After signing up for my first tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, I began my research to learn more about the exotic destinations we’d be visiting. When I read that the central Vietnam town of Hoi An was widely known for its charm AND its many quality tailor shops, I was thrilled! This is what I had been waiting for and here’s why…
Five years earlier on a trip to Thailand, I had purchased a few yards of beautiful Thai silk – in a stunning deep purple color – for just $70. I had specifically bought the fabric to cover a large cushion on a divan in my bedroom. But when I got home, I was quite dismayed to discover that the silk’s purple color was nowhere close to the right shade. Darn….
Change of plans. I visited my favorite San Diego tailor to ask what it would cost to make a suit jacket and skirt for me out of this gorgeous fabric. After getting his $800 estimate, I quickly scratched that idea. However, being a world traveler, I put the fabric away to save for a future trip to a destination like Asia with less expensive tailors.
Plan B for My Purple Thai Silk
And that “someday” was about to come as I learned more about Hoi An. It sounded perfect – the town was filled with tailors doing quality work at really inexpensive prices (per our Western standards). Luckily, we were in Hoi An for two days, which allowed the needed time to have a suit made and properly fitted.
As I was sharing trip details with friends including my plan to have a suit made in Hoi An, my creative and fashion-savvy friend Catie piped in. She had lots of good design ideas for the type of suit I should have made. In fact, she went right home and drew up two different options for me – with detailed instructions written & drawn out (one per page) to show the Hoi An tailor. (photo of option #2).
And that’s exactly what I did! When it was time to pack for my Southeast Asia trip (taken in 2011), my beautiful purple Thai silk and copies of Catie’s two designs went into my suitcase.
My Hoi An Tailor Experience
I was finally here in Hoi An! I had arrived with my tour group in the late morning for a two-night stay in this small charming river-side town. After lunch, we took a guided walking tour of Hoi An’s World Heritage-designated Old Town area, which was a delight! (to be covered in a future post). We then had a couple free hours before dinner.
It was now time to begin my long-awaited mission! We were staying at a nice hotel so I asked the friendly reception staff for the name of a good (and trusted) tailor shop. They highly recommended Sun Tailors (also called Sun Cloth Shop). They told me it was family-run and located close by. Sounded good!
So off I headed, clutching my purple fabric and “Catie” drawing for the short walk to Sun Tailors. Arriving at the shop around 5:30pm, I was greeted by Phuong, a delightful young sales woman. I showed her my fabric and Catie’s design and we talked about what I wanted. She reassured me there was enough purple silk for making the suit jacket and the skirt. She recommended lining the jacket with a nice matching purple satin and said there was no problem copying Catie’s design exactly.
She easily talked me into having a nice pair of slacks also made – with two front pockets. Together, we picked out a silk linen for the pants in a complimentary color from the shop’s nice selection of fabrics. However, I did decline her offer to make a pair of shoes, which is also commonly done in Hoi An.
At this point, I was anxious to hear what the grand total was going to be. I was delighted to learn it would cost just $105 for everything – my suit jacket with lining, skirt, and pants. After receiving my enthusiastic “Yes, let’s do this!,” Phuong took my measurements, got a copy of Catie’s design, and wrote up the order. She instructed me to return tomorrow afternoon for a fitting. All this was done in about an hour’s time plus she was so sweet and great to work with!
What I Learned from Phuong
Getting to know Phuong (pronounced like “foon”) through the “making of my suit” process was a great joy for me! I learned that her full name is Nguyen Thi Hoai Phuong. At the time we met in 2011, she was 22-years-old and had been working at the shop for 3 years. She finished her schooling two years earlier, where she studied English. So yes, her English was very good – in sharp contrast to my non-existent Vietnamese.
Sun Tailors is a family-run business, which includes her and her siblings – she has 4 sisters. From the shop /salesroom where she works, the fabrication of the clothes (and other items like purses) goes to their “factory” outside of town. It is run by her aunt and uncle and they have a total of around 30-35 employees.
