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Go Crazy for Leather: Guangzhou’s Sanyuanli Market

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They say people do crazy things in foreign countries, like buy leather coats (or trousers). In that line of reasoning, your trip to, or stay in Guangzhou may not be complete without a visit to the Guihuagang (桂花岗) leather area. So much more than a market, this area spanning several kilometers located between Sanyuanli and Guangzhou Railway station will keep you busy for a day of shopping and an evening of snacking. You might even come back with a cowhide or something more unique.

Go Crazy for Leather: Guangzhou’s Sanyuanli Market
Photo: David Masters

Getting there

1) Sanyuanli Subway Station

Start your day off at Sanyuanli subway station. As you come out of exit A2, you may be immediately approached by salespeople handing you cards displaying every sort of designer bag you might imagine. Keep walking and first get an education on Guangzhou's leather industry.

2) Sanyuanli Dadao

Walking down Sanyuanli Dadao you will come across several buildings selling everything you can imagine related to leather, such as Guangzhou Hongsheng Nations Leather Hardware Leather Market. Drop in to any shop and ask around about different types of leather. Shopkeepers will be happy to educate you in leather types, dyeing process, glues, threads, linings and accessories needed to make a leather bag. If you're feeling adventurous, pick up a cowhide in any color to use as a rug. Leather is sold by the square foot. Depending on the size, you can expect to pay anywhere between 300 RMB and 800 RMB. Feeling really adventurous? Get it dyed in any shade at no extra cost. 

3) Jiefang Beilu

After you've shopped prices and understand your basics, make your way on foot to Guihuagang bus stop. The fun begins when you step into any building, Yisen Leather Building, or Guangzhou Baiyun World Leather Goods Trade Center, located on Jiefang Beilu.

Almost anything you can imagine that is made of leather or "pleather" can be found in any of these buildings. If leather is not your thing, you will find a good assortment of small designer clothing, jewelry shops, luggage and watches. Expect to pay about 10% of the original price for any fake brand name article. For instance, a “high level” copy small Chanel bag will go for about 300 RMB in pig skin, and closer to 1000 RMB if made with imported Italian leather. Other popular brands include Michael Kors, Prada, Celine, and of course, Asia’s favourite, Louis Vuitton.

If luggage is your thing, head across the walking bridge connected to Yisen Leather Building and you will find a plethora of shops selling all kinds of luggage at a decent price.

Buying a fake bag

By this time you will not have been able to escape the fact that a large number of the bags for sale look an awful lot like knock-offs of big designer labels. Truth be told, a lot of these bags are identical to the originals save for one small but important detail. How can you tell a fake when the labels, the warranty, the box and the "Made in Italy" tag all look genuine? The key is in the leather.

Leathers bought at the Sanyuanli Dadao market are mostly cow, pig and lamb skins from Chinese animals. As a quick comparison, if you have ever eaten local beef you will understand that the leather is also... tough. Although not of exceptionally bad quality, it is not comparable to the soft leather used to make a real Chanel bag.

If you are getting a bargain, it's most likely because your leather bag will peel, crack or stiffen with time. As with anything, you will get what you pay for in Guihuagang’s leather shops.

Tips to keep in mind while shopping

1) If you are entering these buildings and planning to make a purchase, it might be a good idea, like everywhere else in Guangzhou really, to keep your passport, or at least a copy, and registration forms available for random police checks. 
2) If you are a foreigner, you will be harassed by local vendors at all exits of the buildings to follow them to their "office" to buy "copy watches" and "copy bags". Follow them at your own risks and peril. You will usually be guided into an apartment in a building complex with seemingly high security to a shop with fakes. Prices are usually higher if you get taken somewhere by these vendors.
3) If you order goods, you will likely have to wait a few hours before you can pick it up. They will usually ask for a deposit and ask you to pick up the goods around 17:00 or 18:00. Be sure to inspect everything before paying the remaining balance. Common problems include crooked logos, broken zippers, mould on fabric, wrong colours and sizes.
4) Make sure you know what type of leather the goods you want are made of, as it will affect the quality and price.
5) Check accessories as they often are of poor quality.
6) In watches, the most important thing to check is wristband quality. If you ask for a “high quality” copy, it should be hard to tell between the real and the fake.

When you can’t keep shopping

If you are a shopper, you will likely have stuck around until dark. This is when Jiefang Beilu gets the most interesting. Walk down and admire how an already busy business and retail district turns into a food street with hot food and snacks from everywhere in China, from remote Xinjiang kebabs to the much closer Guanxi Province tofu (Jiefang Beilu between Fei’e Xi Road and Guihua Road, in front of Guangzhou Baiyun World Leather Goods Trade Center).

In between the separate food stalls, vendors set up on the street to sell hats, gloves, wallets, bags, scarves and whatever local factories may be produced nearby. Bargain hard and in Chinese if you can. Even if you don't come home with a leather coat, there is no way you will leave here empty-handed!

Address information:

Guangzhou Baiyun World Leather Goods Trade Center View In Map
Add: Zone D, Jinguiyuan, 1000 Jiefang Beilu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址:广州市越秀区解放北路1000号金桂园D区
Opening Hours: 10:00-18:30, closed on public holidays

Yisen Leather BuildingView In Map
Add: 1389 Jiefang Beilu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址:广州市越秀区解放北路1389号
Opening Hours: 10:00-18:30, closed on public holidays

Guangzhou Hongsheng Nations Leather Hardware Leather MarketView In Map
Add: 78 Sanyuanli Dadao, Baiyun District, Guangzhou
地址:广州市白云区三元里大道78号
Opening Hours: 10:00-18:30, closed on public holidays

Useful words:

Lamb skin   Yángpí   羊皮
Goat skin   Shān yángpí   山羊皮
Cowhide   Niúpí   牛皮
Pig skin   Zhū pí   猪皮
Blue   Lán sè   蓝色
Grey   Huīsè   灰色
Brown   Zōngsè   棕色

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Keywords: Sanyuanli Market Guangzhou Guihuagang Leather Area Guangzhou

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