Incense is common in most Vietnamese and Asian households. For many, it is significant at national events, such as Tết, and the many other days of worship.
Others burn a few sticks when feeling sad or joyful, asking for luck in life and inner peace for the soul.
Since becoming a university freshman in 2010, Nguyễn Văn Thiện experienced many kinds of jobs, including selling vegetables, fruits, handmade cosmetics, antiques – and being a waiter and a docker.
The young man from the Central Highland city of Đà Lạt had selling in his blood.
But it was beyond his expectations that his life would change after he was introduced to incense.
In 2014, he opened a real estate company with some partners. But he soon realised he found the work tedious and stressful, and he began looking for ways to get out.
“In 2013, in an incense transaction with a Taiwan businessman, he asked me why I did not do more business with incense, stressing in his country, more than 90 per cent of the population used natural incense, mostly made from aromatic plants and good quality resin,” Thiện said. “The aromas came from wormwood, cinnamon, sandalwood, agarwood, orange and mandarin peel. Among all, agarwood is considered King.”
The Taiwanese man asked why he could not find that incense in Việt Nam. He offered to assist Thiện in making the product. After being handed the technique to produce the incense, Thiện began to place orders for massive amounts of the product in 2014.
“Until now, I had expanded to four workshops in HCM City and one subsidiary in Hà Nội. Certainly, nothing came easy first hand. When I decided to venture into this business, I knew the most difficult thing to face was changing the mindset of domestic customers used to unhealthy, chemical-laden incense,” Thiện said.
Naming his jointstock company Nhang Thiền (Meditation Incense), he invested in an old type of incense made naturally.
He and his partners introduced the product at festivals, exhibitions, vegetarian restaurants, places influenced by fengshui and meditation.
Besides the incense line which is mostly used for meditation practise, Thiện also developed a green incense for altar purpose.
“Natural incense is favoured by international markets, especially in mainland China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the Middle East, and Europe.”
Thiện’s pure incense is now available in more than 40 countries. In a survey by Việt Nam Television, more than 80 per cent of ingredients used in many kinds of ordinary incense proved to have a high level of smoke which may lead to lung cancer, respiratory and nerve problems.
“Luckily, natural incense is made mostly from farmed agarwood, and it can be found everywhere in Việt Nam like Quảng Nam, Bình Phước, Đồng Nai, Phú Quốc. Unlike natural agarwood, which is expensive and is found in rainforest trees, farmed agarwood can be planted like any crops,” said Thiện.
Thiện said the new industry had created jobs for thousands of labourers.