Posted by: Tommy | May 20, 2011

You get what you pay for (relatively)

Hoi An is probably the biggest backpacker hotspot in Vietam.  And the reason for that is the 500+ tailoring shops there.  Everywhere you walk in Hoi An, tailors (actually, salespeople for tailoring shops, as the tailors are all busy sewing stuff, I guess) are asking to make you a suit, a coat, a dress, shoes – you name it, it can be made in Hoi An – cheap.

Anna like to buy clothes and I like stuff that’s cheap, so when we heard about/read about the Hoi An tailoring scene, we each planned on getting a few items.  We arrived around 2pm and spent the first afternoon just walking around, getting a feel for the place and asking for some tailor recommendations.  With 500 to choose from and only a few days in Hoi An, choosing the right shop was important.  A $100 suit that is poorly made is just a waste of $100.  Our hotel really pushed a place called Peace Custom Tailors and they had pretty good online reviews.  Another place, called Yaly Couture, was the #1 recommended place by Trip Advisor and was also mentioned in Lonely Planet as being an excellent option.  We went by on the first day to talk to both Yaly and Peace.

The people at both Peace and Yaly were very friendly.  Yaly was a more professionally-run operation.  The have a large staff and a 2 huge rooms filled with fabric.  When we came in, someone greeted us and figured out we were new – we were then handed over to a salesperson who took us around, showed us different things and answered questions for us, mostly about price.

One of two rooms at Yaly

Peace was a much, much smaller operation.  When we went, they have a small, crowded room with 4 girls.  The one that seemed to be in charge took care of us when we first arrived, showing us fabrics, going through catalogs with the girls and answering my questions about price.  Not surprisingly, the smaller operation was a lot cheaper.  Yaly was about $180 for a suit (still a great deal for a custom-tailored suit) but Peace was only $120 for similar fabric.  One of the things I learned is that no matter how cheap the labor costs are, fabric makes up a big portion of the cost and cheap fabric is no good.  Yaly was about the same for women’s stuff, so Anna decided to get her things done at Yaly.  Both shops promised to keep all of our measurements so that we could order online in the future and they could ship to America.

The next day, we went back to both shops.  I ordered 1 shirt, just to see how Peace did on it.  Emily really liked the people at Peace, so she had ordered a jacket from them as well.  Anna asked Yaly to make her a dress – then we could all compare the work from the two shops.  With the promise of additional orders, both shops did a fantastic job on the first items.  Anna loved her dress, Emily really loved her “Jackie O” coat and Anna whistled the first time I tried on my new, slim-fit shirt.  Everyone was happy, so we went ahead and ordered more things.  I really wanted a tuxedo (for $120, if I wear it once it paid for itself), so I got that, a suit and some pants.  Emily ordered a variety of things at Peace as well.

Anna stayed up most of the night, looking through online catalogs and downloading pictures of stuff that she’d like to have in different colors.  She lugged our laptop to Yaly and went through the pictures with Nancy, her salesperson, and had Yaly making 3-4 things.  The only other thing I wanted was a burnt orange coat – just for fun – but I didn’t want to pay Yaly or Peace prices for something I don’t actually plan to wear seriously.  We found a place near the hotel, Micky, run by a former Yaly tailor.  He took me personally to the fabric shop and we found some perfect fabric.  For $35, he could make me a sport coat.  Sweet!

For those formal Gameday occasions! Hook 'em Horns!

The next day, we went back for our first fittings at Peace and Yaly.  And we found out why Yaly is so highly regarded.  Anna walked in and Nancy dropped what she was doing and started gathering Anna’s stuff from the back room.  In the dressing room, Anna only had to put on something and Nancy would get out her chalk and start pointing out things that needed to be fixed.  Several times, Anna thought something was fine but Nancy wouldn’t be satisfied.  She even went as far getting the tailor out of the back room, bringing him into the dressing room and making him look at how something fit on Anna’s shirt.

At Peace, there was a different experience.  While I’d gone with Anna to Yaly, Emily went to Peace to try on her stuff. And she hated it.  After getting the Jackie O coat done perfectly, everything else she had made was unsatisfactory.  Pockets in the wrong place, a collar that was the wrong color, etc.  And while Peace promised to fix it, they didn’t seem concerned – which made me concerned, since I hadn’t seen my stuff yet (but I had paid for 50% of it). So I was a little nervous when I walked in.

Luckily, guys stuff must be easier to make because my pants fit fine, as did the tuxedo.  The suit fit fine as well, but the lining (they used silk – I learned later that this might not be good for Texas summers) wasn’t right.  I tried talking to my initial person, but apparently she’s just the one who gets you in the door.  She handed me off to a bitchy assistant who insisted there was nothing wrong.  I examined several of their displays and assured her that yes, there is something wrong.  We went back and forth, with her finally saying she’d see what she could do.  I went back the next day – and while Anna was so happy with Yaly Couture that she ordered a few more things, I just became more frustrated with Peace.  They might have done something, I couldn’t really tell, but it certainly wasn’t better.  They just insisted that it was fine and that I should take it.  I refused.  When I held the coat up to a fan, the lining blew around like a sheet.  When I put it on, the lining was so loose that it bunched up at my wrists, visibly hanging below the bottom of the sleeves.

I spent the whole day obsessively walking in to random tailoring shops, opening up the coats they had on display and feeling the lining.  Every single one of them had lining like the suits I have at home – not tight, but certainly not “blouse-y” (that’s the word Anna used to describe my suit lining – men’s clothing should NEVER be described as blouse-y).  As I ran around town, looking at the linings on dozens of coats in dozens of shops, I was getting more and more worked up.

Luckily, Anna’s mom has a friend who knows about tailoring, so I emailed with Vickie and she assured me that I was right, that it could be fixed and that I should stick to my guns because they were being lazy.  Armed with this knowledge, I went back the next day, stood my ground, accused them of being lazy and came away with a promise to really fix the lining.  I still hadn’t gotten to talk to the nice person from the beginning but I’d finally convinced them that I wouldn’t pay for anything unless the suit got fixed (and since they’d already done all of the work, I guess they thought it was worth it).

As I’m going back every day to fight with Peace (making 5 days of shopping even worse than it had to be), Anna was having a ball with Nancy.  She ended up with a whole stack of stuff, each day figuring out more things that she’d like to have and would have to buy (for a whole lot more money) when we get back.  I even had Yaly measure me and make me a shirt, just so I could have my information on file in case I need something when I get home.

Nancy, Anna and Anna's new velvet jacket

I did eventually get my suit back, with proper lining, after 4 days of arguing with Peace.  Emily was never happy with her stuff, but didn’t want to spend her whole time in Hoi An fighting about it.  We decided to just write negative reviews about them on Trip Advisor, helping future travelers avoid the mistake we made.  Because it took so long, we had to shorten the already short time we had for the rest of Vietnam.  We arrived in Hoi An on a Monday and didn’t leave until Friday morning, heading to Hue, where we’d spend only a few hours before taking another overnight bus on to Hanoi.

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Responses

  1. I LOVE, LOVE both jackets…the burnt orange is actually very nice; not cheesy at all! However, my favorite is the beautiful blue velvet. It is a great classic look and I love the collar. Maybe Tommy should order a matching velvet smoking jacket!

    • Can you send me the email address for Peace as I have bought items from them earlier this year and seem to be unable to find the email address? Thanks for your help. Kath

  2. The burnt orange jacket made me laugh out loud in the internet cafe. People stared

    • Nice!


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