The city of Hoi An has a strong reputation of being the place to get clothes tailor made, which obviously became one of my ultimate mission when I visited the city.
I was bouncing off the walls with excitement when we got into the city. I just couldn’t wait to get clothes made to to fit my body and the exact way I’d want it.
I made sure to do all my research before hand – finding examples of what I wanted created and even made sure to have pictures of similar pieces to show. I even had imagery of example pieces in different angels. I also knew what type of fabrics I wanted and was familiar with the different types of stitching – it helps when your mom works in the industry. At this point, I felt pretty confident heading into the tailor shops.
Armed with all my pictures and ideas, I set off with high hopes searching for the perfect tailor that would bring my creations to life. However, after visiting the first several shops, reality started to sink in.
I started to realize that getting a custom piece made in Vietnam is not even remotely close to what I had in mind, nor was it anywhere close to my Canadian standards of how clothing should be.
First off, the whole tailor industry in Hoi An is very much catered to the suit market – specifically suits for men. Pretty much every shop has materials and mannequins with several suit designs available.
Next, it’s not as inexpensive as you’d think. It might be worth it if you’re looking to get a custom suit or wedding gown made, but everyday pieces might not stack up. Some of the quotes I was getting on sun dresses were more than what I’d pay off the rack at home!
Lastly, the materials available were actually disappointing. Most materials were synthetic blends. The cottons I was being shown had to have been very low grade, as well as the linen. None of the fabrics remotely passed my tactile test – they all just felt like crap.
Realizing none of the tailors or shops were going to be able to meet my standards, I decided to just get a simple tank top made just for the experience of it.
The tank turned out ok, but there are definitely issues with it. I still love it since it’s my own creation, but there are things I would’ve done differently.
Here’s what I learned
I spent two evenings going to tailor shops and looking for the best one that suited me. I hit up several listed on Trip Advisor, as well as some travel friends had suggested. In the end, I didn’t go to any of those and went to one I found on my own.
I just wasn’t comfortable with some of the tailor shops – like how they treated their customers, the fabrics available, the price they quoted me and most importantly how the other staff was treated.
There were some shops that definitely have a sweat shop vibe. Just walking around the corner to the back of the shop, you just see several girls grinding tirelessly away on sewing machines.
I ended up getting my top done at a small shop, off the main tailor street. It was owned and run by one woman. She was friendly, sweet and I got a good vibe from her. I also appreciated the fact that she always closed the shop for a lunch break and wasn’t afraid to ask me for more time to work on my piece.
Know Your Design
It’s best to bring pictures showing different sides and angles of the piece. Be very specific when telling the tailor what you want and make sure to write it all down, even if they insist they don’t need to.
I asked the tailor to make my tank a round neck, but the example picture I showed her had a square neck. Lo and behold, the final product had a square neck. When I pointed it out, she just apologized and said she forgot. Unfortunately at this point there was nothing she could do about it. Should’ve written down my requests.
Know How You Want to Wear It
The tailor constantly told me how my tank should be and how she thought would look the nicest – which was really nice of her, but she wasn’t the one wearing it. She also kept trying to make my tank a crop top. I know it’s trendy and all, but that’s just not what I want it.
Be patient, but stand your ground. You’re the one that’s going to be wearing it! My tailor eventually gave up and now I have a shirt that covers my belly – the way I want it!
Make sure to leave time for multiple fittings and be insistent they make the alterations you want. It took me two fittings to get my tank in line with how I wanted it. And the second time took a lot of persuading for the tailor to finally see the issue.
It might also be advantageous to bring a friend to one of your fittings. On my second fitting, I wasn’t completely happy with how the tank was sitting on me. I made my friend take pictures of me in the tank and analyze the issue with me.
Finally we noticed the straps were uneven. We told the tailor, but she was insistent everything was ok and wanted to close the deal. We had a debate and I didn’t budge. Eventually she gave in and agreed the straps were different lengths. She fixed it on the spot.
Take Your Time
Take as much time as you need. I regret not spending more time inspecting the piece during my final fitting. After the tailor fixed the straps, she didn’t sew them on flat. Now there’s forever going to be a twist in them.
The tailors can be pushy to finish the deal and have you out of the store before you notice any more issues. Don’t be pressured like I was and make sure you’re comfortable before leaving.
Throughout my travels, I’ve met a lot of people who got pieces made in Hoi An, but never seeming to wear them. But I have also heard of people being completely happy with the outcome of their pieces.
The biggest differences I found between happy customers and those who never wear their creations were how they approached it. Most that were happy were very specific and diligent with their orders, spending a lot of time with the tailors.
Hopefully I didn’t scare you away from getting custom pieces made in Hoi An. Just understand how to approach it and know what you’re getting into.