Taking Odds on Global Shopping: Musings on Lily0808168 and eShakti.com

By | October 24, 2008

I first learned of eShakti via conversations in the Fatshionista LiveJournal community, where the site received mixed reviews. Clearly, given my frequent gambles with Lily0808168 – the China-located seller on the eBay who makes the infamous ruffle dress, among other things – I have become a lot more willing to take a risk on an untested international resource for clothing, as I’ve made peace with the fact that success in these endeavours is, indeed, a roll of the dice, and though it can pay off big, it can also fail equally spectacularly. With international shopping, there’s a plethora of things that can go wrong – sizing, fit, weird fabric, wrong color – and returns are typically out of the question since the return shipping to Wherever In The World alone may outstrip the cost of the original garment. So making a purchase is a commitment to the unknown. An unknown you will have to wait five to six weeks to see realized.

SO muchBuying from Lily0808168 has helped me make peace with that; the seller in question, I am led to understand, owns (either in part or in full) a garment factory in China, which produces these clothes in a dramatically wide range of sizes (up to 10X, in some cases). My Lily scorecard as it currently stands is three successes, two utter failures, and one draw. Two of the successes are the aforementioned ruffle dress in two colors; the third is what I am now calling the “Hulk dress” as a nod to its proclivity toward dye leakage which turns its wearer (me) green (I need to get on some kind of dye-setting wash, pronto, now that I think of it). The draw was a dress that I would have liked way better if only it were actually dress-length, instead of being tunic-length such that I have to wear it with pants of some kind. The failures were two other dresses with extremely weird fit problems – one that fit everywhere except for having TINY TINY sleeves; another that was too-big around the bust, and with an empire waist that fell way higher than it should, in a way that was totally bewildering (another review of Lily0808168’s stuff is here). Overall I’d characterize my opinion of Lily0808168 as fair-to-positive; I can also affirm that all my customer service experiences have been extremely good, though folks less patient with non-native speakers of English may have more problems than I have.

(As an aside: I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge that I have occasional political misgivings about my purchases, given China’s history of human rights violations, and the fact that I have no idea about the conditions under which these garments are manufactured. The sad thing is, however, that this is true of a lot of the clothes I buy, which may be from American companies but were produced under murky circumstances overseas. The immediacy of going directly to the source, as it were – buying straight from the factory, which may or may not be a great place to work – has made me think more critically about where, exactly, my clothes come from. ALL of my clothes.)

While my Lily experiments definitely made me appreciate that international shopping is a hit-or-miss proposition, I also knew the eShakti temptation was not something I’d be able to resist for long, as so many of their items have a bit of an Anthropologie-but-for-fatties! vibe, something I’ve often longed for. Sure, they’re located in India, and the long turnaround time might be frustrating. But a store full of eye-catching, brightly colored, mostly-100%-cotton dresses, at reasonable prices? They may as well have named the shop after me. I placed my first order early this month and received it this week, so I thought I’d offer my review.

Purple & brown faux wrap dress at eShaktiMost of the items on the eShakti site have a turnaround time of about twenty days total – 15 days to produce the item, and then another 3 to 5 days for the garment to be shipped to you. This is, no doubt, related to the fact that eShakti’s big selling point is the customization it offers – love a certain tunic but wish it had sleeves? You can add them. Adore a certain dress but wish it were a little shorter? You can change that too. Don’t like the look of their size chart, and want something to made to your precise measurements? No problem. Seriously. Any custom alterations cost an additional $10 per garment, which is damn impressive considering the cost of custom-made clothing in the US. In that context, waiting 15 days for the item to ship is not unreasonable, in my opinion.

On the quality: I ordered three dresses. And color me shocked, but for once I think the quality of the garments is nicely in line with what they cost. I can’t remember the last time I said that. All three dresses I chose are 100% cotton, and while the fabric is lightweight and the dresses are unlined (and thus probably better suited for warmer climes than Boston right now), the quality is very good, and the construction is surprisingly excellent. These dresses are essentially what I once expected Blue Plate dresses to be, except without being gratuitously overpriced and frequently shoddily made.

Teal & orange ball trim dress from eShakti

On the fit: I didn’t go with the custom sizing, but ordered everything in a 3X. My historic attempts at commissioning clothing made to my measurements have met with fairly consistent failure – I blame my truly weird proportions and lack of an identifiable waist – so I didn’t want to risk it when the 3X looked like it ought to fit (for reference, I wear a 26 at Lane Bryant and a 3X or 4X at Torrid). And it does fit! All the dresses fit fine, even the ones with sleeves, even across my hard-to-accommodate shoulders. The 3X is the largest standard size they make, so folks larger than me would have to go custom, but speaking as a body typically left out of a lot of smaller plus-size manufacturers’ size charts altogether, it’s impressive that they go as big as they do in standard sizes, especially since this is not a plus-size exclusive website. (Note: I’ve heard tales told more than once of serious fit issues with the custom-sized clothing here, so your mileage may vary.)

On the customer service: They kept good email contact – I expect owing to the long turnaround times, they send out automatically generated status updates to keep folks happy – and when I did email with a question, I had a personalized response within 24 hours. Also, though it did take a couple of weeks for my items to ship, they got to me surprisingly quickly – within four days – considering they came from the other side of the world. I can’t speak personally to the return process as of yet, but their return policy sounds sane on the surface: any item (even custom!) can be returned in unworn condition within 10 days of receipt. My order came with a prepaid return label included (the cost of which would be deducted from the return), which is a nice touch. Plus, the returns center is located in the US, which would hopefully eliminate any long waits for refunds to be processed.

Overall I’m pretty damn chuffed with my order, and will certainly be ordering from eShakti again, assuming the world economy doesn’t completely implode in the near future – hey, at least their prices are good. And for me, a willingness to order again is probably the strongest recommendation I could make. Also, a tip: register with their site and they’ll send you a coupon for $15 off your first purchase, and they don’t kill you with frequent emails either). And shipping is free for all orders over $50.

For the record, I get nothing from eShakti for writing the above review. Though I would gladly review many individual dresses if they’d like to send me free samples. Hint hint.

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