Oct, 2016: Getting tailoring done on the cheap in somewhere like Vietnam comes with inherent risks. There is a very good chance that you will walk away with a pair of sky blue floral flairs. They looked so good in the window right? Everything else that you actually need is ill-fitting, made from rubbish fabric or is rubbish quality (or all three). We went to Hoi An last year to get wedding threads made for our impending nuptials. We hoped that given enough time and opportunity for multiple fittings we would be fine. While we didn’t walk away with any flairs we certainly didn’t have the perfect experience. We wanted to share a few things we picked up plus also a little review of the tailors we used. Hopefully you’ll be able to use them for your next trip to get some Vietnamese tailoring done.
Who did we choose and how did we choose them
Fi spent quite a lot of time reading TripAdvisor reviews and emailing prospective tailors before coming up with a list of tailors based on a mix of review feedback, pricing and responsiveness. In the end, we hedged our bets and decided on two places; one for my suits and one for basically everything else. For my suits we went with one of the large, established tailors named Be Be’s due to having the best reviews, perceived better fabric selection and quality assurance. And, in the sweaty Hoi An heat, I’d be lying if I said that their air-conditioning and seemingly endless bottles of cold water and iced coffee didn’t sway our decision. For the rest we went with probably the sweetest, friendliest tailor in the southern hemisphere named Sewing Bee who also happened to be nearly 50% cheaper than Be Be’s. The owner Bee had been super responsive via email, was keen to present design ideas and options and when we arrived treated us like long lost family. She also had no issues with us going with Be Be’s for my suits and even offered a little advice on things to ask to get the most out of our experience.
Comparing our tailors
So, how did we go? Overall we probably felt we got better value for money from the cheaper, friendlier and more personal Sewing Bee. Granted a few weeks later we found that the quality of some of Sewing Bee’s pieces weren’t up to scratch but at the same time Be Be’s had a complete shocker with one of my groomsmen’s suits meaning that it had to be nearly completely redone when we got home. For what we paid, how long it took and the amazingly warm and friendly experience we enjoyed, I think we all agreed that we’d be most likely to go back to Sewing Bee.
- Quality assurance: Be Be’s have their own in house tailors which you can see beavering away while you’re getting fitted out. As a result they have greater control over quality assurance. Alternatively Sewing Bee did the designs, took the measurements but then sent the material offsite for tailoring. Sewing Bee checked everything when it came back but inevitably we found that the quality of workmanship wasn’t as good as at Be Be’s. This is even considering the aforementioned shocker that Be Be’s had with one of the groomsmen’s suits. In Sewing Bee’s defence, a few weeks after returning to Australia we emailed her a bunch of feedback and she was very apologetic but also thankful and wanted to know specific details about what issues with which garments so she could follow up with her tailors. Hopefully with this attitude her quality will improve.
- Range of fabrics: Be Be’s had a larger range of fabric for us to look at, all available under the one roof. On the other hand Sewing Bee had a much smaller range in her little shop in the fabric market and for everything else we would have to go wondering around the market to find what we wanted and even that seemed slightly more limited than what Be Be had. On reflection if we went back again, we would potentially consider bringing our own fabric and then just getting them to make it.
- Location and facilities: Be Be’s had a much larger air-conditioned showroom with air-conditioned change rooms, plenty of couches to sit at and clean toilets on hand. At Sewing Bee’s we were much sweatier sitting on little plastic stools basically in the aisle of the fabric market.
- Personalised experience: Without doubt Sewing Bee provided a much more personalised experience and for us that counted for a lot. She knew everyone’s name almost immediately and nothing ever seemed too much trouble for her in a very genuine way. Bee, her husband and sister totally treated us like family, listened to what we wanted and went out of their way to give us a great experience whether it was about the tailoring or the best place to eat white rose dumplings. Be Be’s were professional and friendly enough but but we sometimes found that they weren’t always willing to listen to our feedback (e.g. it took me at least three to four times to get them to understand that I like my suit jacket a little tighter than usual because I don’t usually wear it buttoned up).
- Eye for design: Sewing Bee seemed to have a genuine eye for design, always had suggestions on how things could be improved and was best able to work a vague idea into something amazing which we really liked. On the other hand, for the relatively premium price we paid Be Be’s didn’t appear as ready with design advice and required a lot more guidance from us even down to colour and fabric selection.
Five key things to get the most out of your Vietnamese tailoring experience
- Have a very clear idea of what you want, bring photos of what you want or bring something to copy. While Sewing Bee was actually pretty brilliant with putting forward ideas we found we had to give very clear guidance to the team at Be Be’s. The more specific you can be to the point of just giving them something to copy completely, the better. From the four groomsmen suits which I needed from Be Be’s, I had two for them to copy directly while for the others I had measurements only. While the two I had copied still needed some minor adjustments, the two I had made from measurements only needed some major surgery when we got home. Especially one of them.
- Allow time for multiple fittings. If you only have 24 hours and you want 10 pieces made, don’t expect the best quality. You need time to be able to have multiple fittings as there will nearly always be the need for a tweak here or an adjustment there. Ideally you would get the same thing made at multiple places and then choose the one place which gave the best results with the least need for rework or guidance.
- Price isn’t always an indicator of quality: Be Be’s definitely had the more fancy operation and were indeed professional but for the price, our overall experience with Sewing Bee was better. Talk to the people who you’re considering and if you feel more comfortable with someone then you’ll probably have a better experience with them.
- Triple check everything: When you do get your pieces back check everything; check the inside stitching, check the length of every measurement, check that every button hole is unstitched, check for re-enforced stitching around pockets. If you don’t, you’ll only have yourself to blame when you get home after a 12 hour flight and find something isn’t right.
- Don’t complete payment until you’re 100% satisfied: Most places will make you pay a 50% deposit but definitely don’t pay the rest until you are 100% happy. You may be paying peanuts for that dress but you’re still paying so make sure you’re completely satisfied. If you don’t think something quite sits right, tell them. And, don’t let them tell you that ‘that is the way something should look’. If you don’t think it looks right on your body then it doesn’t and they should fix it.
Vietnamese tailoring: the cost
From Be Be’s I had 5 suits done, each reduced from USD250 each to USD200 (USD1000 total). From Sewing Bee I got 2 dress shirts, 2 linen shirts, 3 pairs of shorts and 2 pairs of long pants; Fi got an amazing denim dress, 1 white jumpsuit with lace top overlay, an amazing white dress, a gold sequinned jacket, another jumpsuit, a skirt, two pairs of pants and some alterations. In total we spent approximately USD520 at Sewing Bee.