China is associated with many things: exotic food, wild landscapes, rapid economic change, the list goes on. For me, when I think of China, I am often reminded of times spent in tailors’ shops.
I have travelled in China on numerous occasions and have lived there a couple of times. My longest spell there was when I studied at Nanjing University in Jiangsu province for a year during my undergraduate degree in 2010/11. Before leaving Sheffield, where I was studying, previous students had mentioned how Chinese taste in clothes differed greatly from that of the English-the subject of which I am sure I will write about fully in another post. Instead of trawling to metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing a cheap and fun way of getting what you wanted was to get garments made. Previously, I would have thought this only affordable when I was well established in my career but I was wrong. Subsequently, some of my fondest memories in Nanjing were of finding tailors in the chaotic and damp streets behind the university dorms and entering bizarre cross-lingual and artistic collaborations with the men I encountered.
In a series of posts I thought I would share my adventures with these Nanjing tailors.
I stumbled across my first tailor purely by coincidence when I was on a curious rambling to avoid the claustrophobia of eating, sleeping and working in the same room with my (lovely) American roommate. The company- I use the term loosely to describe the casual band of people who worked in a three-walled concrete hut with a folding trellis front door- was ‘Hong Bang’, a suit tailor which turned its hands to other garments too. Before investing too much money on getting something made I decided to test the waters and get some shorts made. Inspired by the red gingham shorts worn by the protagonist X in the film ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ I bought the exact material I wanted from the local cloth market 布布布(Bububu or Cloth Cloth Cloth) and took it to the shack along with a pair of shorts I already owned to get the shape copied. A week later I returned to collect my custom made shorts for the not so grand sum of £8 (material inclusive!) and proceeded to sway my happy, gingham booty along Nanjing’s streets. My first custom made garment was a success! Incidentally, the greatest admirers of the shorts were guys, I leave you to judge why…
Later in the year Hong Bang provided some of my Sheffield classmates with (deliberately) ostentatious suits which they loved to wear during speaking exams to curry favour with the teachers.