This blog is definitely a bit behind in schedule… almost a year behind if i’m being honest. But better late than never!
While I still lived in China, I heard tale of a magical, beautiful place where I could have clothes tailored specially for me without having to pay exorbitant prices. True, similar places exist in many a country/city, within Asia especially, like Vietnam or Hong Kong, but this was like a mecca for specialty made clothes. When I went in search of details of such a place I thought the information I found to be a bit lacking, but enough to peak my interest. I thought that if I did end up visiting this magical place that is the fabric market in Shanghai that I should share my findings so that other expats and clothes lovers in China looking for ways to make all their friends back home jealous would have a place to find information about it.
I was lucky in my journey to visit the fabric market in that when I mentioned my desire to go my neighbor, an avid shopper as well, she was kind and excited enough to go with me! So our journey begins..
Now i’m sure that there are other fabric markets in the vast expanse that is Shanghai, but this is, based on my research, the largest and best one to go to. It is 3 glorious floors of endless rows of shops surrounded on the outside by picnic blankets of unique jewelry sold by women dressed in the traditional garb of their respective cultures.
How to get there:
I took the subway to get there, and while there isn’t a subway stop right by it, the walk from the nearest stop is 10 minutes tops. You can also take a taxi, obviously, but coming from a girl who grew up in a place without a subway system I find subways charming and convenient. You know despite the crowds and the toddler who just peed in the trashcan. The address is 399 Lujiabang Road (Lu), Huanpu District.
When I went to the market, I was going from the train station, but regardless of where you are going from you want to get to the Nanpu Bridge subway stop on Line 4. Leave from exit 1 and it should be only a left turn from the station and another left onto Lujiabang Road. Continue on this road until you come across the market, it is kinda hard to miss.
Navigating the market:
The easiest thing to do is walk around the shops and check out the samples and examples they already have hanging up to get an idea of what shop will have the expertise and experience to make you what you want. I ended up also ordering several items that were identical to the shop front examples because I liked them so much.
There may or may not have been tears of joy at this sight.
Some times you might be able to purchase something right then, but the majority of the time the shop keepers will measure you and custom make your item for you. It will usually take about two weeks with exceptions being made for more elaborate items or things that need multiple measurements. You can also have an item rushed and done in a week or less, but it is going to cost you.
Once you find a shop that you think will make you a kickass… whatever it is you want (and there are shops that specialize in just about everything from tshirts, to suits, to bathing suits, to coats) you’ll want to describe the item you want made to the shop keeper. It helps if you have examples or pictures. This is also where it would help if you spoke some Chinese or had someone with you that spoke Chinese. I would say that about 70% of the shop keepers speak English, or at least all of them do and 30% of them just didn’t want to talk with me. You know… I get it. Sometimes I don’t want to talk to me either.
I did have a native Chinese speaker with me, so it made explaining the details of some of the things I was buying a little easier. I also probably got a better deal to be honest. So here’s the part that might intimidate some and excite others: you have to haggle!!! I actually love to haggle because the majority of the shop keepers are fun, easy going people who will gladly haggle with you on the price as long as you end up buying from them! They are trying to make a living after all. A tip? Take the original offer they make you and cut it in half. Obviously they are going to turn it down, but they are most likely starting off at a high number to catch those few tourists who are unaware of or unwilling to haggle. I usually try and have an idea of the price i’m willing to pay in my head before I start haggling. That way I don’t end up paying a lot for something I didn’t deem worth it.
After you agree on a price and get measured, the booth owner will right you out a little receipt and you will be required to pay a deposit, usually half or 3/4 of the price of what you are ordering. Make sure you hold onto the copy they give you because that is how you are going to pick up your finalized items. Some stores will ship them to you for a small fee if you absolutely cannot make it back to Shanghai.
