It began as an attempt to fill a growing niche in the tourism industry. As foreign travellers began pouring into Myanmar a few years ago, many were seeking mementos to bring home. It’s fair to say that between longyi and thanaka, there weren’t too many choices.
Enter Delphine De Lorme.The French artist cum interior designer had already had a successful career in the Philippines before she moved to Yangon in 2014. Soon after she arrived, De Lorme and two other ladies began a project to launch an accessories and souvenirs brand unlike anything the country had ever seen before.
Yangoods, as the line is called, combines images from colonial-era Burma with 21st century sensibilities through high-quality products. For one, there’s a cotton canvas pouch printed with the characteristic leg-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake, the floating market and Kayan ladies. There’s also the metal Blue Bus clock, which features Myanmar’s old-school public bus.
“When tourists see these products, through its cultural, vintage designs, they think of a magical country the way they imagined and wanted to see it,” said Delphine De Lorme, Yangoods Creative Director.
Despite being originally targeted towards visiting tourists, Yangoods soon caught the attention of local people. By now, the brand has expanded into fashion, decoration and souvenirs with products made available at three shop locations in Yangon as well as at retailers throughout the country.
That’s not all. Business is also flourishing abroad. In Switzerland, the company’s products are available both online and offline, at various pop-up shops and events, thanks to a partnership with Agent Special, an e-commerce company. In Thailand, they’re on display at Open House, a retail and lifestyle space located at Central Embassy. Yangoods also markets products through retailers in Spain, Australia, Vietnam and the United States.
“Yangoods’ dream has always been to be the first international Myanmar fashion and accessories brand. We want the whole world to experience this amazing culture trough our designs,” said De Lorme.
Over in Phnom Penh, Ko Ngwe Tun is yet again on another business trip to introduce Genius Coffee, his specialty Arabica products sourced from the highlands of southern Shan State. Within the past two years, the organic-certified, fair-trade brand has made it to Japan, Australia and the US.
With every trip abroad, Tun seeks to expand his reach and explore new possibilities.
“We’ve conducted consumer surveys in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. We will not go with low prices. We will go with better quality, better service and attract [partners] with the flexibility of our products’ range – ground, drip, capsules and coffee cherry tea,” he said, adding,“We are going to America and East Asia soon. We are looking for local partners who have knowledge in the specialty coffee industry.”
Instead of selling raw materials, Tun is keen on producing more value-added products. One idea he has in mind is baking cookies using dried coffee pulp.
After all, he’s got a world-class product to sell. Myanmar coffee is a pleasant clean cup that’s aromatic, sweet and mild.
Aside from business visits, he also makes it a point to join international trade shows and has done so in Korea, China and Thailand.
“When we exhibit our products, we can attract customers, distributors and partners with our product quality and services. It is an effective way to explore and network with industry players. Exhibition is the only gateway to reach out to distributors effectively and at low cost,” said Tun, whose business is run as a social enterprise whereby 10 per cent of its revenue is rerouted to community development projects.
One of the international exhibitions frequented by Myanmar producers has been THAIFEX-World of Food Asia, an annual trade event in Bangkok for food and beverages, food technology, retail and franchise in ASEAN.
“With growing interest in Myanmar products with their unique flavours, Myanmar continues to be one of the key markets for visitors to THAIFEX-World of Food Asia,” said Mathias Kuepper, Managing Director at Koelnmesse Pte Ltd., a leading trade fair organiser in the food industry and related sectors, which ran THAIFEX-World of Food Asia.
“Not just that, Myanmar is increasingly recognising THAIFEX-World of Food Asia as THE launch pad to a regional and global audience, with almost 10 per cent increase year-on-year in terms of visitors from Myanmar alone.”
At this year’s fair in June, seven Myanmar companies were present, offering fine food, dried seafood, specialty coffee and tea products, as well as sweets and confectionery.
Ma Cho Lei Aung’s Tree Food was one of the participants, with bite-size jaggery in yogurt, lemon, masala and ginger flavours. Having had access to Myanmar’s biggest supermarket chain, through which her products are now available to the mass market, Aung felt confident to go international.
Endless government paperwork and licenses later, Aung brought Myanmar’s favourite traditional dessert to THAIFEX-World of Food Asia.
“It was there that I realised there was so much more to do in terms of permits and licenses, to be able to access markets in the US and Europe,” said Aung.
For now though, bulk orders have started coming from Germany. “The shipping actually cost more than the price of jaggery itself,” Aung chuckled.
Upon returning home, the medicine graduate became more adamant in pursuing her goals to turn Myanmar jaggery into a fine product. She’s currently looking into partnerships with organic palm tree farmers and factories, as she continues to make her way through red tapeand, at the same time, scouts for more opportunities abroad.
For Genius Coffee’s Tun, that has also been an on-going mission, which he seeks to achieve by raising awareness of Myanmar coffee and by fitting in with global trends.
In the meantime, he’s focusing on what’s doable.
“Our marketing strategy is still being developed in Cambodia and Thailand. We will focus more in niche markets and on tourists in this area,” he said.