Her career success was recently marked by some of her outfits being chosen by celebrities like Hoang Thuy Linh and Ly Nha Ky. She was also selected as a performer at Vietnam Fashion Week 2020.

Her small hire apartment in HCM City has become her workplace, where she makes various fashion items. The latest was the "Lace Ring" collection, released in July.

Vi often spends her time designing and tailoring at home. Sometimes she collects clothes at wholesale markets, and learns to draw twice a week.

Designer Tran An Vi (2nd left, back row) has been active in the LGBT community in HCM City. In June, she was chosen as an ambassador for 'Pride Month 2022' on TikTok. Photo courtesy of Vi

“I’m happy to see others wearing my designs,” she told Việt Nam News. “This brings me a stable income to cover all my expenses.”

Vi likes singing with her friends, often goes to the cinema late at night alone, and sometimes watches plays at the popular IDECAF theatre.

Her love for designing has supported her in overcoming challenges during the past 10 years. She first worked as an assistant for designers and cared for costumes on film sets.

Vi’s story is of a woman with a strong desire to become a successful designer. But her past highlights a real struggle.

Designer Tran An Vi makes her own costumes.

Strong will

Born as a boy, in the southern province of Kien Giang in 1992, named Tran Anh Vu, into a working-class family. At 12, Vi felt different feelings towards her biological gender as a boy. She liked wearing dresses and was once brave enough to borrow a wedding dress.

Designer Tran An Vi, born Tran Anh Vu as a teenage boy (left).

“I’m lucky as my family accept my gender willingly,” she said. “The first time was seeing me in a girl’s costume, and I was praised ‘pretty’. I was excited at the time.”

“I think my parents love me, so they accept my willingness, though it was weird to them then. Only strangers mocked my appearance. At that time, I just kept silent.”

When Vi was in Grade 9, she had to quit school to earn money. However she studied at night to finish Grade 12.

Designer Tran An Vi's small corner for creativity in her rental apartment in HCM City.

Vi then went to HCM City to seek a better job, where she started to work as costume staff for a film crew. She also joined various LGBTQ+ activities in the city.

“Transgender people like me are suffering from various losses,” she said. “Our society has been more open to LGBT people, who can now find proper jobs provided they have enough skills. But they still have obstacles in legal papers. People’s attitude to LGBT is varied depending on each locality.”

Some items in Vi’s latest collection, Lace Ring.

In 2014, Vi had breasts formed using her small savings and loans from friends. Then in 2017, she changed the rest of her body through surgery.

She then started a small business to earn money to pay off the loans but lost it all.

The psychological changes she was undergoing after the operation made Vi feel desperate.

“In the saddest moments, I thought of the hard path I had experienced to find myself. I was determined to start again from the beginning.”

In 2014, Vi gained a Viet Pride scholarship for her compelling story. She used all the grant worth VND18 million (US$770) to join a tailoring class.

Actress Ly Nha Ky in Vi's creation.

Then she worked as an assistant for noted designers and learnt how to design.

Now Vi is concentrating on her work.

“Only when a transgender person like me has a stable job and sound knowledge will society have a better view of them and the LGBT community," she said.

She said she just tried her best to go forward step by step to realise her dream.

“I want to make myself and others beautiful and establish my fashion trademark. I hope to open a small store displaying my designs,” she said.

Vi in her own design.

Huynh Minh Thao, an LGBTQ+ activist in Vietnam who has known Vi for over a decade since Vi won the top prize at Next Top Angel 2012 [a model contest for gays], said: “I was impressed with her striving at that time.

“Only when Vi joined activities for the LGBT community in 2014-15 did I work with her directly.”

“Vi is honest and sincere. She shows herself as a kind-hearted person, who always knows how to balance relationships with others. But at work, she is a completely different person: strong, determined, creative, full of passion and will,” he said.

"When Vi won the Viet Pride scholarship [for LGBT influencers], she soon turned out to be a striking face in the designing circle," Thao went on.

“I was amazed at her efforts in her career. I think she needed the support from other more experienced designers so that she could quickly join showbiz and shine in her own capability rather than struggling to find out her path like she is doing now.”

Vi said: “Anyone has the right to decide his or her life and destiny. I don’t accept myself in the body of a man. I just live my life and dare to live in my true body – a woman.” 

Source: Vietnam News