Complete Guide to Fabric Market Shopping in Sham Shui Po
Welcome to OOO (out of office). I would say about 50% of my job is 'Out Of Office'. Managing supply chains and developing clothing you get to visit some pretty cool places all over the world, and I always try to make time to get out of the factory and explore. These guides are part work and, part my favorite things to do in my free time. This week I will show you one of the best places to shop for deadstock fabric in the world - Sham Shui Po, in Hong Kong.
By the way, if you stumbled upon this page because you are a fashion startup - check out my 6-month masterclass that will take your brand from idea to finished product in hand. There are 25 weeks of live classes with guest speakers, weekly office hours, 1 on 1 coaching, private industry networking, and best of all I am giving you access to my ethical supplier Rolodex (10 years of fashion industry contacts, yours to use).
what is sham shui po fabric market?
the holy grail of deadstock fabric
Sham Shui Po is a fabric market located in Kowloon and is one of Hong Kongs best-kept fashion secrets. Designers looking for deadstock - Sham Shui Po fabric market is your holy grail. Basically, it's where Chinese mills, from fast fashion to high-end, sell off their deadstock. See I told you, mills never throw away fabric. Mills make swatch cards with a small cutting of every fabric they have available. Anyone can go into the Sham Shui Po fabric market shops, pick up swatch cards, and order anywhere from 1-100's of meters of fabric.
a place to pick up last minute trends
The fabric is typically produced about 6 months or more before the clothing ends up in the store. So, shopping the Sham Shui Po fabric markets is a great way to hop on last-minute trends. This is because you are able to see other brands leftover or damaged fabrics before you can see them at trade shows or in stores. One season when I shopped the markets I noticed quite a few lace options with neon embroidery details, my client was quickly able to develop the fabric and not miss out on one of the following seasons hottest trends.
an important sample making resource
Buyers make their decisions based on physical samples up to a year before the style will end up in the store. The samples are supposed to be a representation of what will be sitting on their racks in a year. Sometimes, because fashion is crazy and things are always changing, there isn’t enough time to work with a factory to get the small amount of sampling fabric you need in time to make the sample garment. That’s where the seemingly neverending supply of fabric at Sham Shui Po fabric market comes in handy.
fun for tourists
For tourists, Sham Shui Po fabric market is a great place to buy a couple of yards of fabric and have a local tailor make you a unique custom piece that you can design yourself. There is no shortage of tailors in Hong Kong. Because there is a talior on practically every block, I can't list them all. But, to get you started on how to find one check out this post from TripSavvy.
Shenzhen, part of mainland China, is a quick train ride to Hong Kong. If you take the train, crossing the border from Hong Kong to China is actually a short footbridge that you walk over. That's how close they are! There is a lot of crossover between the mainland and Hong Kong despite the never-ending immigration lines that take hours to get through. Many people in Shenzhen actually send their children to school in Hong Kong every day.
Shenzhen is a modern city. Everything is new and massive. And, it is a city built for manufacturing. Westerners love Hong Kong, most Chinese companies know this. So, they set up their offices in Hong Kong, and do all of their manufacturing less than a half hour away in Shenzhen.
Did you know that when you go a tailor in Hong Kong, more often than not they send the sewing work to be done over the border in Shenzhen? Nothing really gets made in Hong Kong anymore, wages and real estate space for a factory are too high.
Sham Shui Po, capitalizes on this geographical closeness to Shenzhen. Shenzhen has their own fabric markets too. But, Sham Shui Po fabric market takes advantage of the fact that there is a large Western-based fashion industry audience either visiting or living in Hong Kong, that needs quick access to fabrics.
The first time I went shopping the markets was also my first time in Hong Kong, and because of a mix up with the IT department, I happened to not have a working cell phone. So, no access to Google or Google Maps! The trip was confusing, frustrating, and all-in-all a terrible time. Did I mention it was also raining? Hopefully, this guide will make your experience a little easier.
Sham Shui Po is like the Bermuda Triangle of manufactured goods – you can find anything here. Sham Shui Po doesn’t just have any type of fabric you can think of, it also has basically anything you can think of.
Feeling nosologic for a game of Snake? Pick up the original Nokia, along with Walkmen, old remote controls, and other random outdated electronics.
tips before you go
when to go
- Hong Kong is hot and humid especially during the summer months. So, try to make time to go in the morning or in the early evening. You do not want to be pounding the pavement in the mid-day heat.
what to bring
- Remember to bring water and snacks. Because there isn’t much in the area, especially if you are veg or a picky eater. My favorite app for finding food quick is OpenRice. There are also a couple of amazing egg waffle stands scattered around the market.
- Bring Cash! Because all of the shops are cash only. And, you need to pay at the time or order, not pick up.
- If you have an English to Cantonese translator app use it! Most of the shop workers speak limited to no English. They will often call a translator on the phone for you to speak with, or have an app on their phone for you to use. Be prepared for a game of charades if no one has a translator app.
