clothes and just wore what I already had,” she says. “A few years later, I craved a reset — to share my vision. HANH Collection is a fresh start, a tribute to my late father, and a fulfillment of my teenage dream.” She launched an eponymous label Hanh Merriman in the Spring of 2018, but HANH is a reimagining of her work, inspired by both her heritage and her own love of travel and fashion.
HANH’s collection is a tight edit of elegant, but slightly avant-garde essentials, with thoughtful nods to Merriman’s heritage, from simple tailoring details to a print inspired by an iconic Vietnamese plant. “The kumquat has significant meaning for me and is one of our core inspirations,” she shares. “It represents happiness and prosperity in Vietnamese culture, and families will often buy kumquat trees around Tet, Lunar New Year, for their homes. We did that every year.” Acknowledging the symbolism and significance kumquats have for her culture, she knew it had to be included in the design direction. “This symbol from my childhood is important to me so we ended up using the kumquat as a print on our debut collection,” she says. “I love how vibrant and identifiable it is.”
Merriman’s creative process is one that’s fluid, rooted in slowing down and taking the time to discover what inspires her — which is especially fitting considering her countryside origins. “I take daily walks to clear my mind and center myself,” she says. “Ideas just flow freely in so we always have an abundance of ideas for the upcoming collection.” When an edit is decided, sketches and prototypes begin to be made. “From there, we make the final samples and have our photoshoot. We have a very small team, but we still find a way to focus on all the small but differentiating and impactful details to make each HANH Collection piece feel very special — and be disciplined to stick with our vision.”
Having grown up in Vietnam and later moved to the United States, preserving that cultural point of view is a priority. “There are many strong and influential AAPI activists out there, both in and outside of the fashion circuit,” she says. “Celebrating different voices, showing fresh perspectives, and incorporating elements from our heritage is not only inspiring to me but all lovers of style are enriched by it.”
It was also important to Merriman to include a philanthropic component to her business, something that ties back to her family and her upbringing in Vietnam. “My parents instilled in all of us a spirit of giving back to the community. We were raised this way so it was in our DNA,” she says. “HANH Collection has a philanthropic component as one of its tenets. There are so many great organizations doing good work, but we’ve partnered with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.” This organization provides essential services to families in crisis in Vietnam.
With her first season under her belt and more on the horizon, her creativity and positivity remain driving forces as she looks ahead. “My name, in fact, means happiness in Vietnamese,” she says. “So there’s a strong connection with that and the work I do.”
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