09/02/15 to 12/02/15
I didn’t want to be messed about by pushy sellers in Hoi An, so before I arrived, I had started to do my research on how to go shopping in Hoi An, Vietnam. I also wanted to get in my mind what I would like. The research itself is a bit over-whelming, with so many blogs, and reviews telling you where to go and how to be careful, as well as what to avoid. It is impossible to determine which information is genuine, and what has been written by clever shop owners trying to do some self-promotion. So here is how I felt personally and how I went about my shopping in Hoi An, Vietnam.
I started research with one of the obvious places for travel related reviews, TripAdvisor. To give you a picture, there are over 300 places reviewed for Shopping in Hoi An, most of which have over 90% positive rating in reviews. Some of the most highly rated shops have less than 20 reviews, although all are positive, in my mind these could be manipulated and posted by the store-owners and friends. The names that cropped up the most on different websites are Kimmy’s, A Dong Silk, and Bebe Cloth Shop. They all have over 1000 reviews on TripAdvisor, so I put them on my list of places to check out. I also got a review from a friend who purchased from Gia Hung Tailor Shop, who was happy with the result he received from his suit, and said they were friendly. I also wanted to buy some shoes, there were not many places reviewed they specialise in shoes, the best one being Friendly Shop, so I added them to my list.
So before I arrived my list contained: Kimmy’s, A Dong Silk, Bebe Cloth Shop, Gia Hung Tailors, and Friendly Shop for shoes.
I then did research about suits, to find out what makes a good quality suit, and how to make sure that it fits properly. For quality, the main point that was frequently pointed out, was to get double-stitching and the material used. For sizing, I noted; to make sure that the sleeves end where the bottom of your thumb meets wrist, when your arms are by your side the bottom of the jacket meets your knuckles, to make sure shoulder pads do not overlap your shoulders, when the jacket is buttoned up that you can get a knuckle between you and the jacket, with buttons the middle of a 3 button jacket covers your naval, and trousers cover one inch of your shoes.
For design, I decided how many pockets I wanted on the front of the jacket, how many buttons on the front, the colour of the suit, the colour lining, that I wanted a matching waistcoat, the colour stitching inside. I thought this was more than enough, it turns out it wasn’t.
Arriving in Hoi An, it does not take long to be frustrated by the shop sellers asking and saying to you: ‘how are you?’, ‘what do you want?’, ‘we make to fit you’, ‘we have many colours’, ‘where you from?’, ‘what your name?’, ‘how long you stay for?’ or ’you buy something?’. They will also follow you like a shadow while inside the store. Therefore I often felt pressured and walked out. Occasionally, the staff would not hear me enter, so I could creep around and look quietly, before being noticed and being scared off by their constant hounding.
The first shop I entered on my list, Friendly Shoes, met most of the above being said to me, with the addition of them mentioning they are number one shoe shop on TripAdvisor. They do have the nicest quality looking shoes on display out of all the shoe shops that I entered, they are friendly, but the prices were also the most expensive that I was quoted for shoes, ranging from $45 to $65 depending on quality. By the quality, they mean what material is used, such as plastic, or how much leather is used, such as leather inside and out, or just outside. This amount, although still cheap compared to Western standards, was more expensive than I was told that I could get shoes for, and more than I was willing to pay for something extra that I would have to carry.
With shoes on my mind, I visited some shoe stores to get ideas. I was scared out of all of them, except one which had a nice pair of shoes on display, and the guy didn’t hassle me. Returning to this store on another occasion, a female member of staff started harassing me for a sale, and put me off from buying the shoes. I did find some shoes for as low as $20, but they would be made from the cheaper materials, and from stores that visually didn’t give me much confidence of quality. By this point, I had decided against getting shoes made. The quality of shoes in all shops except Friendly Shoes look poor quality. I also wanted some unique coloured shoes, but the best colour shoe to meet my needs would be plain brown or black, which I can buy anywhere. In hindsight, travelling through Asia, getting shoes to fit my Western feet indeed proves to be difficult, even though I am only a UK size 9.
Bebe Cloth Shop was the first tailors that I happened to pass by. They had a huge selection of materials to choose from. The staff was helpful but slightly pushy and in my face. They offered to show me their catalogue, which I was happy to see. Their catalogue is in fact Google Images on an Apple iPad. This gave me confidence in their flexibility, but I had read reviews of how difficult it is for tailors to replicate a suit from a photo, had put me off this shop. They also had nothing like what I wanted in a suit colour… a blue suit with white pin-stripes
The second suit shop on my list to visit, was Gia Hung Tailors. The staff in here are really friendly, the shop is small and quiet, and claim to be the ‘no hassle’ store. They did live up to that motto. I couldn’t find the right type of material for the suit I wanted to buy, so one of the staff drove me on her scooter to two different material shops for more options. Unfortunately, I was still not satisfied with what I could see. The prices quoted for suits though were very reasonable ($130 for a 3 piece suit in material close to what I wanted), and lower than the big names in town. I would have liked to deal with this store, unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
A few doors down is Kimmy’s, another store on my list. This seemed to be the highest rated store on TripAdvisor, as well as being recommended in travel guide-books. This made the store really busy. It was the busiest store I visited while in Hoi An. They do have a really good range of suit materials to choose from. The staff were friendly despite being busy, but were also slightly distracted by other customers too. They had a material on display that I was interested in, however, despite it being on display, they did not have enough material left to make me a suit. I was happy with the price of $150.00 in that material though. Again, I left disappointed.
