Hoi An isn’t just a pretty town to look at, it’s also a shopper’s paradise!
Part of the so-called Maritime Silk Route of the late Middle Ages, Hoi An has been churning out exquisitely made hand-crafted products for centuries.
Visitors will notice the literally hundreds of tailor shops that dot the Ancient Town and surrounds and the dozens of leather shops. Here’s our guide for buying a leather shopping in Hoi An.
Firstly, you’ll want to pick a shop that sells genuine leather. Most of the shops do, but the Vietnamese do have a product called “si-mi-lee” or leather-like vinyl. Shop owner Ms. Tuong suggests asking to take a lighter test to the leather if in doubt. “Real leather doesn’t burn. Fake leather does,” she says. Trustworthy shopkeepers shouldn’t mind conducting the simple test for you.
Next, look for quality craftsmanship. As Hoi An gets a huge number of tourists who are looking for products at every price point, the shops respond by offering items from the cheaply-made to the downright sumptuous. Look at the products on display. Do they look like they’re made to last? Are the seams even, or do they show rushed production?
Then talk to the sales staff. Vietnamese sellers have a reputation for being somewhat pushy (with sometimes multiple staff “helping” one customer), but considering there is stiff competition, their aim is obviously for you to buy from their shop. It’s important to buy from people who give off a good vibe, so don’t be afraid to say “thanks” and head for the door if you’re feeling pressured. Chances are, you’ll be able to find the same thing at a different shop. Trustworthy shops tend to have better trained staff who will answer your questions and show you samples to your heart’s content. That said, if you’re not seriously considering a purchase, avoid taking up too much of the salesperson’s time or even asking for prices if you don’t intend to buy. This is particular true in the mornings, as the Vietnamese are superstitious about the first purchase of the day. If a customer asks about an item and doesn’t buy it, it is a bad luck omen for the rest of the day!
Another thing to consider is how big the shop is. Small, independent shops include mom-and-pop affairs where a family member does the selling and another family member does the production. These shops tend to overcharge less as they’re dealing with low margins. Larger shops or shops that have multiple locations (sometimes on the same street!) might offer a customer satisfaction guarantee, meaning they’ll refund your money if you’re not happy with the product. We’ve even heard stories of customers being refunded their money from overseas in some cases! The kinds of shops able to stand being their products are rare, though, so you’ll want to ask clearly or better yet, get a trusted recommendation.
Most shopping in Hoi An involves some kind of bargaining. There are shops that post “Fixed Prices” signs which means no bargaining is required or expected. Our experience with ready-made leather goods is that prices will fluctuate for the same product (same design, similar types of leather) by up to 10-15%, depending on the shop. If you see something you like, take a business card and write down the price on the back. Keep asking around and by the end of the morning, you’ll have a small handful of places from which to choose the best deal.
So now that you’ve found a shop that can make what you’re looking for, with staff that you like, and with prices that seem reasonable, what next?
1. Design your item: There are four options to custom-make a product:
- You might see something you like right there in the shop, but would like it in a different size or color or want to tweak something (different buttons, zippers, lining, etc.).
- Bring your own product to the shop and have it reproduced.
- Choose from the many catalogs in the shop.
- Bring a photo (on your phone is fine) or the url to an image of the product. All the shops will have wi-fi and once you show them an image of what you want, they’ll likely use their own phone to take a picture of it.
2. Select the leather: Shops tend to have stockpiles of leather and suede in every imaginable color and grade. Some might even have more exotic leathers (crocodile or stingray), usually brought out on request. Please use your discretion when deciding whether to purchase exotic leathers. If they don’t have the exact color you’re looking for, they’ll likely offer to go to a neighboring shop and bring back a sample for you.
3. Get measured for jackets or shoes. The turnaround time on certain products is remarkably fast, ranging from a few hours for a simple tote bag or duffel to a day or two for shoes and jackets. While there’s less “fitting” with leather goods as compared to tailoring, you’ll want to leave a little insurance window if something needs a bit of tweaking before you leave Hoi An.
4. Agree on the price. There are varying opinions on when to actually talk money. Some prefer to do it at the very beginning. Others will wait until they’ve gotten measured and confirmed everything they’re going to buy. In general, the more you buy, the more negotiating power the buyer has. Don’t worry about bargaining; it’s almost expected. In most cases, reputable shops will have a slim margin where they might be able to offer 5-10% off the asking price. If you’re dealing with a shop that comes down significantly more, that could be seen as a warning sign that they were out to scam you at the beginning or their products are of inferior quality (hence available for steep discounts). In any case, once the negotiations are complete, it’s customary to leave a deposit of anywhere from 20-50%. After all, these are custom-made items and likely cannot be resold if you change your mind. If you’re in a time crunch, don’t be afraid to ask for your items to be delivered to your hotel. Hoi An is a small city and shopowners can easily have someone drop off your items. (In most cases, this will be a motorcycle taxi driver who will know nothing about your purchase, other than to deliver it to you. So if there’s a chance you need to have an item re-worked, it’s best to come to the store to pick it up.)
There you have it! Our Hoi An leather buying guide. One of the great pleasures of shopping in Hoi An is the ability to custom-make almost anything you want at a fraction of the price back home.
While there are many, many leather shops in Hoi An, we’ve had good results dealing with the 09 Leather Shop (65 Tran Hung Dao, email: [email protected]). Owned by Mrs. Tuong (who also owns the tailor shop next door), the shop gets great reviews. If you’ve found another trustworthy shop, please let us know in the comments below! Happy shopping!
While in Hoi An, considering making the beautiful Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort & Spa your base! Just a 7 minute complimentary shuttle bus ride to the center of Hoi An, the hotel is ideally situated with Cua Dai Beach on one side and the Thu Bon River on the other, an oasis of tranquility after a long day of bargain hunting!