If you can go back to pick them up they will most likely have you try it on in the booth to ensure it fits right. This was a part that I found to be funny and charming and very unique. If you couldn’t tell from the pictures these ‘stores’ are very small and don’t have room for dressing rooms. So instead they usually have a rope with a large curtain or piece of cloth hung on it that they will pull up to section off a corner of the booth to use as a makeshift dressing room. I love it. You really can’t get any better than that.
I could be wrong, but when I was there in the spring of 2014 there didn’t seem to be a complete rhyme or reason to the layout of the market. The one thing I did notice is that the majority of the fancier dress booths were located on the first floor. Which brings me to the first item I bought…
1.) A bridesmaid dress for my best friend’s wedding!
Our only requirements (by our lovely, oh so laid back bride) was knee length and black lace. I figured why not have one made specifically for me while I was in China!? I assure you it only made me sound a little pompous when asked where I got my dress.
Where I got it: I got this dress from Ceci on the 1st floor in booth 159! Ceci is nice, but when I came back to pick up the dress it was missing the V-cut back that I wanted. She said that she couldn’t do it because of the fabric and style of the dress, but that may have been code for I forgot. I’m not sure. Other than that the dress fits very well and I have no complaints about it! I paid 400 yuan (about $65) for this dress.
2.) A fabulous trench coat all my own!
You’ll have to excuse the dumb face i’m making, this was after the getting ready mimosas, the shot of bourbon to steal the nerves, the cocktail hour after the ceremony and a reception filled with yummy craft brews. If I had a better picture of my trench I would have used it. I will say, however, that I am absolutely IN LOVE with this coat. I can’t tell you how amazing I feel every time I wear it. It has a slightly flared skirt so it fits more feminine than a normal straight trench coat does. It also has black and burberry details, and the stitching is amazing. It is such a good quality that I honestly recommend anyone going to this market for a trench to go to this booth!
Where I got it: I couldn’t find the exact business card from the woman who made the trench for me, but I’m almost positive it was on the first floor. The woman running the stall was super nice, and I honestly couldn’t recommend her more! The picture below is of the stall when I went there, so if it still looks the same and you have hawk eyes you may be able to find it again! I think I paid about 470 for the trench coat (off season) (about $75).
3.) A 50’s style dress perfect for wedding season!
This was one of the dresses that was a display item that I loved so much I had to buy it. My neighbor also bought one, so we were twinsies… despite .. you know…us looking nothing alike and being born in opposite countries.The dress itself fits very well and isn’t super tight, which is good. I also love the pattern, and the fabric is a good heavy quality.
Where I got it: I actually have two business cards sitting in front of me and one of them is the correct one from the booth where I purchased this dress, but I cannot remember (it was a year ago, forgive me) which one is it. But it is either stall # 321 or stall # 308 both on the 3rd floor. I am leaning towards #308. I paid about 270 yuan for this dress (about $48). The woman running this stall is also super nice, and was proud to say that her husband did all of the sewing!
4.) A traditional qipao (pronounced chi-pow) dress!
When in Rome right?! I wanted to get a traditional Chinese dress and this seemed like the perfect time and place to get one. This was one of the more expensive items that I bought at the fabric market because of the material and the amount of work that goes into one. They had to take the original measurements and then had us come back to get a second set of measurements done when the dresses were half complete. I’m pretty sure there were some comments about my rather large hips/bum being thrown around when I was getting measured. Although I only got second hand versions of them from my neighbor. I imagine I may have been the hippiest gal they had ever made a qipao dress for. I am very happy with how the dress turned out though… now I just need a place to wear it.
Where I got it: This dress was from stall #361 on the 3rd floor. You may need a translator for this one because i’m not sure any of the women running it speak English. I paid 500 yuan (about $80) for this dress. I think that we could have gotten it for cheaper, but I think my neighbor felt bad and stopped negotiating. Oh well!
If you have any questions, please let me know! I would be happy to share any other knowledge I have of the fabric market! To be honest I’m pretty happy that I was only able to go shopping at the market one time while I was in China because I don’t think I would have come home with any money at all if I had discovered it sooner!
Until next time never forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!