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Vietnamese fashion student wins $30,000 prize

By Doris Brogan
On May 13, 2014

  • Vinh Lu with the trophy he won for first place in fashion design at the Aquafina Pure 2011 competition in Vietnam. Image courtesy of Huynh Minh Chanh

Vinh Lu, who goes by the Americanized name Victor, is a 20-year-old major in fashion merchandising from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

In his native Vietnam, Lu is already an accomplished fashion designer. He won the Aquafina Pure Fashion 2011 competition, a Vietnamese version of the U.S. TV reality show "Project Runway." He was awarded the top prize of $30,000 in U. S. currency. 

"After high school I didn't plan to join the fashion industry," Lu said. "In Vietnam the fashion industry is just starting to get popular."

Lu wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life when a friend urged him to join the fashion competition because he had a flair for drawing and fashion. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lu entered the competition, though he didn't expect to win. "When they announced my name in the top 12, I [couldn't] even believe it," he said.

They continued to eliminate a person per round until they reached the top five. They eliminated two people in that round.

"Suddenly I am in the top three. I'm excited. I'm shaking," Lu said.

 He had one month to prepare for the final show. The design theme was to be clothes for the future.

Lu was pragmatic during the finale.

"I'm in the top three so I'm happy. I don't want anything more ... All of a sudden they called my name and I was jumping like a kid on the stage."

Lu used his prize money to attend the Vietnam campus of Raffles International College of Design in Ho Chi Minh City.

Raffles is an Australian international school specializing in various design degrees. After studying courses in imagination, final sketching, presentation and marketing, Lu received his bachelor's degree in fashion design.

When Lu leaves Richland he plans to go to New York City to attend Parsons The New School for Design. To Lu, New York City is the ultimate fashion mecca. "I love New York...for fashion I would go to New York," he said.

Lu has been in the U.S. for two years. "Coming here I'm just like a small ant in a [big] zoo,"  he said, overwhelmed with the reality of the United States at first. "I didn't believe the U. S. really exists. It's like heaven, you know," he said. "In America you have your own voice in society."

Adjusting to life here was a bit of a struggle for Lu initially. Being an only child from a wealthy family, he wasn't used to taking care of himself. At home in Vietnam he had maids to deal with cleaning up life's messiness. Here he had to learn to clean up after himself. "Coming here helped me take responsibility for myself ... helped me to grow up," he said.

Lu's favorite thing about the Richland campus is the naming scheme of the buildings. He likes the fact that they're all named after different Texas cities. He also appreciates Richland's diversity. He's made friends from many different countries, and he thinks that has given him a little better understanding of the world.

English is his fourth language, Lu said. His father is Chinese and his mother is Vietnamese, so he can speak fluent Chinese and Vietnamese. In addition to those languages, he is also fluent in Japanese. He's been studying English since the third grade and thought he could speak it until he came to the U.S.

"I'm pretty sure I can speak English in my country," he said, "but not here."

Lu has already designed a men's clothing line in Vietnam. But what he'd really like to do one day is design clothes for Lady Gaga.

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