The Hoi An Cloth & Fabric Market
Think of countries with flourishing textile production and garment manufacturing industries, and Vietnam will immediately come to mind. Or it should. Vietnam’s textile market is involved in fibre and fabric production, consisting mostly of cotton, polyester, wool and silk. It’s all available at Hoi An’s cloth & fabric market, a central fixture to the former trading port.
A visit to Hoi An isn’t complete without a trip to the bustling fabric market that will have you both bristling with Fashion Runway ambitions, and wanting to escape the onslaught of eager beaver stall vendors.
We look into the history of Hoi An’s cloth & fabric market and give our first-hand experience. So when you visit you’re armed with the best information and are prepared for all it has on offer.
The History of Hoi An’s Cloth & Fabric Market
Over 300 years ago, when Hoi An was an important trading port and considered the centre of the legendary Silk Road, silk, which was introduced by the Chinese, was exported to Japan and various European countries.
This precious fabric was used as a type of currency in trade and played a big part in Vietnam’s history and economic development. It still plays a prominent role in Vietnamese culture today and is a luxurious staple of the fabric industry.
This fine fabric is at the heart of the tailoring trade dating back to the silk route. Great-Grandfathers taught the trade to their sons, who then passed on their knowledge of the trade to their own sons, making tailoring a Hoi An family tradition.
Due to major conflicts throughout Vietnam, there were very few travellers visiting the country.
The Effect of the Internet on Tailoring
Then, just 20 years ago, tourists started turning up in droves to soak in the exotic Vietnamese culture and all the stunning Southeast Asian scenery they could. Despite the boom in tourism, Hoi An tailoring hadn’t quite become the serious business it is today. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the quality of tailoring in Hoi An varied enormously. This was before the days of the internet, and long before social media outlets were relied on as referral platforms. People tended to visit Vietnam only once and tailors saw very few return customers.
As the Internet replaced the old, well-thumbed Lonely Planet guides, the tailors of Hoi An felt a major push to improve the business of tailoring, culminating in the high-standards that exist today. People started to review the tailors and the ones who didn’t care about their customers or quality started to fall by the wayside. In fact, over the last five years, the quality of tailoring in Hoi An has shot up so much that, it has become a major competitor with the likes of Hong Kong and Bangkok as a travel destination for custom made garments. Many reviews claim that Vietnam’s little yellow city is straight up beating Hong Kong and Thai competitors when it comes to quality and price.
Today, Hoi An is known as a tailoring mecca. Estimates are, that in the Old Town alone, there are over 300 tailor shops dotted along its alleyways.
Experiencing the Hoi An Cloth Market
Prior to ambling over to the fabric market, we read up about it. We’re unsure if this was a good idea or not because it just put us off! There was account after account of aggressive vendors desperate to make a sale, hollering at one another for attention, and even grabbing people by the arm.
We balked, and had to mentally prepare ourselves! Finally, after two entire days of talking ourselves into going, we headed out early’ish, arriving at the market by 9:30 am. And fortunately, it was nothing like we expected.
But before we get into what our market experience was like, let’s back up a bit.
Approaching the Fabric Market
As we walked down Tran Phu Street towards the market, a woman approached us, commenting on what lovely skin we had. After a few weeks in Hoi An, we’ve become accustomed to the seemingly random flattery by women who try to seduce you into visiting, and buying from, their stores. We smiled and thanked her, and walked on. But thus began a skilled conversational steering. She walked alongside us, commenting on how great tailor-made clothes would look on our slim figures. Complimenting us on our looks, asking about our relationship status and so on.
By this time the conversation had extended until we’d reached the fabric market. Low and behold it turned out she had a store there. Hence the guileful flattery designed to steer us to her store. Since our purpose was to speak to the stall owners and find out about the fabrics, we didn’t mind, and just went along with it. Urged to look through catalogues, we indulged her but were quite firm that we weren’t looking to have anything made. Although she seemed disappointed, she wasn’t pushy and was happy to answer our questions.
Finding Your Way Around Hoi An Cloth Market
Address: Corner Tran Phu and Nguyen Hue Opening Hours 7am-7pm
The market is easy to navigate, with a well-laid grid of stalls, most about two by three metres wide, some larger. In total, there are over 50 stalls, although they aren’t numbered in sequence. Instead, the numbering system appears to be chosen at random.
Being at the market early afforded us the luxury of browsing calmly in a quiet environment. We seemed to be the only ‘customers’ there. Sure, some of the vendors approached us, but they seemed quite subdued as they settled in for the day. They thrust a few cards thrust into our hands though, and smilingly told us to return.
We wandered around, checking out the fabric on offer, chatting to the women, delighting in our smart move of getting there early.
Hidden Hint: The market tailors say before 10am is the quietest time, and late afternoon (before 6pm) the busiest time. Lunchtime is also a good period to visit.