- Get a local number or WhatsApp. Often the factory has run out of the fabric you want or there is some problem getting the fabric ready on time. The best way to save yourself an unnecessary trip to the market is to give them a way to contact you and confirm your order is ready. Many of the shop owners do not have email or are unresponsive on email so SMS or picking up the phone is the best way to contact them. Usually, I have someone at my hotel help and call for me so there is no language barrier and less confusion.
- Get an Octopus Card, Hong Kong's version of an Oyster Card. Public transportation in Hong Kong is beyond efficient, extremely clean, and 100% safe; even as a woman traveling alone.
Take the MTR to the Sham Shui Po station, and use exit A2. You’re there! For fabric shopping, you are going to want to stay mostly in the red zone on the map below, but venture out and explore to find off the beaten path shops!
how it works
Most of the shops are really tiny holes in the wall. Check out this selfie but ignore the fact I am totally jet lagged and sleep deprived here, the shop is a little wider than the width of my body!
Swatch cards line the walls of each shop. Each swatch card contains reference numbers and information about the available fabrics.
To order fabric take the swatch card to the salesperson (usually sitting at a small desk at the back of the shop). Then, tell them how many yards you want while pointing at the fabric you want. Next, the salesperson will write you an invoice with the reference number, color number, yards, price, and then, usually point to a date on the calendar of when the fabric will be ready for pick up.
Once you agree on the pickup day, you pay them. And, make sure the shop stamps the invoice as paid. Sometimes, depending on the shop, they will let you pay at the time of pick-up.
After you leave, the shop will place your order with the mill in China. The mill in China then ships the fabric to Hong Kong. Pro tip - a lot of industry people will pick the fabric up in China, so be as clear you want to pick up in HK.
Don't' forget, when you return to pick up your fabric, make sure to bring your invoice. This will help the store find your order, and prove you already paid. So, to prevent any issues, I always liked to take a photo of the paid invoice with my phone. This way I have a backup in case I lose it.
If you plan to order a lot of fabric, take a suitcase on wheels to make your life a lot easier. Even better, take one you don't care about, because it will get beat up on the HK streets. This suitcase fell apart right after the photo was taken.
make a day of it
If you find yourself on Kowloon shopping for fabrics in Sham Shui Po, make a day out of it. Sadly, a lot of times tourists never venture off the main Hong Kong Island and end up missing out on a lot of interesting things.
have a meal
Only 8 minutes by car or 25 minutes by foot you can walk over to the Tai Kok Tsui neighborhood and eat at the cheapest Michelin Star rated restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan. But, be warned, if you are veg like me, there isn't much on the menu for you. I had noodles, taro root dim sum, and some desserts.
check out the harbor
From the other side. And, watch the nightly light and sounds show, A Symphony of Lights. Remember, the show starts at 8 pm every night and is free.
Wong Tai Sin Temple
After, check out this temple. Wong Tai Sin is the most popular temple in Hong Kong. It is 18,000sqm and represents three major religions in China – Taoism (Wong Tai Sin), Confucianism (Confucius) and Buddhism (Guanyin).
The Jade Market
The Jade Market is right off the MTR Yau Ma Tei Station stop. If you are looking to pick up some jade souvenirs, this is the place to do it. In Chinese culture jade is representative of Confucian principles - it means a precious stone with five virtues, benevolence(仁), righteousness(義), wisdom(智), brave(勇) and honest and clean(潔)
don't be afraid to take an elevator
Hong Kong and Kowloon are full of hidden gems. Many restaurants are actually in buildings on high-level floors. Living in NYC for so long, where restaurants and stores are all ground level. This was quite a shock to me.
lastly, take in the history and culture
Did you know, Sham Shui Po means "Deep Water Pier" in Cantonese. It is close to the former peninsula of Tai Kok Tsui, the low ridge of which ends in Sham Shui Po. Back in 1955 the Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb was discovered. It indicates that as recent as 2000 years ago there were Chinese people living in what is now Sham Shui Po.
The name Kowloon stems from the term Nine Dragons, alluding to eight mountains and a Chinese emperor: Kowloon Peak, Tung Shan, Tate's Cairn, Temple Hill, Unicorn Ridge, Lion Rock, Beacon Hill, Crow's Nest and Emperor Bing of Song.
from jungle to slums
In the mid-1800's the Kowloon was the mostly wild jungle, and the British mainly came tiger-hunting expeditions.
Interestingly, in the early 20th-century construction of the Large-scale development of Kowloon began in the early-20th century, with the construction of the Kowloon-Canton Railway and the Kowloon Wharf helped lead to rapid expansion. But, The Kai Tak Airport, limited this progress. As a result, compared to Hong Kong Island, Kowloon has a much lower skyline.
Then, after the war when the Communist Party officially took control of mainland China Kowloon thousands of refugees sought asylum in Kowloon. Because of this, the area was full of slums for refugees and public housing estates. Because of this, the Walled City became Hong Kong's Ellis Island.
what the shops look likeA denim fabric shop in Sham Shui Po
A leather hide shop in Sham Shui Po
A shop of only ribbon in Sham Shui Po