Hello everyone, this will be the last article in my introduction to silk series, and as it turns out, the most difficult piece to write about, as it is really difficult to find meaningful data, so after a while I have basically given up on the idea of trying to give you an overview of the silk industry, and instead write a shopping guide (again), but this time focusing on the “how” instead of the “what” and “why” like I did last time.
Before I start, allow me have to thank everyone of you for your support. If I hadn’t been pestered numerous times while at work by you guys I wouldn’t have the perseverance to finish this series. A special shoutout to Mark for showering me with work after New Year’s so that I have to quit my other less healthy habits to write this. Really, thank you! [/end rant]
Anyways, as the parting present and last piece of the puzzle, it is only reasonable that I connect all the technical stuff with something a bit closer to your everyday life – like your wallet. How exactly do you decide if something is too expensive and not worth the money, too cheap to be of real good quality, or if it is just right, and more importantly, how do you go about looking for it? Look no further, as I will give you some strategies and common tricks to get the most bang out of your buck.
Some background information before we start: in the past year, raw silk’s price has been fluctuating wildly in terms of price in the international market. A research report published by China Economics (www.ce.cn), the largest online news portal for all news in economics in China, in early December of 2013 indicates that the price of raw silk has peaked in months April and May and had been on a rather sharp decline afterwards. However, that is not to say you can expect cheap silk. Despite the fact that raw silk price had been dropping, it is still almost triple of the price approximately 5 years ago. The report is predicting that raw silk manufacturers are going to be more likely to reduce output in the hope to curb the price drop of silk products. Prices for silk products such as bedding, underwear, sleepwear, etc. are speculated to go up drastically starting early 2014.
Personally I think there is a certain level of exaggeration in this report and I believe by “drastically” they mean maybe a 10-15% increase in price, so you don’t have to worry about suddenly having to pay double for something you eyed before the new year, but one thing is for certain: a price hike is incoming, and it’s always better to get stuff while they are cheap.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the most common sites that you can buy silk products from. In this guide, I will try to give you pointers on how to search, filter and pin down the item you look for, while ensuring the overall shopping experience is pleasant, and as riskless as possible – after all, silk is a luxurious, and as a result, expensive material. Let’s use silk pillowcases as an example.
Silk pillowcases are probably the most popular silk product of choice as they are relatively cheap and a perfect way to “test the waters” for customers who are looking to refurbish their bed with silk. Some of the important criteria to look for when buying silk pillowcases, as I have pointed out in an earlier article, are momme weight, thread count and silk type, and some usual ways to find online silk merchandize include the following:
1. Google search: You can use google to search for the keywords “silk pillowcases” (or any other silk products); you can, of course, add in whatever other adjectives you wish to place on the pillowcases such as the color, size and style, which will help if you know exactly what you are looking for, but will limit your options otherwise. Usually, four types of website may come up with your search: Independent web stores, large all-purpose commercial platforms, small/specialized commercial platforms and informational sites such as Wikipedia. First, we take a look at the independent web stores. E-commerce platforms will be dealt with later as their own category.
Some of the more popular independent websites specializing in high-end silk include the following:
– Lilysilk.com: Lilysilk offers, by far, the most choices out of all four different online stores. With three momme weights, three sizes, two styles and a whopping selection of 16 colors, Lilysilk has the potential to be the one-stop shop for your silk needs. Price-wise, Lilysilk isn’t the cheapest on the market, as its price is readily beaten by feelingpampered.com on the 19mm product line and about evenly matched by lovasilk.com on the 19 and 25mm lines. However, feelingpampered.com does not offer other momme weights and lovasilk has very limited color and size selections. Lilysilk also has a 45-day no hassle full refund return policy, which is, in my opinion, the most lenient return policy you are going to see in any online store, effectively reducing the risk of purchase to almost zero. Free express international shipping is also great when you need something for an urgent occasion, as local North American stores charge a fortune when you wish to expedite shipping.
– Manitosilk.com: A Vancouver based silk store specializing in 22 momme Mulberry silk, Manitosilk has some great products, and what’s better is that they have a real store to which you can go and check out the silk for yourself. However, price-wise, Manitosilk is by far the most expensive out of these four stores, being almost 20% more expensive than Lilysilk. To offset this disadvantage, they sometimes offer great deals that can go up to 50% discount. However, they don’t do this very often and strangely enough, their sales events don’t really coincide with major gift-giving holidays, so it becomes a matter of getting lucky when you decide to shop with them. Manitosilk has a fairly lenient return policy (30-days) that offers full refund and return postage. Its free delivery is regular Canadian Postal Service mail however, and takes almost twice as long as Lilysilk’s delivery.
– Feelingpampered.com: Cheap prices, regular sizes and decent color selections, feelingpampered is an LA-based company that gets their silk from China. While their selection is not as comprehensive as Lilysilk’s, the lack of higher momme weight alternatives is made up with relatively low prices. Their return policy is a lot tighter than Lilysilk or Manito’s, however, with certain restrictions bordering on unreasonable (such as absolutely no return on silk sheets), which means you will need to act quickly if there are problems with the products. FP uses USPS for regular delivery which takes even longer than Manito, and customers will be responsible for return postages.
– Lovasilk.com: Lovasilk is great in terms of providing on-site silk info, but Lilysilk is catching up rapidly in that department (with my help too =) ). Price-wise, lovasilk does not offer anything extraordinary, being only a few dollars cheaper than Lilysilk, but with significantly less choices on colors and sizes. The return policy is decent, offering 30 days return/exchange, but they only offer free delivery on orders greater than $25 and if you live in contiguous US. If not, the delivery charge can easily offset the savings on the actual silk merchandize.
