“Hello boss, nice to meet you.”
Another day at the office? No, a Koh Samui tailor has just identified you as a potential customer. He’s eager to get you looking your very best in one of his creations. A familiar approach, “Armani suit for you, my friend?”, occurs all over and ranges from affable to obsequious, at various levels of tenacity.
Koh Samui tailors
With dozens of tailors around Samui, you’re bound to encounter one during your stay. Their shop-fronts (found on the beach, along high streets and in towns) suggest direct access to designs and fabrics from the big names in fashion, at very low prices. Some have shop names you’ll recognise, in familiar fonts: ARMANI! ZARA! (and friends).
Should you do it? I don’t have strong feelings, just a general distaste for persistent salesmen who get in the way and want to shake hands to celebrate our blossoming friendship. Ever a student of science, I undertook a trial transaction. Here I’ll relate my single experience of such enterprise.
Our date with the tailor
I was on holiday in Phuket, my family’s first trip to Thailand. The prices and catalogues impressed me, so we ordered a suit in Armani fabric, and a silk dress. I confirmed that both could be completed before our departure date, paid a substantial deposit and went back to the pool.
Plan gone awry
That was the plan – it actually became a series of fittings and re-fittings, corrections and re-makes, missed deadlines and phone calls leading to a last-minute delivery by motorcycle on the morning of my departure. Looking back, this is par for the course in Thailand, but it wasn’t the stress-free holiday I had in mind.
Not so satisfactory
Was I finally satisfied, when the dust settled? Not at all. In the rush, the suit was somehow transformed from Armani fabric to a very cheap material that wouldn’t have looked good even if it fitted correctly. Which it didn’t.
The dress emerged from the bag as badly made as the first attempt. Back home, we gave these experiments away without ever wearing them, and classified the whole thing as a learning experience.
Understand the rules and risks
Do I classify all Koh Samui tailors as incompetents and crooks? Of course not. But, if you’re going to deal with them you need to understand the rules and the risks. You must accept that, no matter what happens, you are not going to get any money back – ever!
After you’ve paid the deposit and told the tailor your departure date, they hold all the cards. If you’re not satisfied, they’ll keep trying until you run out of patience or time.
Best- and worst-case scenarios
The best outcome will be that you go home well satisfied, with well-made clothes that fit like a dream. Or, like me, you could get nothing usable in return for your investment. Probably most transactions fall somewhere between these extremes.
What’s your holiday worth?
Our conclusion was that, factoring in the risk and the amount of precious holiday time spent hanging around for fitting, re-fitting, deliveries, more fitting… we would not do it again (until we did – see update below). You, as a responsible consumer, should make your own judgment. The sheer volume of tailor shops across Koh Samui suggests that – contrary to my experience – there are happy customers out there.
Recently, we tried another tailor in Thailand – this time in Bangkok. Again, our order was a man’s suit and a woman’s dress. Three things were different this time:
- We had realistic expectations that things rarely go to (a foreigner’s) plan in Thailand.
- We had all the time in the world.
Third, we went to a recommended tailor, rather than being persuaded to buy while walking past. I don’t know if this made a difference to us being treated as serious customers rather than novice tourists, but it’s possible.
With no return flights looming, or any particular itinerary, we were able to return for the many (many) fittings needed to get the perfect suit and dress we were promised.
Unless the tailor’s shop is near your hotel, these extra visits mean more travel time and taxi cost coming out of your vacation.
This time, the suit and dress are excellent quality and we’ll wear them often, but I still wouldn’t recommend the activity as something to squeeze into a busy vacation itinerary. It was a big time investment at a not-insubstantial cost – there are easier ways to clothe yourself.
What else should you know in advance?
Put my 15 years’ Koh Samui experience in your pocket and never make the travel mistakes I’ve made in that time! Get The Koh Samui Guide for an honest assessment of common pitfalls to avoid on Koh Samui, and to perfectly plan your excursions, sight-seeing and shopping trips. Download it now and you won’t miss an inch of this island!