Fabric Shopping In Mumbai
We spent three days shopping for fabric in the Mangaldas market. Although there are fabric shops all over Mumbai, Mangaldas is a one-stop bazaar dedicated completely to textiles. The block-sized building is covered, but open on all sides and surrounded by blocks of open-air markets in every direction.
Inside Mangaldas are hundreds of shops, laid out in a grid. There are nine rows of stalls in one direction and four or five in the other, like streets. The lanes and shops are numbered so you can find your way around, but it’s hard to navigate in a place so packed with distracting beauty.
The rows of shops are set higher than the walking aisles and are not meant to be entered casually. Like the clothing shops, most of the goods are out of reach, and you must engage a salesman to look at anything closely.
The floor of each shop is covered in futon-like cushions. When you enter a space to do business, you must first remove your shoes. Then you sit down and the show begins. We did no serious business while standing or wearing shoes. We were always offered water or tea.
Besides the salesman, there are at least 2 assistants, one to fetch fabric and one to roll it back up. Once you ask to look at a certain fabric, other fabrics are also brought out or unrolled to tempt you further. They will do this for as long as you have patience. Sometimes this process will really unearth a gem, since at some point you will see almost all of the stock.
Each shop has a specialty. There are stalls for shirting, suiting, block prints, embroideries, beading, and saris. There are also readymade stalls with an amazing range of traditional clothing. Interspersed among these are sewing shops. They will take your newly bought fabric and turn it into a garment for you to pick up a few days later.
The revelation was the huge variety of silk and cotton in fabrications we do not use in the West. I am always looking for sophisticated fabrics in natural fibers and find very few options. Since dressmaking is a common activity in India, the shops stock creative and fashionable materials. It is possible to find a brocade in feather-light cotton that will not suffocate you in 100 degree heat. Inspired by centuries of textile tradition and mastery, Indian mills create intricate jacquards, embroidered silk and linen, and supple cotton satins that have no parallel in the American market. Even cotton shirtings have the most amazing range of textures, to add style to the traditional men’s kurta shirt. Saturated or subtle colors, these cottons are slubbed, striated, geometric jacquard, and ikat woven.
I was surprised that 20 shops might be selling the same type of fabrics, but there was very little repetition of stock. What I saw was the curatorial eye of the owner. There were lots of shops we walked past without a need to look closer. When I shop caught my eye, I usually bought several other cuts at the same place.
Our intent was to walk the market the first day without buying, but there were so many clear must-haves, we ended with our bags full by early afternoon. We left the biggest bags at each shop to pick up at the end of the day and went out in the open market to find food.