Generally speaking, independent web stores are the easy way to get silk because you can get a systematic view on a series of products, because, let’s face it, sometimes you don’t even know what exactly you are looking for except for a vague direction. Visiting specialized web stores can help you recognized the piece that fits your needs the most. Another great aspect of dealing with specialized stores, especially those with direct ties with manufacturers (like Lilysilk), is that you have the option to ask for customization to suit your special needs. This is something that platform stores barely do.
Below is a chart on the prices that I quoted from some of the specialized silk stores found through google. You can use it as a reference for comparison with platform stores:
2. Amazon/Ebay: Aside from the independent silk stores found through google, big e-platforms such as Amazon and Ebay are the favorite way to find high-quality goods for lower prices for many. You can find a large number of silk beddingware for sale on these platforms in your own country. In fact, if you search for silk pillowcase on Amazon.com alone, you will get over 100,000 results (intimidating, I know), and most of them look a lot cheaper when compared to the prices given by the independent stores. Now, first thing you need to know, is that not everything that came up is made from 100% silk, and second, even if they are, the quality might be low. Remember, you are looking for durable pillowcases that can last you at least 5 years. They need to be able to go through at least 20 washes assuming you wash them every 3 months, which is no small feat, and a lower quality (thinner) silk pillowcase simply has no chance.
So what do you do? Simple. First of all, set a price range. You will NOT be able to get real silk for less than, say, $20, period. Even if some stores put pillowcases on special for lower than $20, I would recommend against buying them because, well, it’s simply not worth the risk. If you think about how much less trouble you will go through by paying an extra $5-$10, I think you will definitely make the right choice. Take a look at the chart I posted above and use it as a reference: 19 momme pillowcases can go from $25 up to around $40 per pillowcase depending on the size; 22 momme ones go from $60-$90 and 25 momme ones go from $70-$100. Remember that these independent stores have ties in China that allow them to get their products at low prices that will be hard to beat, and it is unlikely that you will able to get items of the same quality for less unless you buy them directly in China.
After you filter out all the fake and low quality silk (ok, may they are not all fake and low-quality, but they are suspicious), it’s time to think about other factors, including price, delivery, return policy and other customer services. Now, with tens of thousands of items in front of you, how do you pick out the what’s good and what’s not? An easy way is to read the reviews – but here’s the catch: those 5-stars reviews may boost your confidence, but those 1 and 2 stars reviews are the ones that really show the quality of the products and services of a particular vendor. This is especially true for silk of unspecified momme weight and thread count, as most people are either unfamiliar with silk or simply impatient to wait for a while to give feedback, and their testimonials are meaningless because, well, after the silk breaks in 2-3 washes it’s already too late for them to come back and complain. You can also tell the efficiency at which a vendor provides after-sale services, etc, by reading these comments. Just keep in mind – good words are great but rarely convey the whole picture.
Finally, a few words on deals. Rule of the thumb is, don’t believe in them too much. Looking at a 50% deal? The original price could very well be just the discounted price, and the 50% comes from first doubling the original price then cutting it in half. I’m not being cynical here – this is a real business practice that many MANY vendors use regularly, so unless you have dealt with a particular vendor before and was satisfied with their products, treat the discounts with a grain of salt – that $50 price tag could very well have been there for only a few days.
3. DHGate/Etsy: These are the smaller, more specialized e-commerce platforms that are worth checking out when you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, both in terms of quality and design. Etsy is occupied mostly by individuals that open small online shops that sells specialized items with less variety, and the prices vary greatly from store to store. Generally speaking, the craftsmanship of the silk products on Etsy is decent due to being handmade by the store owner personally. However, the silk used may not be of the best kind, as smaller store cannot acquire raw silk at a good price due to the small amount of purchase. Another thing to note is that, due to the nature of their business, the delivery policy is usually focused on cutting cost at the cost of efficiency and quality of service. You will often have to pay fully for the delivery. The return policies are often harsh for the same reason.
DHGate is a platform based in China that aims to provide a cheap and convenient way for international users to shop authentic Chinese goods. Vendors on DHGate are usually based in China and the prices offered are sometimes very decent for the quality of the goods. The biggest drawback of DHGate is that the customer inquiry system is slow and ineffective unlike Amazon and Ebay. Contact with a vendor must be made through the platform which, when compounded with relatively tight return policies, can mean a lot of frustration when the item bought does not meet expectations. Another big drawback for customers in the US is the often incredibly long wait time from some of the vendors. I have seen one vendor selling silk duvets put up notice that shipments can take up to 32 days to arrive in the US. Imagine the amount of trouble you will have to go through when you want to return something. Worth checking out if you don’t mind the overhead.
Finally, some words on shopping at local stores such as BBB or Sleep Country. These stores are *expensive*, because, well, they have to cover a lot more costs such as rent and hydro – and the interesting part is that a lot of these stores get their silk products from China through local Chinese online retailers and Lilysilk has business dealings with a few North American wholesalers and retail vendors. Of course, the advantage of being able to see and feel the material prior to paying is great and assures like nothing else, but in my honest opinion, it’s better to be adventurous and shop online than getting blatantly ripped off at local stores – unless money isn’t an issue for you.
…and with that, I can finally conclude this blog series! There is a lot I wanted to say but I can’t find the words to say them, so, let me just say this:
Thank you for reading, I hope this has helped you out in some way.