Get Inside One of the Biggest Fabric Markets in China
If you’re the type to get overwhelmed by too many choices, a trip to China’s Zhongda fabric market, in the city of Guangzhou, is probably not the place for you. But it’s mecca to NYC-based designer Szeki Chan, who travels there a couple of times a year to unfurl bolts of amazing materials and to oversee production for 7115 by Szeki, her line of drapey, convertible staples, at her atelier near the market. She showed us what it takes for a successful scouting outing—and, um, get ready ‘cause dodging cars indoors here is a real thing!
Szeki steels herself outside the market.
“The first time in the fabric market is definitely overwhelming, but after many years of going, you can identify where the high-quality vendors are and make sure you save a good chunk of time with them. I spend a whole day at the market, and I like to find my fabrics there because of the sheer amount of choices. When it comes to linen and silk, the quality is hard to beat.”
Carts and vans drive inside the market—so you’ve gotta watch where you’re going.
“There are over 4,000 vendors, so it’s really important to be strategic with your time, to break for meals and re-energize. And to know when to stop! I am always pumped to find new, innovative fabrics. The only overwhelming aspect of the market for me now is the amount of inspiration I get while I'm there. Each fabric is a new possibility! I only work with vendors who have set prices, so no haggling.”
Szeki with her market guide Mrs. Zhou, who knows every last thread in Zhongda.
“We have one dedicated member on the Szeki team, Mrs. Zhou, who specializes in sourcing fabric, walk the market weekly to research new fabrics and bring in samples for review. This helps save time and energy. We look over samples in the vendors’ showrooms and then take swatches back to the studio to make final selections and place orders. It takes a few weeks to get the fabrics delivered.”
Layers and layers of laces!
“My parents both worked with garments—my dad used to own a textile-manufacturing business, and my mom was a seamstress—back when clothing was made, well, not fast. The number one lesson they taught me was the importance of having high standards.”
Back at Szeki’s Guangzhou studio, her head seamstress Yang weighs in on her fabric scores.
“This is Yang, our head seamstress. She has been working with us for over three years and works with me and our production director to discuss the pros and cons of different finishes and to finalize construction details of the upcoming season's samples. Our seamstresses have extensive experience with construction, so their input is invaluable to me and to the collection. I try to be pretty rigorous with my standards. We rub all the fibers and make sure the colors are consistent. I favor classic and neutral shades, which fit well with my designs.”
What’s more hands-on than being your own fit model?
“I try on every sample. Every 7115 customer comes to us for an investment piece that will work hard for their wardrobe—that they know will make them feel and look good. We want to leave everyone with the impression that our garments are beautifully crafted with amazing fabric and solid construction.”