You may not know it, but if you own an Apple phone, a Samsung device, a pair of Nikes, or a Northface bag, there is a greater than 50% chance it was made in Vietnam.
Once, the label “Made in Vietnam” prompted pejorative questions like “are Vietnamese Adidas shoes fake?” Now, Vietnam is increasingly the manufacturing and research base of top-tier brands in electronics, apparel, footwear, and furniture, from Swedish Fjällräven to USA Intel. This is one of the main reasons we are so bullish on Vietnam.
This makes Vietnam great for shoppers: cities like Hanoi and HCMC have hundreds of stores packed with discounted products from name-brands, such as Northface gear, Merrell shoes, and Fjällräven bags. Or, if you are an entrepreneur, you can easily visit many high-quality small manufacturing workshops and quickly source your own white-label product.
In this post, we discuss top consumer brands that have most or a significant amount of manufacturing in Vietnam, including:
Phones and R&D in Vietnam
If you’ve purchased a Sumsung phone in North America or Europe, chances are it was manufactured in Vietnam. The Galaxy Z is an example product that is made in Vietnam
There are two major manufacturing plants in Vietnam, near HCMC and Hanoi, wherein over 50% of all Samsung smartphones are manufactured. Samsung continues to invest more capital into Vietnam: in May 2020, Sumsung announced they would open another smartphone factory in Vietnam, as well as another factory in Ho Chi Minh City to make televisions, air conditioners and washing machines.
Furthermore, in 2022, Samsung is planning to relocate their major R&D operations to the west of Hanoi, making Vietnam its largest R&D center in South East Asia [source].
In contrast, Samsung has been closing plants in China. Together, this is poised to make Vietnam the largest manufacturing base of Samsung [source].
Are Nike shoes made in Vietnam fake?
No! According to Reuters, about half of all Nike shoes are made in Vietnam. This is close to our own tally of Nike manufacturers listed on MEC.ca (~ 1/3 of Nike products were made in Vietnam). The American sport apparel and footwear company has about 200 manufacturing plants in Vietnam.
Nonetheless, the question of “are Nike shoes made in Vietnam fake?” still persists on the inter-webs, perhaps due to consumers’ unfamiliarity with Vietnam and its rapid economic ascension.
According to the New York Times, Nike wants to increase their production in Vietnam, but ongoing trade-disputes between the USA and Vietnam have stymied bilateral trade agreements.
Largest assembly and test site is in Vietnam
You may never open your PC and see a tiny “Made in Vietnam” sign on the Intel processor, but Intel is moving more and more large-scale operations to Vietnam [source].
Of all its global sites, Intel has its largest assembly and test site at the Saigon Hi-Tech Park, near Ho Chi Minh City. Apart from this Vietnamese site, Intel operates seven other assembly and testing facilities in the USA, Costa Rica, China and Malaysia.
Intel continues to invest large sums of money into Vietnam, recently adding $475 million towards enchancing Vietnam’s production of 5G products and its 10th genearation core chips.
The Nordic mega-brand is now basically Vietnamese
Throughout the cities of Vietnam, you’ll see the iconic 1970-style Kånken rucksack everywhere — locals are surprised to hear that the faux-retro product is deemed a high-end hiking-durable Swedish mid-luxury brand.
It is difficult to get official numbers, but the majority of Fjällräven products seem to be made in Vietnam. We did a quick tally of 20 different Fjällräven products on MEC.ca (pants, jackets, hats, bags), and our unofficial survey found that 70% of Fjällräven products were manufactured in Vietnam, while the remainder were made in China.
Adidas’ largest workforce is in Vietnam
We inspected Adidas’ list of suppliers: Vietnam ranks #2 globally, after China, in terms of numbers of factories. As of Nov 2021, Adidas had third-party factories in 48 countries, with the highest countries being:
- China – 103 factories
- Vietnam – 76 factories
- Indonesia – 45 factories
- USD – 27 factories
- Brazil – 26 factories
- Cambodia – 24 factories
Although China has more factories, Vietnam has the largest workforce producing Adidas products: there are over 200,000 workers in Adidas-supplying factories in Vietnam, whereas China has only 88,000 workers.
