LA’s Fashion District – a survival guide for the uninitiated

Shiny Fabrics courtesy of John_X
Shiny Fabrics courtesy of John_X

So, I’m planning to trek downtown to the Fashion District tomorrow.  I like to think of myself as pretty handy with a sewing machine, but not handy enough that I feel like dropping a lot of cash on fancy fabric would be a good idea.  (My number of sewing successes are outnumbered by my sewing failures by about ten to one, but my dreams of being a fashion icon will never die!)  The Fashion District is my most favorite place to go for fabric and sewing supplies on the cheap, plus it’s also a really vibrant, fun part of town.  But the rows and rows of fabric stores selling polyester at 1.99 a yard can be kind of overwhelming if you’ve never been before, so here’s my survival guide for making it out of the Fashion District in one piece.

Wear comfy shoes. You’ll probably end up doing lots of walking.  Also, parking in the Fashion District is (predictably) not good, so I’d suggest taking Metro – I usually take the Red Line to Pershing Square and then walk over, which isn’t too bad of a stroll.  While the district is pretty big, most of the textile merchants are in and around Maple Street, between 8th and Olympic.

Have a plan. There have been times when I have, very idealistically, ventured downtown thinking that the right fabric and pattern will just jump right off the shelf at me, but this almost never happens.  I find that there is just so much to choose from I can get easily overwhelmed.  It’s been my experience that it’s better to know what you’re looking for and what you want to make, and to arm yourself with a list.  Having said this…be flexible, too, because you never know what deals you’ll find.

Haggle? The question mark is there because I have never actually tried haggling, ever.  I’m just not ballsy enough and I have no idea what kind of price point is good and what kind would sound totally unreasonable.  But you should do it!  It can be done, or so I’ve heard!  And let me know how it goes, so that next time maybe I’ll feel brave enough to try talking down a few prices myself.

Don’t be put off by all of the neon lycra and fun fur. There is a lot of that shit in the Fashion District.  But trust me, and don’t let the unfortunate relics of a less civilized sartorial period put you off!  If you actually go past the bolts of awful spandex, there are hidden treasures that await inside those stores!   You just have to dig.

Dig, dig, dig.  Seriously.  That’s the fun part.  It’s like searching for treasure in Dungeons and Dragons!

In terms of stores to try, I’ve had really good luck on Wall Street, which is a couple blocks East of Santee Alley, the Fashion District’s main thoroughfare.  You should for sure go to Mike’s Fabrics, at 821 Wall Street, because they have amazing silks at really great prices.  It’s also one of the cleanest, most well-organized shops in the area, and the owners are a wonderful, friendly couple.  My other favorite spot to hit is the Michael Levine Loft, at 920 Maple, where everything is $2 a pound!  Of course, it’s also all randomly thrown in giant bins, and for every amazing piece of fabric there are at least ten totally awful ones, but if you give yourself time to dig, there’s some great stuff to be had for super cheap!

If you have any other favorite spots in the Fashion District, or any tips for other places to get sewing stuff in LA, leave them in the comments!

8 Replies to “LA’s Fashion District – a survival guide for the uninitiated”

  1. the only place i every haggle at is the fabrick shop on the SOUTH-WEST corner of 8th and Maple. great fabrick cheep. as for patterns, go to Joannas Fabricks, they have $.99 patter sales at least once a month.

  2. Michael Levine sends out a monthly email with listing of all the special sales…http://www.mlfabrics.net/newsletter/PDF/january.pdf

    I buy a lot (or have bought a lot) of fabric at thrift stores so now I only go downtown if I need something specific (matching colors, etc), otherwise I go into sensory overload and want to buy it all. I am a fabric junkie I confess.
    St Vincent de Paul’s main store, 210 N. Avenue 21 (www.svdpla.org) sometimes has rolls of fabric and incredibly low prices. I bought a roll of two tone striped green silk that has made curtains for two rooms and several other projects and there’s still enough left for—other things.
    I also got a bolt of a blue green batiked cotton fabric–only problem was (and why it was donated), the color didn’t sent, and continues to leach out when washed. (lesson: you don’t always know what you’re getting). Most of their fabrics (cut pieces on hangers in another room with bedding stuff) is 99cts a yard or so.
    If your sewing skills are up to making a simple jacket and you want something special, consider using a light upholstery fabric. If it’s predominantly cotton, you can wash it to preshrink and then treat as any other fabric. Some upholstery fabrics can be used on both sides, which if you use plain trim to finish the edges gives you a reversible jacket, or just one with a great look.
    Same thing if you find a small piece for a good price, you can make placemats which are both more colorful and durable than what can be found in stores.
    Keep your needles sharp and happy sewing!

  3. Metro: For those that either don’t want the walk from Pershing Square you can take the red line to the 7th Street/Metro stop, then take the “E” DASH bus (.25 cents), it will drop you right in the heart of the Fashion District.

    Stores: OK, there’s more to the Fashion District than fabric! There are ready made clothes. Unfortunately, unless you are very familiar with brands and pricing, it can be very intimidating. And there are lots of problems with knockoffs and counterfeit product in downtown. When I saw this article I thought “Goodie! Finally a true guide to the Fashion District!” But, that’s not what this was – bummer.

    Does anyone know of a guide, directory, website – whatever – that will give the lowdown on the stores, lines, etc.?

  4. @Bettie: I’m pretty sure you won’t find a Field Guide to the shops of the fashion district. Things change every time I visit. So I can’t imagine anyone caring enough to compile a store-by-story guide or directory of the area. As for the “lines,” there are no lines. You won’t find “lines” there. Everything is a knockoff. Most of the clothes are abysmally cheap sweatshopped garments imported from free-trade economic enterprise zones around the world like south america and the phillipines.

    I really think you have to approach it as an urban safari.

    Re. haggling, I like to browse and overhear the owner quoting prices to other people who come in. Then I have an idea of the prices and usually shoot them a lowball. Start low. Bring cash–small bills–so you can say to them, “Look, this is all I have,” and produce a sad, lonely $10 bill from your wallet. This works pretty well.

  5. I’m glad someone actually blogged about this! I’m an old veteran of the Fashion District — my mom used to take me with her here all the time, so I got to know the streets well as I dashed to put change in our meter while she shopped. My mom had all her clothes custom-made (we called them her “uniform”) and later went down there all the time to get fabrics for her wedding decorations and seat covers. She was a veteran of haggling. Her haggling was best with stores/store owners she frequented often.

    And so it also goes with my experience with the Flower District, which is literally down the street on Wall Street. She would shop, I would bring flowers and other packages back to our car (often dodging Skid Row residents offering to watch our van for money). My mom frequented certain wholesalers, so she always got a deal from them.

    Patience is definitely key. I don’t go to the Fashion District much at all anymore and instead use my patience to paw through the racks at discounters like Burlington, Ross or Marshall’s.

  6. Don’t forget the store at FIDM! The clothes aren’t much, but the fabrics are amazing. There’s also a number of places that carry African mudcloth, kente cloth, Indian block prints, etc. You have to poke around.

  7. And haggling with a guy who has a store-front of knockoffs made in sweatshops? Stay classy.

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