Phuong works every day from 8am – 8:30pm with just two days off each month! Yikes, we Westerners complain about our long work hours, which clearly pale in comparison. She does a little sewing but mostly works in the shop. That is no surprise – she is great with customers.
Final Rounds of My Tailoring Process
As instructed, I returned to Sun Tailors the next afternoon (around 2:30pm) for my first fitting. The purple suit was looking really good but they still needed to make some minor alterations to the jacket and skirt and hem the pants. With the items marked up for the tailor, I left for a beautiful afternoon bike ride through Hoi An’s countryside with my group.
Around 5:30pm, I returned to the shop for fitting #2. We were really close now – just a couple final fixes. They needed to move the jacket’s one button down and make the sleeves shorter, from full length to 3 / 4 length. Phuong told me to come back in just over one hour and it would be done.
I returned to the shop at 8pm on my way to dinner and all was now perfect. The tailoring process had taken a total of 4 visits (the initial order, 2 fittings, and the final pickup) – and all completed in just a 26-hour period. I was now the proud owner of a beautiful new purple silk suit. Even today, this outfit never fails to bring lots of compliments every time I wear it!
More About Sun Tailors (Sun Cloth Shop)
Because it’s been five years since my 2011 visit to Hoi An and the tailoring experience, I checked for current updates before writing this post. I’m happy to report that Sun Tailors is still going strong. The Sun Cloth Shop website today states they are “A highly-esteemed family business who opened an independent store 9 years ago. Almost all clients are international, with many returning customers. The Sun tailor name is synonymous with quality and fair pricing.”
Of course, any business can claim that they are great. However, I checked TripAdvisor which has given them a Certificate of Excellence (meaning they consistently earn great reviews from travelers). There are many glowing reviews of Sun Cloth Shop on Trip Advisor that you can check out. I was delighted to see that Phuong is still there and frequently receiving special kudos in customer reviews.
Tips for Your Own Visit to Hoi An’s Tailors
Hoi An’s reputation as a “tailoring center” continues to draws travelers from around the world in search of that perfect suit or dress at bargain prices. There are hundreds of cloth shops and tailor shops in Hoi An, providing a wide assortment of choices for customers. However, these choices can certainly be overwhelming!
From my current research, I offer a strong caution. Over the recent years, many more cloth shops have opened up in Hoi An because of the money to be made. Apparently, some of them are by people with no tailoring experience. Thus, shops can vary widely in quality – from the high-end leader Yaly Couture to completely inexperienced start-ups. Unsuspecting customers can end up with sub-par clothing if they’re not careful.
- It’s good to do your own research ahead and get recommendations of a tailor(s) from trusted sources. Be aware that some people, like hotel staff, tour guides, and touts on the street may be receiving a commission for a referral to a particular shop. It might still be an excellent shop so just be aware and discerning.
- The tailors can copy anything you might desire, including from photographs or a drawing like mine. If you have a particular clothing item such as a dress that you really want made, come prepared with ideas, colors, pages cut out from fashion magazines of styles you like, etc.
- If you don’t have a specific item in mind and just want to be spontaneous to see what catches your fancy when you’re in Hoi An, you’ll be able to look through fashion books and catalogs in the shops for ideas.
- Customization is king here! You can pick out the material and even the inner lining color for your clothing. You can choose all kinds of features you’d like to add, such as how many buttons on your jacket, the number of pockets and much more.
- You may want to visit a few shops to compare fabrics and prices for a particular item you are seeking, all while you are “getting a feel” for each one’s experience, integrity and customer service.
- Of course, be wary of the questionably cheap tailors. We all know the adage – you get what you pay for!
- As far as quality goes, it’s worth paying a little extra for good quality material. Most of the stores send off their designs to factories, where your clothes will get made over night.
- When you pick up your finished item(s), be sure to thoroughly check them. Make sure it’s the material you picked out and check the stitching very carefully.
To learn more about the charming town of Hoi An, read my post – Historic Hoi An: Vietnam’s Must See Town is Sure to Delight
COMMENTS: Have you ever had custom tailoring done overseas? Where was it and what was your experience? If you went to Hoi An one day, what type of item would you like to have made?