After my posts featuring fabric from Aliexpress, I’ve been asked about my experience shopping there. I’m no expert – my general rule of thumb is to not spend too much money, in case I lose it all. But I do have a few tips after buying sewing goods online for several years.
For those who don’t know, Aliexpress is the sibling website to Alibaba, the website made famous by Chinese businessman Jack Ma. Alibaba primarily sells goods to businesses in commercial quantities, whereas you can buy individual items on Aliexpress. Essentially, you are buying direct from manufacturers in China, and cutting out the middleman of Australian retailers.
Aliexpress aims to connect Chinese businesses to international buyers. (Taobo is the equivalent for Chinese buyers.) It is much like eBay in that you purchase from one of many individual storefronts, rather than Aliexpress being a homogenous retailer or warehousing stock (it differs from Amazon in this sense). So your success rates may vary depending on which store you purchase from. They also only accept card payment (not PayPal, as far as I’m aware).
I mostly buy notions from Aliexpress and eBay for a few reasons: firstly, and most obviously is the cost. I can buy a sewing machine foot for $1 on Aliexpress, including post – the same would cost me approx. $35 in Australia + $8.50 post. $2.51 gets me 60 buttons of exquisite quality on Aliexpress; or I could buy the most hideous of plastic buttons for 5 times that cost at Spotlight. You get the gist.
The second reason is convenience. I’m mostly housebound, and getting to, well, anywhere is a huge hassle involving a lot of time and energy. So, if I can order online, I will.
Thirdly, and this may surprise some of you, I buy from Aliexpress because the quality is generally equivalent to, if not better than, stock available here. I challenge you to look at this photo and find any difference between this fold over elastic I buy from Aliexpress and the stuff available here. You won’t, because there is none. I’ve tried many sources of FOE and it’s all the same, sometimes down to product picture and all.
Even the needle threader, quick unpicks and thread snips are identical to those sold at Lincraft and Spotlight. If a major chain retailer chooses to source their products overseas, I take no issue with that. But I feel no qualms in choosing to buy direct from the source if said retailer offers no competitive advantage to their product in terms of shopping experience, well-stocked stores and well-paid and well-treated employees.* In essence, I’m only paying for the convenience of shopping nearby, which isn’t much of a convenience to me.
As for what to look for when shopping on Aliexpress, I can’t really say – honestly, I’ve just been lucky. Some people suggest doing a search then sorting by star rating, but I just sort by price and haven’t gone wrong yet. When it comes to fabric, I take a bit more care, largely because I’m spending more money. I chose not to purchase suspiciously cheap fabric, and stuck to the $10/m** section and above (I think the fabrics I chose actually retailed for $15/m, but were on sale at the time).
I also carefully read the description, and only chose those that specified fibre content, fabric type and weight. Descriptive listings, good photos (not just stolen from Google Images) and a video illustrating the fabric’s properties were also helpful.
It certainly paid off, as these were the nicest knits I’ve ever used in my sewing (you can see them in action in my winter dresses, and In the Folds Jersey Dress). The twill I bought for my In the Folds Wide Leg Pants proved to be of good quality as well. I’ll include links to what I have purchased below.
Finally, on the distinction between eBay and Aliexpress. I have only purchased notions from overseas on eBay, and stuck to Australian eBay retailers for fabric (which was a dismal mistake). The notions are generally the same as Aliexpress, but slightly more expensive. However, Aliexpress only accepts card, and eBay uses PayPal. So if you want more security in your payment method, you may feel more comfortable using eBay. You also have the choice of purchasing from an Australian reseller whose prices will be higher, with the advantage of quicker delivery (usually within 1 week).
I would strongly encourage you to do your own research and find products you like, and retailers you trust on both Aliexpress and eBay. This is only my personal experience, and I can’t guarantee that the advice I have shared will protect you at all, or that the links are still valid/safe listings. That said, here are some things I have bought, with links if available and price compared to the equivalent Aus Spotty/Lincraft retail price (at time of writing):
– Quick unpicks/seam rippers: $1.19 for 4 vs $4.99 for 1
– Needle threader for hand sewing: $1.12 for 10 vs $3.99 for 1
– Thread snips
– Rotary cutter blades
– Garment size labels: $10.68 for 1000 pieces
– Custom-designed garment labels: $21.34 for 30 (I found this store very helpful regarding my design)
– Sewing machine foot: approx. $1 vs $35+ (no link, just choose the right foot for your machine)
– Clear elastic: $4.22 for 25 yds (22.86m) vs $3.49/m
– Fold over elastic: $1.41 for 5 yds (4.57m) vs $7.25 for 5m
– 25mm elastic: $4.26 for 5 yds (4.57m) vs $5.99-7.99/m (and better quality)
– 25mm satin ribbon: $3.12 for 25 yds (22.86m) vs $4.99/m (decoration quality, not for garment sewing)
– Shirtmaking buttons: thick ivory pearlescent buttons, $2.51 for 60; thick bowl pearlescent buttons, $2.69 for 72; shell buttons, $1.84 for 50; basic shirt buttons, $2.50 for 100; mother-of-pearl buttons, $2.69 for 30
– Craft/knitting buttons: 15mm dark wood buttons, $2.84 for 50; 15mm tortoiseshell resin buttons, $4.26 for 100; 15mm light wood buttons, $4.49 for 150
– 12mm folded bias tape: $5.70 for 30 yds (27.43m) vs $21.67 for the equivalent amount (this was stiff to sew but softened up in the wash, becoming far softer than polycotton Birch tape for instance)
– Metal bobbins: $1.46 for 10 vs $24.99 for 10
– 15 class front loading bobbin case: $4.26
– Organ sewing machine needles: $3.49 a pack vs $4.99-12.99 a pack (would not recommend as the multisized pack was inconvenient, and only worked in my Janome if memory serves correctly)
– Hello Kitty measuring tape: $3.85 vs $4.99 for a far less cute one (I’ve had a lot of measuring tapes break…and I can’t remember if this was one of them. Sorry!)
– 100% cotton slub knit (mid-weight): $11.68/m (as sewn up here)
– Cotton/lycra slub knit (mid-weight): $16.08/m (as sewn up here)
– Cotton/lycra knit (lighter weight but opaque): $12.44/m (as sewn up here)
– Cotton stretch twill (I suspect this has some lycra content as it was very stretchy, almost like ponte or bengaline): $17.08/m (as sewn up here)
Thanks to the commenters on the Pattern Review Sewing Down Under forum for their suggestions for Aliexpress shopping. If you search “Aliexpress” in that forum you will find helpful advice.
*Let’s face it, I feel no loyalty to massive chain stores at all. There are, of course, some craft retailers in Australia I respect and continue to patronise.
**This is still cheap for fabric in Australia, especially good quality. Spotlight, the Joanns equivalent, sells their shitty knits for $25/m, for example.