Planning a fabric buying trip
A Fabric buying trip, requires an enormous amount of research and exploration of the destinations, for it to be successful. It does not just happen. It helps to be fit, as it is physically demanding for the hours of walking, standing, and carrying the purchases. My love of fabrics and being immersed in fabric shops is a wonderful experience as I also enjoy the cultural experience.
If I have visited a place more than once, I get very excited, because the initial hard work is done. Places are eliminated off the itinerary and you then choose the places to target. Whilst I have done some fabric buying while on overseas family holidays, I have had some designated fabric buying trips with my Mum. We have had some exhausting trips walking for hours, catching many forms of public transport, hunting down many places. Never knowing what we would find.
Having several trips to Hong Kong and Singapore, now make those destinations so much easier and exciting to know just where to go. Whilst the internet is great, it cannot be relied upon for accuracy or current information. Things change with every visit, so I have had to remain open minded about what I will do and where I go, and what I will buy. I have wasted a lot of time on some trips, trying to find places, arriving to find no shop, or arriving to only one shop, when I thought there were many shops and then finding that the one shop was not even worthwhile. In some cases, I would just buy one piece of fabric, just to have something for the effort.
Planning is just so important and choosing locations where there are many stores, seems to be better use of my time. Greater choice, easier on the legs, less transport required and the entire trip can be done in less time. I can now usually do what I need in 3 days achieving good fabric purchases, ribbons and trims, and allowing for some rest breaks.
You have to allow for time off as well, between each shopping expedition. Whilst it may not seem hard to buy fabric, it is very time consuming. What is hard is carrying the fabric around after the purchase. I have learnt to take pull along suitcases, but this can be tiring lugging these around over cobbled footpaths, in and out of shops, up and down stairs, on and off public transport, in and out of taxis, especially when they are full. It’s a physical workout in itself. There are many hours of walking and standing, enduring the Asian heat & humidity, planning your food and toilet stops along the way if needed. Finding a toilet in Hong Kong where no one speaks English has proven to be quite a challenge, but you learn how to manage that too. So that’s the physical side of things and then there is the decision making process and the actual negotiation of the length they will cut and the price. It can be very overwhelming when faced with the enormous choice that confronts you.
Some shop owners allow you to look at their shop freely without interruption. Others will hound you continuously, to show you more and more fabrics, which can be confronting and therefore hard to make decisions. At the same time you must be decisive or you will not get your fabric in the little time allocated for each expedition. Sometimes they won’t cut the fabric you have chosen or they will only cut a lot more than you want. If they have 4 meters or less on the roll, they generally won’t cut it unless you take the lot. Sometimes the will say only 5 meters they will cut. Sometimes they work in yards and they literally use the width of their arm stretch to measure this. Clearly this is not accurate, so you have to gauge big person or little person, how much fabric will you actually get. A quick decision in needed at these times. You must try to remember to check white or pale fabrics for flaws and marks.
You can’t easily get back to any shop, so once you move on, you must go forward. Going round in circles wastes valuable time. Some shop owners will be very chatty and will use up your time and energy. There can be many distractions but you need to remain focussed. It takes a lot of concentration, as my whole next collection will be decided by these purchases.
Some shops you need to miss, to allow for the shops you really want to be in. I have learnt to quickly assess the shop owner, the type of fabric stocked and if I will fit into the shop with my pull along cases. Not all shops are air conditioned, so by the end of two hours fatigue can set in, so keeping up fluids and carrying a light snack I have packed, can help by this stage. Remembering always time is always of the essence.
The shops in Singapore are family businesses with many years history. One shop owner told me he was having his 64th Anniversary of his shop. The shop owners seem very proud people and most shops have the entire family helping you as you are trying to gather fabrics from around their shop, always offering advice and more to show you. Some of these shops are specialty shops and some have an enormous range in a very small space. Sometimes if you ask if they have something, they usually say “Just wait, yes I have that”, they disappear out of the shop and then magically appears within a few minutes with the item.
As you are buying your fabric you must take notes of what you have just selected, what length you asked for and the agreed price. Once this is decided the roll is passed to another family member to cut the pieces and on to another family member to fold the fabric and another family member to prepare the invoice. If you are not concentrating, you may get the wrong amount cut or the wrong price charged. Your concentration must remain until you are out of the shop, always keeping a sharp eye on your other fabric purchases in your pull along case. It must stay with you at all times.
There is enormous variety of not only fabrics but ribbons, trims and haberdashery. I love that Singapore is easy to get around. The Taxis are always clean. By Law the drivers have shifts and must wash and clean their vehicles at lunch time and at the end of the day. In Singapore you have Singaporeans, Malays and Indians and they all have excellent English and in most cases, could not be more friendly or helpful. They are masters at customer service.
The places I need to go are not far from the Hotel. There is a mix of quality but you can find very good quality and it is very different to what you can buy in Australia. You have to be careful of price, because you can end up paying more than Australian prices, so you need to do your research before you go. These fabric shops are not markets, so you don’t bartar. You can ask for their best price or if there is any promotion today, but their prices are fairly set. If you don’t know your prices, you may pay far too much, because they will try to do that. If you find one shop too expensive, move on and you will find other prices you are happy with.
Singapore runs very efficiently, so airports and traffic are rarely a problem. When you are only away for a few days, you don’t need long delays anywhere. There is a great variety of food, plenty of Western food options and plenty of bottled water. You need to have researched where to go and how to get there. You can waste so much time if not properly planned.
Hong Kong has even a greater choice of everything, but is much harder to get around, because the fabric places are over a much wider area. It is busier, more traffic and congestion everywhere. There is a fabric district call Sham Shui Po, which is as big as the CBD area of Melbourne. There are just so many streets with fabric. I have done this area with local guides before, because the locals do not speak English. They know numbers, but it is hard to communicate. Going with a local guide usually gives you a cheaper price. You could easily spend all day there, but actually it is hard to because you can’t carry all your purchases. This district does not get going till about 11am, so no point getting there any earlier or you will have a long wait. It is hard to find a taxi in this area, so you need to rely on the underground train system called the MTR. Planning passes and train lines is essential. Choosing a hotel close to a MTR is very wise. Then considering what line Sham Shui Po is on, is also very important, or you could be changing train lines several times just to get there. There are many stairs underground to get to the train, so heavy bags is very difficult, so plan wisely, that you don’t buy too much that you can’t carry it.
If I travel to Asia, I have to be mindful of Chinese New Year, because businesses close down for that. Fridays are a day or worship for Muslims and they close their shops, so I have to plan around that too.