A Dong Silk Shop is just two doors down from Kimmy’s, had similar reviews on TripAdvisor, but is a lot bigger store with lots of space, and not many customers. I walked in and was given assistance by a member of staff, who helped me locate the pin-striped materials they have. They also have their materials in an order of price, with more expensive to the left, and getting cheaper the further you go into the store. The good news is they had some materials that caught my eye, but given the price, was the most expensive I had been quoted so far at $180. They quickly took this down to $150, with an offer to speak to the manager to see if they can do any better. I said that this wasn’t necessary as I am just looking for materials and getting ideas for my first day in the town. I was giving myself time to think about what I had seen, and would do the actual buying the following day after a good night’s sleep. I had spent the previous night on one of Vietnam’s exceedingly uncomfortable sleeper buses.
I did a random walk in to Ba Bi Cloth Shop to check out materials and suits as I was passing by. The lady was really friendly and informative as to explaining why they make good suits, but was not happy with me to wait until tomorrow to make a decision, and started high pressure selling, and telling stories about how the special offer is only for today. I walked out although impressed with what they had to offer until that point. I wasn’t going to buy until I had done at least a bit of research on reviews from their previous customers.
I had decided on the $150 suit from A Dong Silk, if they could offer me at least a shirt, and maybe even a tie included in the price. I re-visited, with a bit of disappointment as first they told me that they didn’t have enough for a 3 piece suit in my chosen material, but after a call, they gave it the go ahead. I asked for a shirt and tie to be included, and was given a straight no. They offered to include a shirt made from one of their cheaper materials, which I chose, but then changed my mind, and got a better quality shirt for $10 extra, so I was happy with that.
This first day of purchased involved being measured from head to toe, and deciding on the style of the suit plus more. For the style of suit, they gave me an Apple iPad to choose from photos on Pinterest. Choosing a style of suit is difficult from two-dimensional photos, so I chose one of their styles that was on display in the store, and could try on first. I was caught out with some of the decisions I had to make, such as style of collar for the shirt, and how much lining, if any, for the trousers. I chose a collar style that I liked, but now regret a bit as can’t be button down. I was recommended half-length lining for the trousers, so I went with that. I chose Liverpool red for my suit lining, with white stitching, which I decided prior to arriving in town. The shirt that I opted for is a very light green.
My first fitting for the suit was not until the next day as I had enough time in Hoi An. This makes you feel as it gives the tailor more time to take care of the quality of the suit, in reality it means they probably just put it to the bottom of the pile and push through the other orders first.
My first fitting left me quite dis-heartened with my purchase. It was everything that I chose and wanted in a suit, but didn’t make me look and feel as good as I was expecting. They do make the suit first of all with loose stitching, and then cut in to make it a slimmer fit after this first fitting. I tried on the trousers and shirt first, and they cut it in more to my figure, before adding the waist-coat and finally the jacket to go through the same process. The staff are really helpful and pleasant throughout the process. I left the store a bit deflated, and told to come back at 6pm that same day for my second fitting.
I spent the afternoon finding the perfect tie and cuff-link set to match my suit, I decided on a plain dark navy set, which is hand-made from 100% silk, and cost just $4.
The second fitting gave me back my confidence. The whole suit and shirt was now a better fitting. My main concern was that one sleeve was longer than the other. I felt foolish as I was about to point it out, but then she asked how I like my sleeves, with either the sleeve covering the whole shirt, or allowing it to be shorter so that part of the cuff pokes out. I chose it the sleeves to cover the whole cuff. At this point I got to confirm the buttons that I wanted on the suit. I now left happier, and told to come back the next day to pick up the finished product.
On the way back, I walked pass a shop with a nice style shirt that I liked. During dinner I decided that I would purchase the shirt, and ordered it from Nhatsilk. I was quoted $20, but when I chose the material and asked to pay by card, it went up to $22. This still wouldn’t break the bank, so I went for it. I ordered a red and white striped shirt, with red lining over the buttons and on the cuffs, and a double-collar with one red, and one striped collar. I researched reviews when I got back, the only negative review is in German.
That next day, I went to the shop with my shirt first, to get it fitted. The shirt looked amazing in my opinion, it was exactly as I requested it, and already fit perfectly. The shirt-maker made the final touches with regards to cutting open the button holes and sorting out the collar, and I was ready to pay. I was happy with the service until this point. It was made clear when I ordered the shirt that it was $22 which including me paying by card, she now wanted $23 due to the card. I stated what we agreed, so she charged me the $22. I would certainly recommend this shop, as they have some nice modern styles of clothes on display to help you choose, which not all stores in the city can provide.
I went to the tailors for what I thought to be the final time. This time I tried the suit on in store for the final time. It was close to complete. The fit was perfect, the staff took a photo of me with their camera, and then happily took several photos of me using my own camera. Good clothes that fit well and make you look awesome, really can make you feel a lot more self-assured. I was a happy man. I changed into my normal clothes, and they took 15 or so more minutes to complete opening all of the button holes, and cleaning the suit before putting it into a suit bag. So I headed for a beer while I waited. I returned for finally the last time, collected my goods, and paid the remaining balance (I paid 50% deposit when I ordered the suit). I walked back to my guesthouse with goods in my hand, and probably a bit of a confidence in my stride.
Now, how do I get these purchases to fit in my already jam-packed backpack?