Last November, I had the opportunity to visit the Los Angeles Fashion District (LAFD). It was a great experience that was very different from what I experienced in New York’s Fashion District (NYFD) in Manhattan. I visited both in search of fabrics and notions, not pre-made clothes that I’m not sure would better fit me or my small budget. It is in these contexts that I want to share with you what I found. And I wonder how different my perspective is from Evelina Galli who lives in LA. Evelina?

LAFD felt larger than NYFD, but probably only because buildings in Manhattan so high that they could easily get more office space in a smaller section of town. A lot of NY’s clothing stores in its Fashion District are not on the ground floor, where the fabric and notion shops are. In LA, pre-made garment stores are just located in a different section of the Fashion District than the textiles section. You can get a glimpse of what I’m talking about looking at this map.

Shopping for fabrics and notions, then, LAFD felt a lot smaller than NYDF. It was pretty much all in a 2×3 block area on the map. Eighth Avenue to Olympia Blvd (10th Ave) covered LAFD one way, and San Julian to Maple Street covered it the other way, with 2-3 streets in between pending which block you’re on in the other direction. However, at about five small but well packed stores per side of block, two street sides per block, 15 street blocks counting the edges of the area, you’re not going to be running out of shops to hit any time soon! Doing the math suggests about 150 stores, with room for the occasional large store and store not selling fabrics or notions. That felt about right for the 2+ days I spent shopping in the textiles section of LAFD.

The stores in LAFD are a lot like the ones in NY in how they tend to be small and cramped. There was a lack of bigger, departmental style stores in LAFD, though, where prices are set, with more selection and more general selection. The only big fabric store I found in LAFD was Levine’s. Like the big stores in NYFD, their prices were ridiculously compared to the little stores all around it. However, I guess there are enough rich and snobby fashionistas to keep them in business because the place was definitely buzzing! I did find some stunning stuff there, like buttons with Chinese characters and all kinds of other pictures on them. You could even design your own button and they’d make it for you, though I didn’t look into it at the price of over $10 a button. But it’s nice the service is there! I would say visit Levine’s for their craft supplies, if nothing else. Some things are definitely worth the price, especially if it’s what you need or want and you can’t find it anywhere else!

I spent most of my shopping time in LAFD among the little, individually owned, fabric stores. Their owners tended to be ethnic, mostly counting Jewish, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Indian and East Asian, rather than Caucasian. There were a much greater percentage of ethnic owners in LAFD than NYFD, and that meant a lot more bargaining to be had. Some were more flexible to bargain than others, but I found a scouting trip around to see, both, what was available, and for what price, to be helpful. For one thing, you held the power spot in bargaining in that you could walk away, prompting some to drop the price immediately on what they just told you when you asked the price. You definitely have to ask the price, like in many similar NYFD stores, because very little had any sort of a price tag on it. You can also find out the pushy salespeople, too. One guy offered me $1 off per yard of a selection of several cheap fabrics I had asked him about, if I bought it right there and then for “good luck”. When I asked him if I could get the same price coming back in a few hours after seeing what else was out there, he snapped at me, saying “not good luck then”! Well, he wasn’t going to get any luck from me, needless to say! I don’t recall the name of the store, but I know exactly where it is so the next time I am there (and I will be back), I won’t even step in the door!

From the outside, the first big difference I noticed among LAFD fabric and notion stores compared to NYFD ones was that the LAFD stores tended to be more specialized in what they sold. Because it was warm out, most displayed fabrics on to the sidewalk. However, most stores only displayed a few types of fabrics at most, if not only one, like all fleece. Walking inside, I saw many were true to their sidewalk displays in that they had either only the one type or similar types of fabrics, or that the vast majority of their selections were of those fabrics. That’s not to say there weren’t more general fabric stores that had a wide variety of fabrics. There were just a lot of specialized fabric stores. Further, they tended to be even on the same block, like there was practically a fleece only block! I’m not sure why that would be, but that’s how it was in LAFD. The organization made it easy to see who’s got what and at what prices. In many cases, there was no price difference, and little selection difference, so it seemed sales skills were what got one more business than another… or laziness if you came at one end of the short block and were willing to walk to the other. However, if you looked hard, or asked, you will find each has some deals and some different stocks. Some fleece stores specialized in NFL professional football fleece, whereas others focused on colleges.

The big difference I found when I went inside the LAFD fabric stores, compared to NYFD stores, were the prices. They don’t list most of it, but they list some to give you an idea what range you were looking at. Variations weren’t much for similar fabrics. Things were ridiculously cheaper in the LAFD stores! I can’t stress that enough, for sure! I am certain rent is a lot cheaper in LAFD than NYFD, but the prices most of these stores were charging made me hesitant to use my credit card in case one of those stores needed its help later on to stay afloat! Cash is highly recommended in LAFD, and they’ll sell stuff to you tax free if you pay in cash, too. I’m not crazy to be using plastic in a lot of the NYFD stores, either, but I’d be carrying a lot more cash in NYFD shopping for fabrics than in LAFD if I wanted to go home with any volume of stuff. The way owners in both FDs barter and such, I’d recommend carrying small bills, and not all in one place to give away the fact you might be willing to spend lots of money. They see that and they won’t be giving you nearly as many deals. Act like you’re poor or are a cheapskate and they’ll give you the appropriate prices.

