Notions Market

Over the weekend, the class took a trip to the notions market in Shanghai. Located in the old, touristy part of Shanghai, it was nice to see such a literal blast from the past still standing strong. The notions market is a giant building, or series of buildings filled with small stalls and rooms, each specializing in the bits necessary for completing articles of clothing. It seemed kind of extraneous — why would there need to be an entire market dedicated to selling baubles, the cuffs on sports jackets, elastic for briefs, and belt buckles — but these items completed clothing.

I appreciated being there because the market made me nostalgic, it was a relic from a past standing defiantly in the age of mechanized production. Upon closer inspection, traces of the modern era were visible, even here. Some shops on the second floor had closed down and hadn’t been replaced by a new shop. Marveling at the intricate handiwork I was surrounded by:  beading, lace, and embroidery found here, I wondered whose handiwork I was admiring. Perhaps the shopkeepers or the people the shopkeepers knew. I got the impression that this wasn’t the case when I som shopkeepers snipping loose threads off some sort of lace trim. It seemed that they had bought a bunch of these from some factory and were preparing the items for sale.

The buyer’s identities were also a mystery. Other than old people and foreigners who wouldn’t spend enough time in Shanghai to set up the necessary accounts to purchase items online or make friends who wouldn’t mind doing so for them, I wasn’t sure if there was a market for the goods at the notions market. Personally, I wanted to return, in part because I want to support these ‘brick and mortar’ shops, but also because it’s good to feel and see the material with your own hands and eyes. No doubt, the shopkeepers could also provide advice. At the same time, while writing this post, I was reminded that I had wanted to buy patches at the notions market and opened Taobao and have found some very nice patches that I’m not sure were available at the notions market. I’ll make a purchase within the next few days. With shipping, they’re priced a bit more expensive than those at the market.

When we asked about the price of a popular bunny keychain, we were told 20 RMB. We were surprised to find the price for a similar or possibly the exact same item was about 20 RMB as well. I assume the price similarities extend to all the goods in the market. Hopefully, there are enough people making handmade or custom garments for the notions market to continue its legacy.

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