As some of you may have seen on Instagram, I have recently got back from a trip to India. This will be my third time over there – oh how I love it! This last time I went for both a holiday – 10 days in Goa and fabric/trimmings shopping – 3 days in Mumbai.
India for me is the most inspirational place. I spend most of my time there with my mouth open, overwhelmed and fascinated. I could go on and on about the many wonders but I think you may get bored! Instead I thought you might find it interesting to hear about fabric shopping – where to go, what to expect, and the best time of year to visit.
I have been to both Delhi and Mumbai – two of the biggest cities in India and great places to pick up some fabulous fabrics. There are many other wonderful places in Northern India to get fabrics, but Delhi and Mumbai offer fabric shopping that is manageable and not too overwhelming. This post is all about the best places to head to in Mumbai.
Where to go
If you jump in a cab in Mumbai and ask them to take you to the fabric shops, they may well take you to Dadar. Here, there are more upmarket shops that sell predominantly Indian fabrics suitable for saris. They may assume that as a westerner that you will want air conditioned shops and inflated prices to go with it. I fell into the trap of letting my taxi driver take me to three different shops. All were not what I was looking for and took three precious hours out of my day. I wished I had just gone where I knew I wanted to go: Mangaldas Market.
Mangaldas Market is the fabric market that sits within Crawford Market which is where you can go to get pretty much anything. Streets are organised by products: stationery, jewellery, toys. It is fascinating and endless. When I say ‘market’, you might think that this is streets full of stalls but actually it is more like streets with lots of shops so you arrive and wonder if you are there.
Mangaldas Market, however, does feel more like a ‘market’. It is in a building, full of tiny little shops that are all raised up above the pathways. It is a bit of a rabbit warren. But if you look up at the shop signs, you will noticed it is organised into lanes and you can get back to where you started!
When you arrive I would recommend taking a look around first. Make a note of the first shop you see and its position. Unfortunately you will get hassled. People will try and take you to their shops or offer themselves as a guide. Just politely but firmly decline unless you are genuinely interested in what is in their shop. You may also be the only westerner in the fabric market, so be prepared for more attention that you would get in more touristy areas of the city.
There are a lot of shops selling Indian fabrics and some that sell only cottons and more western prints. When you see something you like, ask for them to show you it. It is not polite to just climb up into their shop. You can ask if you can come up, but you will be asked to take your shoes off. Once you have expressed that you like a particular print or type of fabric, they will probably then start unravelling everything they have that is similar. This is part of the fun but don’t feel any pressure to buy more! You can simply buy a few metres of one fabric.
You can try and haggle – you will probably be paying a ‘foreigner price’ so there is always room to knock them down a bit. Don’t be scared of playing the walk away game! I do it all the time. It can also be overwhelming on the maths side of things so don’t be afraid to take a calculator and work it out. If you are buying more, you will get a better price. I recommend getting a receipt from the shop, not because you will be able to exchange the next day, but because you can then keep the shop details for if you want to come back.
Another tip is to check the fabric as they are measuring it. Sometimes the fabric has damages or is dirty. I have made the mistake of buying 20m of a fabric and then finding out it had a print error every metre so we couldn’t use it for anything.
When to go
India is best from November-February. You can of course go at other times but remember rainy season is June-August and other months of the year will be even hotter. There are fans in the little shops in the market but it is hot even in winter, so I recommend going there at the start of your day. The market opens around 10-11am and closes around 9pm.
Where to stay
I would recommend staying in Colaba – it is the touristy part of Mumbai, where all the big hotels are and some very nice restaurants. It is also only about 10-15 mins cab ride from Mangaldas market. We were lucky enough to get an amazing deal and stayed in Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
It is very extravagant and took a bit of getting used to, but it was a lovely haven to come back to and recover from the madness of the city. But there are many other more affordable hotels. Traffic in Mumbai is crazy so if you are only stopping off I would recommend staying in Colaba so you are close to the market and a lot of other sites to see.
What to expect
Both times that I have been shopping, I have had a guy with me (my boyfriend Matt or an agent). To be honest I prefer having someone else with me. I don’t feel unsafe as a woman but I know I would probably get more hassle if I wasn’t accompanied by someone else. It doesn’t have to be a man. You could always arrange for the hotel to get you a driver/guide. It is normal to take a cab and have the cab driver wait for you so they would stay in the cab but you could arrange for someone else to come with you. The cab drivers will wait as long as you want but make sure you agree on the hourly fee before you get in. The black and yellow cabs are not air conditioned, the blue and white ones, ‘cool cabs’, are and are a bit more expensive.
If you are shopping with a man, then expect them to speak to him first and for him to pay. It’s a cultural thing and once they realise you are the one paying, they will address you.
You don’t need to worry about language – most speak English – some better than others.
If you are buying a bit, they may offer you chai. If you don’t want it, it’s completely fine to say no. They won’t be offended. I find that as long as you smile and polite, a firm no is fine.
And finally, know what you like and what you want before you go into the market. I even write it down sometimes so force myself to stay focused! Otherwise I get overwhelmed and my magpie tendencies kick in – and I end up buying things I don’t need, or often want. As I like to think, go in with a plan and you can’t go wrong!
If you’re off to India soon have an amazing time, and happy shopping!