Choosing Fabric Colours... in the Dark!

Have you ever had to pick a colour to paint a room? Or select the shirt that would best go with your pants? Maybe you're a crafty person and you've chosen a shade of yarn or fabric that would be ideal for your project? We've all had occasion to pick a colour for one thing or another... but I can tell you that I've never before had to pick colours in the dark before.

Now that we're de facto designers, we have been trying to select colours for our jackets that we think you will like. So what is a fabric-shopping trip like in Kathmandu?  It's nothing like at home and we'd love to show you: we've got pictures from our trip to Nepal last April!

Fabric Swatches

Our system: Rajan sends us a sample colour with the number of jackets that can be made from it. 3 jackets out of Navy Blue X3, 15 of of Teal X4.

Choosing fabrics from 11,000 km away

If you're just reading about Jackets for Jasper for one of the first times, or you wondered why we had 40 colours of jacket to sell last year (and more this year!), you will be interested to know where all these fabrics come from. 

Last year, we posted a story of where Rajan, our manufacturer, buys fabrics and how we select the colours from our home in North Vancouver.

Suffice it to say that we have a system for discussing colour options with Rajan - it's a bit like a long-distance arts-and-crafts project including glue sticks and staples and a 4-6 week delay for shipping, but it has been working pretty well. Never-the-less, we looked forward to get the opportunity to select our own fabrics when we travelled to Nepal.

Choosing fabrics in-person

Once we arrived in Nepal, Rajan took us on a wander around the streets of Kathmandu to bring us to the many different little shops he frequents. He explained that some fabric shop owners are importers, and they receive truckloads of random roll-ends that trundle across the Himalayan passes from China. These importers divide up the assorted fabrics by type - fleece, waterproof-breathable, nylon canvas, etc. - and sell these subsets of their stock to various other small-shop owners who specialize in certain materials. We were looking for the "nylon taffeta" experts. All our jackets are made from these nylon fabric roll-ends; we can usually make between 3 and 30 jackets in any one colour.

Looking at Fabric Shops

Fabric shop on the left; fabric shop on the right... looking for the nylon taffeta experts!


We embarked on this shopping expedition as though we were embarking on one here at home, but alas, there was a catch. At this time of year - the tail-end of the dry season - Kathmandu has only about 3 hours of power per day due to "load shedding". So, unlike our typical shopping trip in Canada, we began by packing the must-have accessory for our Nepali-shopping trip: a headlamp! Don't you take one with you when you go shopping?

It turns out that the street-side shops only contain a fraction of the inventory. The vast remainder of the fabric rolls are tucked away in buildings nearby. And this is where our shopping trip became a little bit like a spooky movie (cue eerie Hallowe'en music, please...)

The shopkeeper is someone we have never met before and with whom we can barely communicate. We follow the him or his assistant down a cobblestone street, take a left and then maybe a right down a narrow, dark alley filled with potholes and mangy dogs, then we stop in front of an ancient doorway. A key is retrieved, the door is opened, we step through the door... and immediately, we are engulfed in darkness: it is pitch-black inside this building.

With no windows in the stairwell to let in any light, we turn on our headlamps and walk up two or three flights of stairs. Watch your head! Oops, bumped into those electrical wires (oh, the irony) or that low doorframe. Finally, we arrive at a locked door: the warehouse! Another key is retrieved, a padlock opened, the door creaks open and... if this were really a spooky movie, something scary would leap out at us! We side-step the bad guys, leap out a window onto a passing cart, run down an alley of vegetable vendors, all while carrying armfuls of colourful fabrics for your jackets. But no... nothing that dramatic happens. This is Nepal: there are no bad guys and you're pretty much safe everywhere.

Behind the door was a Disneyland of fabrics! Every colour in the world! Or at least we think so... it was hard to tell in the dark.

Looking at colours in the dark

Looking at rolls of fabric by headlamp. None has very much fabric on it...
we need to select a LOT!


Great, we thought, let's just jot down the store's name so Rajan can come find this place and this fabric again. Hmmm... no store name? How about an address?  Hmmm... no address? Fortunately, the shop owners themselves have names and mobile phone numbers. We would let Rajan figure out how to find the shop again in the future.

Cutting fabric in the dark

Cutting fabric in the dark

Having visited about 10 shops and their warehouses, we collected over a hundred samples. No such thing as "one-stop-shopping" here! Then, back at Rajan's house, we did the traditional arts and crafts project: we cut each swatch in half , labelled them and glued one onto each of two pages: one for us and one for Rajan.

Once we were back in Canada after our trip, we had our system in place for talking about colours and ordering our jackets for this season. We still sometimes get fabric surprises when Rajan sends us something after running out of our selection (not hard to do when there's only enough for 3 jackets...) but they're always great and it makes our selection for this coming November even better!

And imagine, we picked all those beautiful colours in the dark!