The Best Time to Experience the Real Fabric Market
But after we left, we decided we’d missed out on the real excitement of the market. So we returned in the late afternoon on another day. Stepping inside, the hustle was on! And we loved it, from the hollering to the lack of fitting rooms. One guy was slipping into a shirt as we walked by, his trousers already on. A female tried on a silk dressing gown over her clothes, and then turned around, and managed to fit on a dress beneath the robe. Most of the stalls were busy with a client or two, so the ones that weren’t were especially vocal in trying to attract attention. Some customers also seemed quite frantic in their rush to have their clothes ready before their departure from Hoi An.
Where to Buy Fabric in Vietnam: What's on Offer at the Hoi An Cloth & Fabric Market
There is something immensely satisfying about walking into a fabric store and seeing all the fabrics displayed in a colour coordinated sequence. From bridal lace to casual cotton, touching the different textures, and feeling a rush of excitement imagining the possibilities of the fabric. It’s also rather intimidating.
The Hoi An cloth & fabric market would then have to be described as nothing short of intimidation on steroids. If a normal fabric store is confusing, the Hoi An fabric market will make you feel as though you’re in a maze. The building consists of around fifty small stalls all selling pretty much the same fabric! The cloth is stacked on shelves, so letting the fabric flow between your fingers is not an option.
We aren’t fabric experts but do have somewhat of an eye for good quality fabric. Unfortunately, we didn’t notice much of that at the market. On the whole, the fabric selection was pretty disappointing, largely comprising of cotton and polyester. There are linen, silk and wool amongst the piles, but the printed fabric screams for attention. We found the prints too much, too loud and somewhat dated.
Take Your Time Looking for Fabric
But when we mentioned to a few of the store-owners we were looking for light, classic colours, they showed us fabrics that we liked, in cotton, linen and silk. All just buried beneath the prints at the bottom! So don’t let the dismal aesthetic appearance put you off. Just stay calm, take your time and work your way through the fabric, looking for what you really desire.
There are two types of cotton, a cheaper type that feels slightly abrasive and has less durability, and stronger cotton with more fibrous strength that feels softer. The saleswomen are transparent about it. So don’t worry about overcharging.
Hidden Hint: The quality and variety of fabric at the mid-range and high-end tailor stores is much better than that of the Hoi An cloth & fabric market.
But you do need to have your wits about you when purchasing silk. Real silk doesn’t burn, so holding a flame to it will determine its authenticity. (Likewise with leather) This is the ‘lighter test’. But it’s not unheard of for some unscrupulous vendors to insist the fabric is silk when it isn’t. They manage to get away with the deception by doing a burn test on fibres pulled from real silk.
As for the cashmere wool, vendors said it’s a blend of 45% cashmere, 50% wool, and 5% polyester.
The Cheapest Clothes, Tailoring and Fabric in Hoi An
It’s called the Hoi An fabric market, so one would expect to be able to buy just fabric. But you can’t. Well, technically, you can. But expect confused expressions and pressure for tailoring items. This is because the cloth & fabric market is tied in tightly with the tailoring experience. It is just the cheaper version of the tailoring shops you’ll see everywhere through town.
There’s competition, and with it, distrust. So buying only the fabric will have the stall owner think you’re going to go to another store within the market (or outside) to get the tailoring done. If you are considering this, don’t. All the tailoring shops stock their own fabric. The cost of making up an item, be it a dress or suit, includes the fabric cost. So adding it up, you’ll end up paying more.
Price Guidelines for the Hoi An Fabric Market
We asked a few vendors how much it would cost to buy fabric on its own. The quotes are pretty much the same amount. Remember, this is the market, so barter to snag a bargain!
Cotton: From 60,000 VND (3-4 USD) per metre
Chiffon and polyester: From 115,000 VND (5 USD) per metre
Linen: From 140,000 VND (6 USD) per metre
Cashmere Wool: From 180,000 VND (8 USD) per metre
Silk: From 230,000 VND (10 USD) per metre
The Alternative Option
To explore more options, and determined to only buy fabric? Then head to Hung Vurong Street. Here you’ll find a line of stores selling just fabric, with no sewing strings attached. This seems to be the shopping option for the local dressmakers as you’ll see them walking out with yards of fabric.
Brace yourself though. There is fabric from floor to ceiling and it’s chaotic. Also quite cramped, and crowded during busy times. We meandered through one store, reaching out to touch the fabrics. The selection of colours and prints is better than the market, the prices appeared cheaper too.
Don’t let the pushy market vendors put you off. It’s all part of the experience. If you smile and are friendly, they’ll be nice too. Just take it in your stride.
Chances are, if you’re at the Hoi An fabric market, you’re looking to have clothes made at a cheaper price. Hidden recommends you do your homework, read the reviews about the market’s tailors, and have a shortlist of stores to head to. We can recommend Mrs An and have visited her store ourselves in our tailoring article.
If you’re on a tight budget or just want a tropical print shirt or dress, the market is an excellent option. But choosing the right fabric, and not something that will look like a rag after a few washes, is essential.
If you come out empty-handed, no doubt you would have still had an experience you won’t easily forget! After all one of the joys of travel is new experiences.