A few days ago I finally got to go on the LA shopping trip that was previously cancelled. All in all it was pretty exciting, although I feel the need to apologize to my readers at this point because I have nothing to show for it. No fabric, no pictures, nothing! It wasn’t my first trip to LA, but my only previous venture consisted of no more than 15 minutes of shopping with other people who went in, got what they needed, and got out. This trip was a bit of the same… I went with 3 other people who were all looking for fabrics and trims for skating costumes for younger kids, so we spent a lot of time staring at pink tulle and glitter stretch velvet. Which is fine, but not what I was really interested in buying. Since it was my first time on a big shopping trip there I didn’t really feel comfortable wandering on my own too much, but since my friends go on an almost monthly basis I am sure I will be able to go back and spend more time on my own looking for things I had on my list.
In any case, I thought I would share my thoughts and impressions of my adventure, in case any other seamstresses find themselves on a shopping adventure in California.
Getting to LA: Luckily, I did not have to drive and I was going with people who have been on a regular basis. I think for anyone going the first time, finding parking could be an overwhelming challenge. The parking lots are for the most part hidden on rooftops with various fees for parking. We paid about $5 for all day, but some lots charge more or less. Our lot also allowed us to park our own car, no stacked parking, and we didn’t have to turn over our keys.
Bathrooms: Are few and far between. It seems like a few more commercial restaurants are coming into the area (saw a Subway and a Starbucks), but the bathroom lines were forever. Michael Levine’s also has a restroom – the line was longer than the line for checkout. The building where we parked had a restroom, so that was nice, but it was well hidden and wouldn’t have been seen unless you knew it was there. My advice – go before you go and limit liquid intake while you are shopping.
Food: Most of the food in the area is sold by hotdog street vendors, although there are a few restaurants cropping up on the outskirts of the fabric section of the Fashion District.
Fabric: The LA Fashion District consists of a lot of clothing and accessory stores, with fabric and trim stores located more toward the heart of the area. What is nice is that most stores are clumped by what they are selling – the fabric stores sit on about two square blocks, with a lot of fashion (clothing, accessory, shoe) stores to the south, and the trim and bead stores to the north. What I noticed was that a lot of the stores had very similar fabrics, although the stores we went to did seem to be a bit skewed towards the costume/glittery/stretch material. Some of the stores have the prices posted, but most don’t. The store owners aren’t exactly pushy, but they do want you to spend money. You will hear lots of “I make you good deal” – in general this means they are willing to barter and you should be prepared for this. It is good to shop around a bit because I saw fabric for $6 at one store and was quoted $15/yard at another store for the same fabric (it was $10 by the time I was walking out the door, but still). You have to be willing to dig – most stores have fabric of similar type clumped together on huge rolls, with the rolls stacked five deep at least. In general I would say I found a lot of selection of silk dupioni and silk chiffon, and also a lot of sequined fabric and lots of lace. There were a few placed with charmeuse prints (polyester, not silk), but I wasn’t seeing too much in terms of interesting wool coatings, ITY type knit prints for tops and dresses, or nice pant weight materials. Of course, as I said, it may have been because I was following the people who knew what they wanted and where to get it, so we did skip by a lot of the stores that might have had a bit more selection in these areas. If I were making costumes, party dresses, or wedding gowns I would have been overwhelmed by choices. Since I was instead hoping to stock up on utility fabrics (silk organza, suitings, and the like), I was mostly unable to find what I was looking for at the time.
Michael Levine’s: This is the most traditional fabric store in the area – they carry the largest selection of variety of fabrics (from quilting cottons to woolens and silks), along with notions like buttons, zippers, and threads. Fabric is on bolts and rolls with fiber content and prices, and in this store nothing is negotiable. I had heard lots of good things, so I was excited to go, but I was actually slightly a bit disappointed. My companions considered their prices to be too high, but I would say that they are for the most part rather fair. You won’t find a good deal, but you can find a lot of things at what I would consider to be average prices (in comparison to what I have seen of online fabrics). I was delighted with their selection of silks – not a lot of prints, but they did have a great selection of solid colors. I wasn’t as impressed with their other sections – the wool was overpriced and not of great quality (I have gotten much better online), and I wasn’t too excited by the color choices in cottons, linens, or skating costume fabric. My companions said that they have been there when there have been better choices, and I would probably stop in if I go back to LA, but I found much more interesting fabric in the other smaller shops.
Santee Alley: This isn’t the fabric section of LA, but it is rather an alley full of nameless stores selling accessories, shoes, and clothes at rock bottom prices. You won’t find quality here – it is rather like shopping at cheap accessory stores at the mall, only with better prices. I wasn’t too excited by the things here, but the non-sewing members of our parts had quit a fun time looking at accessories, shoes, and finished gowns. It wasn’t as crowded or crazy as I had imagined, but of the places we had gone it probably is the one area you really want to watch your purse.
Bead/Trim Stores: I didn’t get to any of the trim stores, but we did go into a few of the bead stores. So. Much. Bling! There were beads, rhinestones, and trims in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I don’t like to order rhinestones until after I have completed a dress (that way if it doesn’t work out and I have to change designs/fabric/colors I haven’t sunk a lot into the rhinestones ahead of time), but there were a lot of options for costuming and jewelry design. I didn’t think the prices were particularly good – most were on par or way higher than prices I had seen online, but there were some additional variety and having everything available all in one place was really nice.
Overall, despite the fact that I didn’t actually buy anything, I am glad I went. I think the first trip is a bit overwhelming, and there is so much fabric that it can be a bit hard to choose. I didn’t want to buy a lot of fabric only to find something better later on, but since my companions were buying as they went we didn’t really have time to go back to stores at the end of the day. I think in the future I would probably want to wander on my own a bit more, then go back and make purchases after taking in an overview of the selection. Also, I think since I was looking for some very specific items I was too focused on not finding what I was looking for, instead of seeing the potential for fabrics I was finding. In the future I think if I want something very specific but sort of generic (like black silk organza or shiny spandex in a very specific shade of red) I will turn to my online resources, where I can usually find what I am looking for in a few minutes.
Next time I go to the Fashion District I think I will spend less time looking for one specific thing and more time just looking in general – I will probably be happier with what I find. Also, I won’t be as worried about splitting up and wandering on my own since I have a bit more of a feel for the area now. And I won’t be spending as much time in the trinket stores – for me it’s all about the fabric. Hopefully next time I can get to the Michael Levine Loft (fabric by the pound – by the pound!), and to more of the trim stores. I didn’t really see anywhere with a large button selection – something else I would want to search out in a future visit. Also, since the next trip will probably be a bit closer to regional time, I will probably have a better idea of what rhinestones I will need and be a bit more willing to stock up in that department. While I wish I had found something new and spiffy to show off, I didn’t want to buy fabric simply for the experience of buying fabric, so I suppose that overall it is just as well. I am still really happy that I went, and I hope I can go back in the future.