I had been planning on getting a suit made ever since I heard about Hoi An.
This small Vietnamese town is world-renowned for its tailors and it's the place where many travelers stop in for a low-priced, tailor-made suit or dress. The prices are remarkably cheap by western standards and, assuming you get your clothes made at the right place, you could be walking away with Armani-quality suits at a fraction of the price.
A tailor-made suit is USD$100, a fitted button-down is $17 and a ball-gown will sell for $45. With prices like this, it's no wonder so many travelers leave Hoi An with heavier bags than they arrived with.
Ten years ago there weren't even 30 tailors in Hoi An. Now there are thousands. Yes, thousands. Tailors are Hoi An's business. You can't walk down any side street without passing at least five of them. There's even a dedicated cloth market which must hold at least two hundred of them. Unfortunately, with that kind of competition, there is bound to be a dark side.
The Dark Side of Hoi An Tailors
Three years ago, Michael, of Art of Adventuring, visited Hoi An. He wanted to find out more about what happens behind the scenes in this town filled of cloth, so he visited the famous Miss Forget-Me-Not, a local tailor who is well-known for crafting superb products at incredibly low prices.
He sat down to interview her and, during their chat, she began to cry; as it turns out, competition is cutthroat, and Miss Forget-Me-Not had been the subject of abuse. She didn't play by the same rules as the rest of the tailors, so they would wreck her shop, threaten her with abuse and steal her customers.
There's a darker side of tailors in Hoi An. She was only trying to run an honest business and, in doing so, became an unpopular figure around town.
But that didn't stop her.
Finding Miss Forget-Me-Not
Miss Forget-Me-Not is a little bit of a TripAdvisor sensation. Her small shop having amassed more than 70 reviews in total, people know her and she's famed as the best tailor in Hoi An. She does good work. And given that she had met Michael, I decided to stop in, get a suit made, and see how she was getting along three years later.
I had done some research ahead of time and learned that there was a new Miss Forget-Me-Not! Apparently, the woman at stall number 20 in the Cloth Market was no longer the real one. I approached her about it, in my most journalistic of ways, and even mentioned Michael's name in passing. “MICHAEL!?” this woman exclaimed. Then, very quietly, while scribbling something on paper, she said to me, “I am her sister. Go to this address. She will be happy to see you.”
I made my way to 37 Phan Chau Trinh Street, in downtown Hoi An, and introduced myself. She asked lots of questions about Michael before moving on to me, and made sure that my friends and I were well looked after. She immediately treated me as though I was kin. She kept her shop open late just for the refitting and she was caring and attentive to everybody I saw her with.
Due to previous incidents at the cloth market, in which her shop had been wrecked and she had been threatened with violence, Miss Forget-Me-Not was forced to move. It took her a number of years, but in the final half of 2013, she finally got away from the frenzy of the cloth market.
But it's better that way. The cloth market is an assault on your senses. It's stimulation overload. Vietnamese women will attack you with measuring tapes and force photos of Gucci suits directly in your line of vision. You have to be good at saying no and playing along with their games. Or you just learn to ignore them, which feels rude, but becomes a necessity.
All of Vietnam is like this. You can't trust anyone, especially when it comes to your money. Hawkers and locals assail you, asking you to buy something from them…telling you to buy something! They shout and get angry when you don't buy their goods, as if your “western privilege” requires you to do so. But Miss Forget-Me-Not left the sales pitch at the door. She didn't pressure me, her prices were fair and she she was very upfront. Like she told me at the beginning, she's just trying to run an honest business.
The Best Tailor in Hoi An
Many people get suits made for the novelty or simply so they can have a nice suit in their closet at home (raise your hand if you own one suit or less). My decision to get one made was more of a necessity.
As I am also a cocktail bartender, my wardrobe consists of waistcoats, blazers, suspenders and pocket-squares. My closet (or rucksack) often resembles that of a 1920's bootlegger and I couldn't wait to get fitted for a three-piece suit. She put together a beautiful ensemble, and I was overjoyed with the result. She's a true gem.
Now, it's important to realize that one woman cannot make suits for an influx of travelers on a daily basis while also running a shop. She needs a team behind her to mange the busy work. It's run by her uncle and they only hire the best. To my amazement, she brought me to see it. Stepping into the factory, I had this overwhelming “WOAH” moment in which I was transported into another world. The streets of Vietnam are still streets, and I have been on many streets in my life. Never have I been in a Vietnamese suit factory, however. It was a giddy moment in which I saw another side of local life that the majority of other travelers never encounter.
A Vietnamese Adoption
She took me in and treated me like family during my stay in Hoi An. She looked after me, pointed me in the right direction, ensured I was fed, and told me the local secrets.
Not only will Miss Forget-Me-Not hook you up with some beautiful clothes, but she will take you under her wing if you let her. If you're all business, that's fine–she can be, too. But if you are willing to take the time to get to know her, and treat her with a little bit of love, she will give it right back. Every time I stepped into her shop I felt like I was returning home to my family. Her sister, Rose, made regular appearances, and the rest of her colleagues, friends and family were always hanging around, helping, talking, laughing, and simply being wonderfully friendly and welcoming people. It was truly a pleasure getting to know them.
I was so happy to see Miss Forget-Me-Not thriving and, despite her issues at the cloth market, she is moving forward and now operates out of a gorgeous new store. If you're ever in Hoi An, I hope you'll stop in for a visit.
And tell her Jeremy says hello 🙂
Disclaimer: This post was not paid for or biased due to any affiliation with Miss Forget-Me-Not. I had a wonderful experience with her and my only goal is to share it with you.