The final stop in my attempt to fabric-shop my way across SE Asia – Hoi An, Vietnam. Hoi An is known as the tailoring capitol of Vietnam (more on that coming soon!) so one would think that I should have been able to go on one last fabric binge, right? The obvious place to look would be the building in town called the “cloth market”, right?
The cloth market is a market in a building on the east side of the main part of Hoi An. It’s full of stalls of fabric, as one might expect from the name. Unfortunately, each stall had pretty much the same selection as the others around it and the touts were very, very aggressive. The fabric is really being sold as part of getting something custom tailored, and it usually took me a bit to get a price for a meter of fabric as they didn’t understand that I didn’t want something made for me – I wanted to make it myself. Because the economy of the fabric stalls are based on custom tailoring, nobody wanted me to buy the fabric and take it elsewhere for the tailoring, so the price quoted for a meter of fabric wasn’t any less than the price of buying the fabric and having it made into a shirt. The quality of the fabrics generally weren’t great and I even had one woman insisting that a cheap synthetic was actually silk by performing a burn test from fibers that I watched her pull off of a different fabric.
I did meet one very sweet vendor from whom I bought some wool coating (a rarity in Hoi An given the average temperature) and a nice synthetic charmeuse. She was thrilled to learn that I sewed and we had a great conversation about sewing and how hard it is to fit crotch seams. She was amazed that I sewed both women’s dresses and tailored coats as there is a strong labor divide between tailors and dressmakers in Hoi An. Our conversation definitely made my trip to the cloth market worthwhile!
On the street Hùng Vương to the west of the main part of town, I found a cluster of fabric shops that were selling just fabric (and not sewing services) and local dressmakers would stop by on their scooters to pick up fabric for specific projects. They were packed to the gills and stacked from floor to ceiling with different fabrics covering a range of qualities and types of fabric. It actually took me quite a while to get the attention of one of the sellers to buy some fabric – I think they assumed that I was just a tourist wanting to look but didn’t believe that I would actually buy anything. From what I could tell, none of the fabric is made in Vietnam, other than one specific lightweight Vietnamese silk available in a couple of colors, and the selection looks just like what I would find a big box fabric store back home (minus the quilting cottons).
If you’re headed through Hoi An, the shops on Hùng Vương are worth stopping in. If you’re used to shopping in the fashion districts of Los Angeles or New York, you won’t find the fabric to be screaming good deals. But I paid a reasonable amount and I have a story to tell, so it was totally worth it!