Hoi An is the “Tailoring Capital of the World” according to… well… Hoi An.
Self-described titles always sound bullshitty to me, but influencers ran with this self-coronation and helped make it stick. Plenty of tailors lined the streets when I visited the Vietnamese town in 2010, but adding “capital of the world” status is a bold claim, so I put it to the test when I returned last month.
My goal: to find, or make, a bootleg Supreme shirt or Off-White hoodie.
Hoi An sits on the South China Sea with lively beach clubs and a multicultural Old Town that UNESCO describes as an “example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century.” The town became a backpackers hotspot in the early 2000s, which ironically led the local media to criticize the backpackers’ raggedy fashion choices. As more upscale travelers started coming in the 2010s, shops that once sold artisan scarves and sarongs for cheap started selling custom suits and dresses for not so cheap. The oft-parroted line “tailor shops here outnumber other businesses two to one” is likely ripped from tourism marketing materials, but it did help sell Hoi An’s new image.
We don’t endorse buying bootlegs brands, and we realize that finding/making a Supreme shirt does not fit the strict definition of tailoring. However, the “Tailoring Capital of the World” should be able to slap a logo on a t-shirt, especially when it already sells a shitload of bootleg shoes, handbags, hats and tees.
My first attempt at finding a Supreme shirt takes place at a store selling lots of knockoffs. I show pictures of Supreme products on my phone.
“Super me? Super me?” the shopkeeper asks, confused.
“No, Supreme,” I say slowly.
“No, super me,” she replies.
“It’s not super me,” I try again. “It’s Supreme.”
“Don’t know. Don’t have,” she says with finality.
“What about Off-White?”
The confused expression on her face turns to utter bewilderment. She sheepishly points to a white t-shirt, likely knowing that’s not what I mean. I move on to the next shop.
“No,” says the next shopkeeper when I ask about Supreme or Off-White fakes, followed by “no” from the first tailor I ask about making one from scratch. As my wife and I make our way through the touristic Old Town, this same scenario plays out again and again and again at every shop. Picking my battles, I give up on the Off-White hoodie and focus my energy on any Supreme product I can find.
After two days of failed searching, reality finally hits. I still viewed Hoi An as a backpackers’ haunt, and while that crowd still has a presence, the shops now target the older tourists who started coming in recent years. Young adults don’t spend much on clothes while backpacking — it’s a matter of budget and space — otherwise we might see more Supreme, Off-White, Fear of God and Madhappy fakes. Gen Xers-plus, on the other hand, almost exclusively want legacy brands like Prada, Kenneth Cole, Louis Vutton, Superdry and Chanel, which Hoi An sells in abundance.
With streetwear brands nowhere to be found, my wife and I decide to go the more traditional route, starting with legacy brand handbags.
“How much?” my wife asks as she points to a fake Louis Vutton bag.
“230,” says the saleswoman. Vietnamese dong trades at around 23,500 to the dollar, so the last three zeroes are implied in the price.
“420 for two,” I counter, offering the equivalent of $18 for both. The woman quickly agrees.
I added a legacy product to my search as well, but it also proved challenging. Many shops sold face masks, but not designer face masks, which I occasionally saw on local women. I repeatedly asked about designer face masks, but no luck on that front either.
Next, we look into tailored summer dresses for my wife. Visiting one of the more reputable stores, my wife shows photos of the type of dresses she wants.
“I can do this dress for $70, and the other dress for $60, but only if you do both,” says the shop owner. “It will cost more if you only do one.”
“The price is in U.S. dollars?” I ask. The dress involved more than one fabric pattern, so we knew it would cost more, but we expected to pay $20 or $25.
“Yes, in dollars,” she replies.
“For a summer dress?” my wife asks. “I can have a summer dress made in Los Angeles for less than that.”
“Other places might offer this for less, but it won’t match our quality,” she says in spin mode. “We want you to be a customer for life.”
A well-rehearsed line she’s likely repeated a thousand times.
“We will come back,” says my wife, knowing we won’t.
Two blocks down the street, we stumble upon a shop that makes custom leather shoes, and my wife wants a pair. The shop quotes the price at 1.1 million dong (about $50), and we decide not to haggle. When we return with the money, however, the price changes to 1.2 million dong, and it goes up from there as they try to charge extra for the heel and inside lining. We ultimately get everything for 1.2 million dong after a terse back and forth. Because we didn’t try to haggle, the shopkeeper likely thought she could get us to pay even more than the original quoted price.
The gamesmanship over the shoe price epitomizes the biggest change I saw in Hoi An. Over the past 10 years, the salespeople have become more aggressive, and prices seemingly increased fivefold or more, and not just for tailored pieces. We saw scarves for $60, t-shirts for $35, and fabric stores starting at $4 per meter for basic patterns. At the Central Market, a woman selling bamboo straws tried to get us to pay 200,000 dong, yet a person two tables down sold us the same straws for 20,000.
“You can assume 20 percent less, at a minimum,” says a young German we met who visits Hoi An regularly. “Sometimes you can get the price down as much as 60 percent. I usually start at about 40 or 50 percent less than the original price.”
On our fourth and final day in Hoi An, we walk to visit a fabric store outside the Old Town and surprisingly find the two items that had eluded us thus far. First, a shop carried a few designer face masks that we quickly snatched up. Second, I finally spotted a fake Supreme product, just not what I expected. Rather than selling a shirt or hat, this store sold a fake Supreme fanny pack.
I spoke with the shopkeeper about other Supreme products, and he had none. In fact, he thought “supreme” was a type of statement, not an actual brand. I passed on the fanny pack.
I also passed on the whole idea of Hoi An as a shopping destination, and so should you. Instead, come for all the reasons that originally drew tourists to the central coast town.
To start, stroll around and soak in the architecture that largely survived the war and experienced a revival under architect Kazimierz Kwiatkowski. Visit the rooftop pool bar overlooking the river at the Sofitel Royal hotel. Take a cooking class at the farm-to-fork Red Dragon Restaurant or one of the many other restaurants offering classes. Visit the Cham Islands by fast boat. Indulge in full-body massages for less than $20 per hour. Sample dozens of local dishes at the Ngon Villa buffet. Follow in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps and have a Vietnamese sandwich at Banh Mi Phuong. And definitely reserve a daybed at the Shore Club on An Bang beach.
If you insist on a fashion search, you’ll find the best prices outside the Old Town, including on the main road to An Bang beach, which itself is the best place to buy sarongs. Better prices on designer fakes are found at the Hoi An Night Market on Nguyen Hoang Street after sunset.
Ironically, we arrived in Taiwan a week later and had no problem finding Supreme fakes at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. We opted for a Supreme-Ghibli mashup tee for $9.