Hang’s friends call her Hang ly, or “Stubborn Hang,” due to her steadfast commitment towards sustainable living.
Her minimalistic outfits and penchant for digging through garbage cans in search of recyclable items are an ode to her adopted way of life.
Deep concern about the environment
Hang’s Limart – Zero Waste green grocery store on Nguyen Trai Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City specializes in selling consumer goods and eco-friendly gifts.
“I have felt more confident since I began working at Limart. I talk and smile more.
“I also get to learn about online sales and product marketing,” said Ngo Thi Phuong Linh, a Limart employee who also happens to be blind.
But Limart’s business model isn’t focused solely on profit.
As a social enterprise, part of its mission involves educating others on the importance of sustainable living.
Never is this more evident than when the store welcomes busloads of elementary school children eager to learn about how products they’ve never even heard of such as herbal soap and all-natural luffas.
Hang’s own zero-waste journey began by accident when she purchased her own all-natural products just to see what the fuss was all about.
“The more I used [all-natural products], the more I loved them, so I decided to start selling them to everyone,” Hang said.
She had such success selling sustainable products that she wound up quitting her job in logistics and opening Limart – Zero Waste in 2019.
Though many doubted Hang’s ability to make a decent living selling wooden toothbrushes, bamboo straws, glass jugs, bars of shampoo, and hair conditioner, she refused to let naysayers stand in the way of her dream.
“Like other startups, my path is full of difficulties.
“For me, the biggest challenge was having to work alone because most of my family and friends disapproved of my idea,” she explained.
Empowering the disabled
To meet the rising demand for sustainable goods, Hang constantly updates her inventory with the latest green-product lines from both Vietnam and abroad.
She also works alongside her employees to create her own sustainable soaps, lipsticks, and perfumes.
Her inventory currently consists of about 50 percent imported products and 50 percent domestically produced goods.
The current target is changing those numbers until about 70 percent of the goods she sells are produced by her and her team.
Early 2020 – the peak of the pandemic – was a difficult time for Hang, but while the future of Limart was uncertain, a business model shift that involved product placement in local coffee shops helped the business stay afloat.
A major portion of Limart’s success is also owed to its dedicated 12-member staff, all of whom are blind, deaf, or disabled.
Each of these staff members earns a basic salary of VND5 million (US$213) per month during their training period and VND12 million ($511) per month once they are officially welcomed to the team.
“I used to avoid other people because I didn’t want to be made fun of because my dad was blind.
“After my father passed away, I felt bad about how I acted.
“I now hire disabled people as a way to make up for my wrongs,” Hang shared.
However, recruiting and training disabled works has been challenging journey for Hang.
“Sometimes, it is so hard to talk to [disabled workers]. Many of them are shy and defensive because of how they’ve been treated by others throughout their lives,” Hang explained.
A refuge for kindness
Hang’s entrepreneurial journey has been a roller coaster of ups and downs.
At one of her lowest points, she stumbled across a greeting card that said “What you are doing is great. Keep going and don’t give up!” in a pile of trash given to her store as part of an exchange program.
That greeting card inspired her to keep pushing her business towards success.
Other donations, such as a heart-shaped measuring scale from one of Limart’s Facebook followers and tons of fruits and vegetables donated by Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Dong Province residents to support Limart’s green lifestyle campaign, have been equally inspiring.
“Perhaps [Limart] is a refuge for kindness! Through just a couple small activities, I believe that we can show our love for each other and look toward living in a cleaner environment,” Hang shared.