Now, how cheap is LAFD? Well, I saw a lot of fleece for $3 a yard! Think about what you see fleece here in Canada and take a guess how much you’re being ripped off by. It’s not all the local stores’ fault, though. Many dealers just have “Canadian prices” for everything when selling to Canadian stores and customers, still marked up as if our dollar was at the level 20 years ago compared to the US dollar. More ridiculous, perhaps, was licenced fleece at about $6-8 per yard. Never mind you’d never find a lot of it in Nova Scotia, you’d never get it at anywhere near the price. Some of the superhero fleece panels sold here for about $28 were sold for $7.50 to $9 in LAFD. They were about the same price as here in NYFD.

I would venture to guess the vast majority of fabrics sold in LAFD were below $10 a yard. There were Chinese brocade for less than $10 a yard, which kept me for a long time deciding what I wanted cause I could have spent $500 if I were willing to let myself! I would even bet most of the fabric in LAFD were $5 a yard or less, which made life difficult for me to shop with so much affordable on a limited budget. Most of LAFD was within my price range! There was relatively little in NYFD that was so a lot of fabric choices were automatically eliminated with my self-imposed rules. Each purchase in NYFD had to be carefully considered, and a little breath taken before committing to buying just about everything there. Spandex in LAFD was easily half the price it was in NYFD, though there wasn’t a spandex store by name. That meant I had to come across the store, but it had just as much selection as Spandex World in NYFD. Fortunately for me, for what I had at Spandex World last October, I only lost $15 in potential savings from what I found in LAFD spandex stores.

The cheaper prices in LAFD stores compared to NYFD stores by no means meant the fabrics were any less glamorous or interesting. They were every bit as nice and interesting. One thing you won’t find a lot of in the LAFD stores, though, is what I call the glamour factor. You won’t find many fashion magazine cut outs beside rolls of fabrics to indicate it were the same fabric used in the photo from the cut out. As impressive, or maybe just cool, as that may be, it was just a glamour factor, and not real glamour. A lot of those fabrics weren’t anything all that grand, nor were the garments either in design and/or practicality for wearing. The glamour factor came from the photography and the fact it was in a fashion magazine, of which there are many, each with a gazillion photos. NYFD is just closer to a fashion show mecca than LAFD is so they have access to luxuries like magazine shots to match with fabric rolls, but I’d challenge you to make good use of most of the fabrics with these photos, beyond what you could do with similar fabric that is cheaper and quite possibly better. I ignored those photos easily in NYFD, and didn’t miss them in LAFD to help me find great fabrics at cheap prices.

One thing I did find LAFD lacking compared to NYFD stores were the notion stores. There were some good stores in LAFD with interesting notions, for sure, and at cheaper prices, of course. I found a store packed with tens of thousands of iron-ons, literally, for example. They had everything from pictures to Chinese characters in multiple sizes and colours! Unfortunately, I forgot its name, but again, I know exactly where to find it walking around LAFD. Just look for what resembles a huge iron-on quilt window about 8 feet high! However, when it came to more traditional notions, like interesting buttons and such, NYFD stores have got LAFD stores beat, hands down. NYFD prices are also higher, but you’d be willing to pay their prices if it’s really what you’re looking for. For example, I found buttons that were yellow with three red stripes in NYFD, in red trim and texture that looked Asian. They perfectly matched my Vietnamese dress shirt to come that has yellow yokes with three red stripes, like the old republic’s flag used to be! I might not pay for much fabric beyond $5 a yard or meter, but I paid $3 each for those buttons, because they were exactly what I needed! LAFD notion stores had variety, just not nearly the degree I found in many NYFD stores, and definitely not nearly compared to NYFD notion specific stores.

Parking in LAFD is terrible like it is in NYFD, but not nearly as bad. That said, public transportation access to NYFD was better. You’d have to walk a few blocks to get to the LAFD textiles part whereas in NYFD, you had a few options where to get off on buses and/or subways to be in more sprawled out FD. I came from the neighbouring city of Manhattan Beach via public transit to LAFD and had no problems, though, so it’s not bad or anything. You can walk across freeways if you’re on foot elsewhere in LA and want to head to LAFD. Just make sure you avoid a few little “hoods” attached to LAFD if going on foot, whereas NYFD is only buffeted by more glam of Manhattan all around it. Last but not least, the food available for your refuelling while shopping is also better, healthier, more diverse and cheaper in LAFD. There were lots of ethnic and mainstream food choices in LAFD besides sidewalk hot dog vendors and McDonald’s about every 6 blocks found in NYFD.

In summary, I would definitely give LAFD the nod over NYFD. Most of this is on prices being so much cheaper, in general. Unless you were doing ridiculous haute couture, selection is equally as good. Accessibility is much better with stores being closer together after you get there, and getting there is not hard, if only a tad less easy than NYFD. So is organization with a lot of specialized stores practically next door to each other. Supporting services is better with better food available. As for less interesting notions, how much really interesting notions do you really need? I liked just about everything about LAFD better that I’d rather go back there than NYFD if I had the choice. The plane ticket would only be about $200 more than NY, for me in Halifax, if you can believe that, but what you’d save in accommodations and fabric prices, you’d be easily able to afford the extra two pieces of luggage, and their checked baggage charges coming back, to come home with more fabrics and a happier sewist… and a free tan most of the year!

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