Pablo Picasso famously said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” This is the idea that drives Tòhe, a Hanoi-based social enterprise founded in 2006 that produces beautifully-crafted accessories, home decor and fashion.
With the aim of assisting children in disadvantaged communities by developing their creative skills through art, Tòhe takes the artworks and prints them onto various products that are sold at their store and other outlets around Hanoi. 5 percent of the revenue from these products is then given to the children who produce the artworks. The designs have a Picasso-like surrealism that comes naturally to children. There are misshapen figures, a clock reminiscent of Salvador Dali, paint splattered family portraits, and imagined creatures covering a variety of products from aprons and tote bags to laptop cases and passport holders.
“The company promotes the idea of a playful spirit,” marketing manager Cung Tuyet Nga explains. “This is not only the playfulness of children, but adults who take a positive approach to life and are always optimistic,” she adds. “Many people do not see the beauty in children’s pictures and we want to share this.”
The idea for Tòhe started when one its three founders Nguyen Dinh Nguyen visited a museum in Barcelona and came across items for sale in its gift shop decorated with prints of Picasso’s works. Nguyen has a background in fine art and design and has worked as a designer for 20 years. He combined his fine art background, love of Picasso, and experiences with disadvantaged communities and founded Tòhe.
The core team now has around 40 people including a marketing and design team as well as a group of volunteers who assist with workshops and are dedicated to sharing the “playful spirit” of children’s artworks. The name Tòhe refers to a traditional Vietnamese folk toy made from rice flour and food colouring that is meant to be eaten as well as played with. The name symbolises children benefitting from their creative outlet.
The company has many other aspects. Tòhe Fun aims to foster creativity by creating an art playground area for children to freely express themselves through artistic channels. This initiative has been running since 2006 and has helped over 1,500 children in more than 30 locations around Vietnam.
Tòhe also regularly hosts art workshops. The workshops range between 90 minutes and two hours and teach children art in the form of games to keep them busy and interested. This is complemented by Tòhe Play, which provides art activities and creative events for urban families and children, inspiring children to familiarize themselves with art, creativity and installation.
Tòhe Bank is Vietnam’s first online gallery selling children’s paintings to showcase emerging talent and provide young artists with an opportunity to gain exposure and bring in revenue from their work. Tòhe also recently hosted an exhibition in collaboration with The Coffee House and Nguyen hopes to make it a regular event.
“Thanks to many years working with disadvantaged children, we found that most of them have difficulty in expressing themselves in the usual ways, such as speaking or writing,” Nguyen explains. “They always missed channels to communicate with people and to express their thoughts and feelings
“But with art, especially through drawing, they can express themselves easily. Among them, many have interesting inner worlds full of special thoughts and feelings,” he continues.
It is being privy to these inner worlds that make Tòhe products so unique.
Tòhe Style, the company’s flagship store, is located at No.8 Do Quang, Cau Giay, Hanoi and their products can be purchased online at tohe.vn
PHOTOS BY JULIE VOLA