IT'S NEVER A GREAT feeling to put on that newly bought H&M dress just to spot the same frock on another woman in the street. But with mass-market fashion becoming increasingly ubiquitous, that is often the case.
Making your own clothes and accessories allows you to create something individual - and thrifty, according to do-it-yourself fashion experts Geneva Vanderzeil, the woman behind the A Pair and a Spare blog and author of a new book DIY Fashionista; Vanessa Lawson, who blogs at All Things Indulgent; and handbag designer Jennifer Mak.
So where does an aspiring DIY-er start? The consensus is to skip Western Market in Sheung Wan which is overpriced and aimed at tourists. And while Shenzhen offers more range in materials and better prices, the Sham Shui Po fabric market is the largest and most comprehensive option on this side of the border.
The market comprises the few blocks around Cheung Sha Wan Street. Most of the stores are business-to-business and handle orders from Europe or the United States so will have at least one English-speaking staff member around.
Lawson steers us first to a few stalls on Ki Lung Street in search of jersey. She says if you're only looking to buy a few yards of fabric, then stick to the stalls. The actual stores positioned behind the stalls filled with swatches typically sell in bulk.
Prices are generally negotiable even if you're not buying in bulk. Increase how much you're buying and most store owners will be happy to knock a few dollars off.
"The fabric markets are quite reactionary ," says Vanderzeil. "For example, camouflage will be a trend that comes out during fashion week. Then you'll see it in Zara and then you'll see it in the markets because they're usually the seconds from the factory."
Mak, who uses exotic skins such as ostrich and stingray for her line of high-end purses, is the leather expert. She sources the exotic skins she uses for her handbag collection overseas, but because those are expensive, she creates mock-ups using regular leather from Hing Fat Luen to test designs. She also lines the inside of her bags with Hing Fat Luen's lambskin.
"I'll take the fabric and feel for the stretch. It should stretch a little bit and feel strong," Mak says. "Then I'll turn it on the side and [see if] the dye has permeated all the way through.
"You can see this one is completely brown," she says, holding up the material. "That means it was completely submerged in the tank. For some of the cheaper ones, they just spray-paint it on so if you view it from the side, it won't be the same colour. Those [colours] will be more likely to run."
Across the street is Sun Hing Lung Leather where Lawson picks up scraps. "This is great if you just want a bit of material to create something like leather cuffs. I've also made clutches from these," Lawson says as she rummages through a bin at the front of the store. Some scraps have flaws but the prices tend to be at a further discount. The store also carries faux leather options that are cheap.
If you're looking to channel your inner Kate Middleton with a fascinator (or headpiece), P3 on Ki Lung Street has you covered. It carries ready-made fascinators and all the materials you need to create your own hat. A fascinator base costs between HK$30 and HK$50 depending on the size. Mesh, bows and feathers are all stocked here, too. Small feathers are as cheap as HK$6 per piece, while large ones cost up to HK$40.
Wing Fung Industrial at 201 Yu Chau Street has ribbons, lace and string in almost every colour and size imaginable. Lap Sun Gem (down the street at No245) is where Lawson buys semi-precious stones and pearls. For zippers and buckles, Mak likes Cyber Accessories on 203 Tai Nan Street. For a bit of kitsch, J&J Imitation Jewellery (215 Yu Chau Street) has brightly coloured, crazy, toy-like embellishments and Kiwi Fashion Accessories a few stores down, at No 219, will add bling or sequins to anything.
Tung Shing Sewing Machine at 61 Nam Cheong Street is your one-stop shop for sewing machines and tools. It sells French curve sets, glue guns, buttonhole cutters and top-of-the-line sewing machines from brands Janome and Brother.
Lawson is a fan of Japanese brand Brother's NV30 model. "It's made it so accessible for everyone. It's computerised and has all the patterns, monograms and embroidering saved in there so it's great if you want to teach yourself how to sew," she says. "It was really different to when my mum was sewing. You can select whatever setting you want and quite literally press start."
American brand Singer is another popular choice. Vanderzeil uses its basic Tradition model. She also has a Swedish Husqvarna machine back home in Australia.
A low-end model costs from HK$2,000 to HK$4,000, so sharing with friends is one way around the expense. "Maybe once a week you can sew together, like a craft party," Vanderzeil says.
Lawson recommends making a shopping list before you head out. "You have to be organised or else you can spend hours here and walk away with nothing you planned to get."
Besides Sham Shui Po, most neighbourhood markets will have a few shops for basic sewing and crafts needs. Vanderzeil often visits the stalls along the Pottinger Street steps in Central which have a good variety of haberdashery items including thread, buttons, beading, tassels and even Chinese frog fastenings.
"It's only marginally more expensive - about 10 per cent to 20 per cent [more]," says Vanderzeil. Just a stone's throw away, on Li Yuen Street West, is Fu Lee, which sells silks and fabrics, and Me & George, a second-hand clothes shop. Vanderzeil says she likes to buy cheap items from Me & George, such as a HK$10 shirt, and experiment. Fu Lee silks, she adds, are better quality than those in Sham Shui Po - and double the price.
North Point also has its own mini-fabric market. A sprinkling of craft stores span the length of Marble Road from Tong Shui Road to Kam Hong Street. There are also a few shops that sell cheap clothes which Lawson likes to refashion by adding some beading here or cutting some sleeves off there.
"If you're just starting out and your sewing skills aren't honed yet, it's a good way to DIY rather than start from scratch," says Lawson.
Jewellery, or an A-line or maxi skirt which are relatively simple to make, are also good starter projects.
For inspiration and guidance, Lawson and Vanderzeil's blogs include step-by-step tutorials, while sites such as psimadethis.com and honestlywtf.com can be a source of inspiration. If you're trying to get the look at a lower cost, style.com covers everything being sent down the runways, while Pinterest is bursting with great DIY ideas.
For free downloadable patterns, head to burdastyle.com allfreesewing.com or freeneedle.com Well-curated interior design blog designsponge.com has a section catered to DIY home furnishings that can guide you step by step in refashioning a lampshade or creating your own table runner. Vanderzeil also recommends looking out for wanderandhunt.com a soon-to-be launched site for cool craft supplies.
"You don't have to be a seamstress to make clothes," Vanderzeil says. "The focus of DIY is everyone having a go regardless of what their skill is. We're not trained in fashion design but [like us] that shouldn't stop you from making something beautiful that you love wearing."