Buying fabric in Vilnius

Vilnius, Lithuania -- This week I’m taking sewing lessons and instead of learning the basics I decided to jump right in and learn to make a wrap dress. After the first sewing lesson (which reminded me more of technical drawing than sewing), I was faced with the reality that I don’t own any of the basic sewing supplies. So, with a list and samples in hand I went to the only shop I remembered from my childhood in Vilnius located near Kalvariju Market.

When I entered the store, I was unable to just focus on my shopping list and instead I went around assessing the assortment, dreaming up possible clothes, while at the same time looking at the labels and trying to decipher the provenance of all those textile fabrics.

Why do I care about where the fabrics came from? When I began learning shoemaking in February, I spent the following months looking into the fashion industry, learning about the slow fashion movement, educating myself on the ecological footprint of clothes and the societal issues associated to the fashion supply chains and the reality of throwaway culture (more about that another time). Visiting the sewing supply shop gave me a perfect opportunity to investigate the topic further.  

The textiles were arranged by purpose and/or composition, for example the viscose/rayon fabrics for dresses were in one room while the curtains were in another. I did not look at every label, but these were the countries that were most noticeable: South Korea (Korėja), Italy (Italija), France (Prancūzija), Bulgaria (Bulgarija), England (Anglija), Germany (Vokietija). 

The Republic of Korea (South Korea)

Most of the fabrics were sourced from South Korea. I asked the lady working there if she knows why and she answered that the reason is price. They are cheaper than Italian fabrics. There was Korean Polyester, Viscose/Rayon and Cotton.

Italy

Both silk and leather materials were both imported from Italy. (On some leather I believe I saw Turkish writing, but I could not find the label to confirm)

Bulgaria

Curtains

There was a huge section of curtains. I spotted some English, German, Polish and Turkish fabrics. Perhaps this shop specializes in curtain production as there is also a small curtain sewing service behind.

Lithuania

 As I walked around the shop I quickly realized that I did not see any local Lithuanian fabrics. At first I thought perhaps I just missed them, but when I went to the outlet in the basement I found several rolls of Lithuanian cotton. I bought 3 meters for a dress and asked the lady from which factory they came from. She explained that they came from a factory in Alytus (Southern Lithuania) which closed several years ago. All the remaining textiles were purchased by the shop for resale.

Next day I confirmed the facts with my sewing teacher (who has decades of experience having run several of her own companies and worked for others). She explained that there were some good textile producers in Lithuania that supplied local companies as well as exported to other countries such as Italy. They all gradually closed down, except one that produces linen products in Kaunas.

It’s a shame. I wonder whether it was a problem of cheaper products coming from the east, the question of governmental policies or if some of them could have been saved by tweaking the business model.

-- Greta, Happy Gallivanting