Yongle Market (永樂市場) on Dihua Street (迪化街) might not be the center of Taiwan’s textile industry anymore, but it’s still the place for professional designers and hobbyists to buy fabric and sewing supplies.
The market is currently located on the second floor of a somewhat rundown concrete structure tacked onto a colonial-era facade. It looks unimpressive, until you climb up to the second floor and discover the wonderland of fabric and notions within. The area was occupied by a garden until 1908, when it was converted into a marketplace under Japanese rule. Since the 1950s, the neighborhood has been known as the center of the fabric trade in Taiwan, but its economic importance has declined as textile production is outsourced to China and other countries.
Several big names in the Taiwanese fashion industry, including Isabelle Wen (溫慶珠), however, got their start in the area around Yongle Market, which is still home to many tailors and dressmakers. The Taipei City government plans to refurbish the current building by next year.
Fabric seller Howard Lu (呂國華), who wrote his masters thesis on the history of Yongle Market, hopes government agencies will also do more to promote the fabric market, as they do Dihua Street during the Lunar New Year. “If they make an effort to publicize it, it might become a real tourist attraction and not just a restroom stop for people shopping on Dihua. Fabric is such a core part of our lives. It’s with us every second,” says Lu.
SHOPPING IN YONGLE MARKET
Fabric stalls are crowded next to each other on the second floor and despite some rudimentary attempts at organization, it is easy for shoppers to experience feelings of deja vu as they meander around endless bolts of fabric. The stalls are divided into six “streets,” or aisles, so if you get lost, look for the green signs hanging overhead at the ends and in the middle of each aisle.
Most fabric is sold by the chi (尺) or ma (碼), measurement units that are equivalent to one-third or about nine-tenths of a meter, respectively. Yongle Market is located at 21, Dihua St Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市迪化街一段21號) and is open Mondays to Saturdays from 10am to 6pm and closed on Sundays.
Novelty prints from Japan are available in abundance at Yongle. Popular motifs include matrushka dolls, silhouetted figures of girls in fluffy skirts, shiny red apples, fairy-tale figures prancing around with woodland creatures and chubby mushrooms in colors not found in nature.
For one of Yongle’s largest selections of prints that mix kawaii sweetness with a retro twist, go to Lu’s store, Huahsing (華興, No. 2018, tel: (02) 2559-3960), where most of the cotton fabric is about NT$100 per ma. Linen with equally precious prints are about NT$390 per ma. Similar fabrics can also be found at Niaochufang (鳥居紡, No. 2076, tel: (02) 2552-1180). For neatly bundled 55cm by 60cm calico remnants for smaller projects, check out Hsinhe (欣和, No. 2053, tel: (02) 2559-3000).
A prodigious selection of gingham, plaid and striped fabric can be found at Wutangching (吳當慶, No. 2014, tel: (02) 2558-4964). Polyester gingham fabric is NT$90 per ma, while the 100-percent cotton version is just NT$15 more. Other stores that specialize in checked or striped fabrics include Yuanchun (元均, No. 2033, tel: (02) 2559-2574) and Hsinhsing (信興, No. 2031, tel: (02) 2555-5005). Chentehehao (陳德和號, No. 2057, tel: (02) 2556-3880) offers summer-friendly seersucker fabrics for NT$150 per ma and flannel for NT$180 per ma.