The Vietnamese suppliers have names like Eclipse Polymers, Formosa Textile, Regina Miracle International, Starite International, United Sweethearts Garment, Vietnam Elite Global Footwear Manufacturing Company Limited, and are located in more than a dozen different provinces, from Nghe An to Binh Duong to Ho Chi Minh City.
As for how many items are actually made in Vietnam, in 2017, the CEO of Adidas (Kasper Rorsted) made a statement that 44% of Addidas shoes and boots were made in Vietnam.
Vietnamese VinGroup bought LG’s largest mobile phone manufacturing plant
Until recently, the South-Korean electronics company LG had its largest phone manufacturing plant in Vietnam [source]. This was recently sold to the Vietnamese mega-corporation VinGroup (HM:VIC), as LG exits the mobile business.
Beyond phones, LG continues to invest more into its Vietnamese operations, with a recent investment of $750 million into organic light-emitting diode display manufacturing plants close to Hai Phong (near Hanoi). This brings LG’s total investment into Vietnam at over $3 billion, as of November 2021 [source].
Even more importantly, LG is building a second research and development center in Vietnam, which, much like Samsung, demonstrates LG’s confidence in the intellectural capital of Vietnam.
THE NORTH FACE
Are North Face products sold in VIetnam fake?
No, not all North Face products with a “Made in Vietnam”-tag are fake (as was routinely claimed 8 years ago). Today, most of North Face products are made in Vietnam. Walking around Hanoi, it is hard not to see a local shopping selling discounted products.
It is difficult to get official numbers, but we did a quick survey of 14 different products on MEC.ca (including clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, jackets, gloves) and found that 57% of The North Face products were manufactured in Vietnam — by far the majority. The remainder were made in Jordan, El Salvador, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Cambodia.
Largest manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia is in Vietnam
The Taiwanese company Foxconn is the key technology supplier that undergirds Apple’s mobile products as well as Google’s Pixel 5. So, if you own an Apple phone, there is a good change that it was manufactured in Vietnam.
The specific percentage of Foxconn production that comes from Vietnam remains unclear. However, there are hints that it is substantial: in a 2020 Annual General Meeting, the Foxconn Chairman Young Liu stated, for the first time, that Vietnam is Foxconn’s that largest manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia [source].
Foxconn seems to be investing more in India as its future production base rather than Vietnam, but the two countries are its top priorities. For instance, in 2018 and 2019, Foxconn invested over $200 million into Vietnamese production, compared to over $370 million invested into India
I love my Merrell Moabs: they were my favourite casual-plus-hiking shoe when I was a student and couldn’t afford to buy separate shoes.
Little did I know that the vast majority of Merrell high-ends shoes and boots are made in Vietnam. You can easily find local shops in major cities selling discounted, quality Merrells (just beware of fakes, which should be easy to detect).
We did a survey of 10 random products on MEC.ca, and ~70% of Merrell footwear were made in Vietnam, including the iconic Moab series. Others were made in Cambodia or India.
A “Zero waste” retailer that is proud of its Vietnamese manufacturing base
The American clothing retailer Everlane is a new “zero waste” fashion brand. They incorporate mostly recycled materials into their products and brand themselves as “ethical manufacturing”.
As of the time of publicaton, 100% of their suppliers were from Vietnam. You can read about their factories near Ho Chi Minh City here. What is remarkable about Everlane is that they are proud of their Vietnamese connections — expect more corporations to boast of their Vietnamese connections!
Other Notable Brands
Other famous brands with significant production in Vietnam
There are many more brands that are considering moving to Vietnam or have made tentative steps to de-Sinoize their supply chains.
The following brands source a significant percentage of their goods made in Vietnam, or manufacture directly in Vietnam, but as far as we can tell, Vietnam is not their majority supplier:
Notes on Ikea Products Made in Vietnam
According to our survey of Ikea show-rooms, the overwhelming majority of Ikea products were made in China, followed by Poland, after which Vietnam was a far distant third.
