Where Fashion Dreams Come True: The South Bund Fabric Market Shanghai
Imagine a Fashion Disneyland for the fashion obsessed, except you get more than just a day of a unique experience; you get to walk away with a memento: a new piece for your wardrobe . . . or even an entire wardrobe. I’m talking about The Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market, also known as The Fabric Market Shanghai.
South Bund Fabric market in Shanghai China. Home to hundreds of tailors and a prime destination for bespoke clothing and garments. Source: iStock by Getty.
Indeed, The Fabric Market Shanghai is a mystical but real place, where you can get your favorite wardrobe piece replicated, take a Pinterest picture to a small stall lined with a multitude of bolts of fabric and get it made to wear or have the most amazing LBD of your dreams created. Here, it’s possible to look like you just walked off the runway for a quarter of the price.
Since 2005, people from all over have come to this magical kingdom of fabric and thread, making deals and getting fitted by some of Shanghai’s best tailors. Though there are other tailors and “markets” around the city, this one is perhaps the most famous. I went there myself to have a winter cape made and it was quite the experience.
Finding the Perfect Tailor
With several floors making up The Fabric Market Shanghai, it’s easy to be overwhelmed on your first visit, as the stall vendors want to draw everyone in for business. They’re offering all sorts of deals, almost sounding like self-proclaimed prophets on the street corner. I heeded the advice of an experienced friend who suggested I look around first, view the samples of each stall, and then decide who I wanted to haggle with.
I had a few pictures on my phone of a beautiful wool cape I’d seen on Pinterest, and was hopeful and doubtful at the same time as to how capable a tailor could be in regards to making an exact copy of my desired piece. Still, I walked around The Fabric Market, in awe of the beautiful samples and bolts of high-end to budget fabric for each stall, beginning to dream of new possibilities for my tired wardrobe.
Quickly, I could see that many tailors had their own specialization. Some seemed to do a bit of everything, and others definitely had a niche. As it was my first time, I was more interested in getting a good price and a good copy.
I ended up going back to the first floor and lucked out, finding a wonderful woman who acted as the voice of the tailor, speaking very good English and sounding like a used car salesman. The kind of person who could sell ice to an Eskimo. But I held my ground for negotiating the price, despite her insistence that I was a rich Westerner, and got her to agree to have the tailor make me a beautiful wool cape for 600rmb—about $88.16 USD in today’s exchange rate. This was after an initial offer of double the price.
Once you’ve set the price, the standard is to pay a 50% deposit upfront and then pay the rest upon final delivery and once any adjustments are finished. I showed the sales lady and the tailor my Pinterest photo, which they took a photo of for reference, and then chose my fabric. I was assured that the lining and other accouterments would be chosen by the tailor to match the main material and the picture. Then I was measured before we discussed some final details. In 10 days, I could come back to pick up my final piece and take it home—yay!
My Custom Cape
The following week, I went back to The Fabric Market Shanghai and found the correct stall, which may not sound like much, but in this wonderful and crazy maze of stalls lined with suits, dresses, and fabrics galore, it’s quite a feat. I brought my receipt to pick up my cape, and then was presented with the final piece.
It was absolutely beautiful—and perfect! I tried it on and was very pleased with how it looked and felt. Though I chose a fabric slightly different than the original picture, it looked almost exactly the same. Truly, this tailor was amazing at what he does, and I knew I’d go back to him in a heartbeat. I paid the remaining fee, thanked the sales lady and promised I’d be back, then headed for a coffee nearby to enjoy the moment of fashion triumph.
My wool cape is lined with quality lining, has beautiful buttons at the top, and even dark piping around the edges, which gives it that high-quality finished look. Whenever I’ve worn it in the winter, especially during temperatures in the negative, it’s kept me warm and looking posh at the same time.
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This season, I want to have some really nice dresses made and plan on going back to my Shanghai tailor. I’m hoping that because I’ve been there before, the sales lady won’t make me haggle the price as much. But if she does, it’s all in good spirits and is part of the game, after all. Both parties want to feel like they’ve struck a good deal, so I’m happy to play the game and get what I’m after for the sake of fashion. Perhaps something in a stunning embroidered dragon fabric?!
If you find yourself looking for things to do in Shanghai, definitely visit The Fabric Market Shanghai in Huangpu District. It’s worth the trip and the price negotiating. You can get this season’s hottest look for less than half the price and feel like a million bucks while strutting your stuff.
And when everyone asks you where you got your outfit, you can cheekily reply in a hushed voice: “Why, The Fabric Market Shanghai, of course,” as you pass along the business card of your tailor, like some kind of mafia transaction. Your friends will be left in wonder and puzzlement as to how the hell you have fashion connections in China when your outfit looks like Parisian couture. After all, in Shanghai, when we say, “I know a guy . . .” the possibilities are endless.
About the Author:
Tamar Hela is a California girl and currently lives in Shanghai, China, planning world domination one day at a time. She’s the CEO/Founder of H.E.L.A. Publishing + Media, which helps clients to tell their stories. She’s also the Corporate Branding Director for a new startup: Kaleido Insight 芮璞咨询. And as if that’s not enough, she also moonlights as a freelance editor and writer (with 40 edited novels under her belt and 3 published works of her own), loves traveling and reading, and runs writing and natural health workshops in Shanghai. Find her at WWW.TAMARHELA.COM.
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