Saturday, 8 October 2011

Tailored for You, a scam, slave labour or genuine service? Hoi An, Vietnam

Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An

I recently read about a fashion Blogger's travel journal in Vietnam, which instantly took me back to those travelling days of mine. It was a lovely photo diary and there were some insane tailoring escapades accomplished, however, it also reminded me of some travelling issues/scams I came across with my friends.

Anyhow, let me take you on a little journey back to memory lane to Hoi An, Vietnam, aka 'Shopper's or Tailors Paradise' since it is well known for it's uber cheap tailoring.

Pretty, pretty silk lanterns

Hoi An was one of my favourite places I visited by far. I loved wandering around the cobbled & narrow streets in the Old Town area, a World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1999, the pretty footbridges, the fusion of Japanese, French, Vietnamese and Chinese architecture dating back 200 odd years, the ultra old clan, yellowy crumbling buildings and freshly steamed buns (Bao) on the side roads. The not so pleasant and heart wrenching, but also memorable experience was spending an afternoon visiting a relatively unknown orphanage in the area where a 63 year old lady looked after well over 30 children.

Whilst some of you may not be travelling to Vietnam anytime soon, I wanted to share some Nam knowledge with y'all. Vietnam, particularly Hoi An, is a mecca for tourists when it comes to cheap tailoring.
I'm talking about being floored by what seamstresses can do in a day or two, or getting a dress and a suit made for less than 80 bucks (USD rather than Dong) or paying a large deposit upfront for your order with the possibility of being ripped off and having nothing to show for it because it was a complete and utter, tailoring disaster. Something else to ponder: I can honestly say that it is incredibly difficult to work out who is a genuine skilled worker/tailor and who is out there trying to scam you.

There's a plethora of tailor shops and custom clothing services in Hoi An - 400 establishments and counting. Some say that this is 'perhaps one of the greatest marketing deceptions in Asia'... However, some shops are family businesses who have in-house seamstresses & have good tailoring skills and then there are some establishments where you can't help but think if they're driving slave labour in the back behind the curtains... you just don't know.
I remember passing numerous tailor shops where there were fabrics galore, a melting pot of different finishes and buttons, swatches, catalogues (mail order, such as NEXT, Boden etc) and fashion magazines to help you choose what you want. They can copy anything! Hard not to be tempted, no?

I know that the sole purpose of travelling isn't necessarily to aquire cheap clothing or go on a shopping spree but if you're thinking of getting some custom clothing made I've listed a few tips below.
  • Do your research for good, honest establishments, check out this TripAdvisor recommendation or Lonely Planet for threads and forums as I think this rated high as a topic of discussion.
  • Find out how much certain garments cost by shopping around first, then always negotiate!
  • Think about what you really want, take your time over choosing fabrics and getting fitted/measured properly. These guys work very fast, however quality pieces can take longer, so allow at least 3-4 days. Be very specific and precise about exactly how you want things to look, feel during the fitting process.
  • Tell them that you're leaving earlier than you really are, so you have time to make any edits or changes if something doesn't fit you very well.
  • Ask to have an extra 1/2 inch or inch added to garments, as they tend to skimp on fabric to cut costs.
Yaly, an establishment with high recommendations

Anyhoos, beautiful Hoi An, you made a real impression on me... Wishing you all a wonderful weekend!

Images via Flickr from different sources edited by me
Further reading about the 'Darker side of Tailors in Hoi An' here.

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