However, Vietnam is dominant in very specific categories of Ikea products, for which Vietnamese manufacturers make up nearly 100% of the suppliers, such as:
- coarse-hewn, small-plank outdoor furnishings (e.g. outdoor chairs)
- wicker/bamboo-woven baskets & lamps
- small-wooden products (e.g. wooden clothing-hangers)
In other words, for things that can be made with bamboo or rattan, Ikea prefers to source from Vietnam. But, for particle-board furniture (i.e. the majority of Ikea’s products), they prefer China.
Where do Vietnamese shops get their discount brand-names products?
Are they fake? Stolen? Defective?
Vietnam is a shopper’s paradise. There are many small shops packed with steeply discounted bags and shoes from name brands. How do these tiny shops get so many discounted products?
There isn’t one simple reason. We’ve heard a few explanations from people who work in these shops — most explanations are perfectly legal, while some may be slightly unscrupulous:
- Excess supply – a supplier may occassionally run into excess investory due to purchasers reneging on their orders or miscounting, etc, such that the excess merchandise can be offloaded at a discount to the local market.
- Extra material + worker side-hustle – a supplier may occassionally have excess scrap materials associated with normal production. The workers then use the scraps to squeeze out a few extra products that aren’t owed to any purchaser. I was able to buy a cheap hand-made suit when I wandered into a 6-person suit-factory: the workers had extra materials after fullfilling a major order from a Korean purchaser, and they were happy to make the extra cash selling me an off-the-books suit from the extra materials.
- Label-freeloading – the supplier (or workers) may occassionally finance the materials and cost of production for extra units that accompany a large order from a brand-name like Adidas or Nike. Such extra units are not meant for foreign export (nor authorized for sale) but somehow get spirited-away to the local market.
- Defects – some of the discounted items may have small issues that disqualify them for export, according to strick quality-control stipulations by purchasers, but are otherwise fine to sell to an unsophisticated eye.
- Creative accounting – foreign companies are often surprised to learn about the “Vietnamese way of doing business”, which may include gifts and recreational expenses to curry favour with regulators and business partners — some of which may include creative accounting activites that allow suppliers to spirit-away some of the merchandise for the local market.
- Theft – anything is possible, although this is not likely to be a major reason.
Why do so many brands manufacture in Vietnam?
There are major external forces pushing companies to Vietnam (like the degradation in China’s business environment), as well as great attractors that draw companies to Vietnam: its highly-intelligent populace, inter-provincial competition for business, and more.
Beyond having a culture of hard-work and conscientiousness, the Vietnamese people have a long history of high-quality craftsmanship and technical sophistication — to a degree that I’ve only witnessed in a few other cultures (e.g., Japan, Germany, Korea).
Traditionally, this talent expressed itself in works like instrument-making, wood-working, silk-making, painting, porcelain, lacquer-art, as well as very esoteric art-forms such as embroidery art.
Not only do Vietnamese have a tradition of skilled craftsmanship — they did it at scale! Vietnam has many towns that were singularly dedicated to a particular craft, like “silk villages” or “pottery villages”. Once you see the skill of these guild-towns, it is easy to imagine how such a culture would excel at large-scale assembly and manufacturing.
Today, many of these artisan-towns can still be visited. For example, one of our favourite DIY travel-activities in Vietnam is to tour the guild-streets of Hanoi.
30 years ago, Vietnam was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now, Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies. The average salary is only $200 USD/month. Labour costs in Vietnam are still cheaper than many of its SE-Asian neighbours, due to its catch-up in national wealth following Vietnam’s delayed implementation of free-market reforms (Doi Moi).
A major question is whether the country can maintain its competitive advantage into the next decade as rapid economic growth push-up labour costs and strain the infrastructure.
Famous Vietnamese Brands
While many foreign brands choose Vietnam for their base of manufacturing, there are few domestic brands that are recognizable outside of Vietnam.
However, that could change with the launch of VinFast: Vietnam’s first native car brand and EV manufacturer, set to IPO in Q2 2022. Read more about the parent company behind the VinFast car — VinGroup conglomerate, perhaps soon to be a common household name like Samsung or Panasonic.