I’ve successfully tested a proposition: You can commission traditional garments from tailor shops in India and Pakistan, via eBay.
Doing this makes use of a polite fiction. You start by going to eBay and typing in a search string like women clothing salwar sari. This puts you in the land of Indian-subcontinent clothing makers. Now, the conceit of eBay is that it sells existing concrete objects; but if these guys sell you a salwar kameez (that is, the traditional Indo-Pakistani pantsuit plus matching dupatta or stole), and you send them the list of measurements they request, out of the kindness of their hearts they’ll throw in all the cutting, sewing, embroidery, etc., required for a complete outfit made to your measure.
I’m all for this. It means you can buy semi-directly from Third World suppliers, instead of having several rounds of importers and wholesalers taking their percentage along the way. The range of products on offer is wider, because you’re not limited to whatever some importer guessed would sell in the United States this season. And if these small manufacturers make good money by selling us good stuff, we’ll not only be happier with each other, but we’ll be real to each other in a way we weren’t before.
How to find these vendors:
There are three signs to look for. First, if the listing says any size, it usually means they’re making clothing to order, but might mean they’re selling the same model in multiple sizes. Second, the accompanying photo shows, not finished garments, but two or three pieces of color-coordinated fabric wrapped around a dressmaker’s form. Not all bespoke-tailoring vendors do this, but all the vendors who do it are selling bespoke tailoring. The third and infallible sign is that they ask you for your measurements.
The base price for a made-to-order three-piece salwar kameez starts around $30 for something simple in a cotton or synthetic fabric, and goes up to the lower-middle three digits for wedding garments so dense with gold embroidery that they mess up flash photography. Shipping runs around $12-$25, so check before you bid.
Report on the experiment:
Using the proceeds of my CafePress t-shirt sales, I ordered three salwar kameez (kameezi? kameezes?) from three different vendors. Only one auction was contested. The average purchase price was $39.00.
All three purchases arrived within two weeks. All three fit. All three vendors misunderstood or ignored my request for elbow-length sleeves, but they all got the trousers right (nipped in at the ankle, with a small cuff).
Specifics, good and bad: Indianartcart were were the first to deliver, but the edges of the dupatta were raw fabric, unevenly trimmed, so I had to roll handkerchief hems on both sides to finish it.
Bollywoodfashion produced comfortable and undeniably flashy garments (some of the decorative beads and sequins turned out to be fluorescent), but the beading and embroidery are not of durable execution, and the kameez needed to be lined but wasn’t.
Indiashop1 is my favorite so far. They made the red-and-blue outfit I wore to the Hugos and the WFC banquet. The kameez is fully lined; the lightweight silky trousers survived unscathed a bad fall I took over a brick coping; and someone named Alka at the home office kept me apprised of each new development, and fretted intensely throughout a shipping snafu that temporarily sent my salwar kameez to a warehouse in New Jersey.
Overall experience: I’d do it again. I’d deal with any of those vendors again. And I’d recommend it to a friend.