Cairo Guide: Buying Textiles from Wekalet El Balah
Rehab Abd El Nasser
Wekalet El Balah, the market place that once used to sell dates as per name, is now the biggest textile market in Egypt. While many assume, wrongly, that Wekalet El Balah is a low-grade marketplace with narrow roads and alleyways and subpar materials, this is actually far from the truth. There are textiles that sell for thousands per metre.
It is very possible to buy top notch textiles and make something fabulous out of it, but first, you must learn how to manoeuvre Wekalet El Balah, lest you get lost in the prices and types of textiles, or be cheated into buying something that you don’t need or won’t work for what you want.
We’ve had several experiences there, ones that ended extremely successfully, and others where we wound up with things we don’t need. So, we’ve compiled a list of seven things to pay attention to if you want to buy textiles from El Wekala:
If you plan on going, the best time is early in the day, and preferably mid-week. It’s even better if you have nothing to do later and can take the time to really walk around.
The day is preferable so you can see the textiles clearer, and going mid-week will help you avoid much of the hustle and bustle of small cars carrying everything from socks to kitchen utensils zipping through the narrow alleyways.
Ignore the Beckoning Calls of the Vendors
Don’t get sucked in by spiel, much like you would if you were in Khan El Khalili or the Pyramids. From the moment you step onto the streets of the Wekala, you will be bombarded by vendors inviting you into their stores. Ignore them all. This is a waste of time and effort and you will probably end up buying stuff you didn’t come here for. If you’re in the market for something special and/or uncommon, you probably won’t find it at these vendors anyway.
Pick the Right Shop For What You Need
If you’re looking for premium textiles for dresses for example, like silk or chiffon, aim for the big shops with signs and glass windows. But if you’re after normal grade textiles, like denim or cotton, go to the smaller shops. The bigger ones will be too expensive. Don’t let the cheaper prices sway you into buying subpar quality, though. You can find materials that are both of good quality and decent prices.
Never Buy From the First Vendor
Even if you find something you like, you still have to check out more than one store, for two reasons; firstly, you may find something you like better at the second or third store – humans are indecisive by nature. The second reason is if you ask for the same materials in different stores, you get a better idea of how much a textile is supposed to cost, and it becomes a lot harder for them to cheat you – essentially, you need to educate yourself on your options.
Familiarise Yourself with the Different Shops' Strengths
If you’re looking for soirée textiles, Dantela and Rotana are your best bet. They sell dantel, silk, satin and other embroidered textiles. For casual textiles like denim and cotton, the best stores are Kelta and Senada – the latter of which is one of the oldest textile shops in Egypt with other branches across the city, although prices at El Wekala are cheaper with more room for haggling.
Haggle, Haggle, Haggle – and Then Haggle Some More
Prices at El Wekala vary greatly. A meter of polyester can cost as little as 10LE while a meter of dantel can go up to 4000/5000LE. Chiffon also varies from 30LE to 90LE depending on the shop. Haggling is an integral part of buying anything from El Wekala. The vendors themselves knows it, and are quite good at it, so never appear like you’re 100% pleased with what you’re buying – poker face at the ready! Always seem indecisive and look like you could leave at any minute.
How to Actually Buy
After you’ve picked what you want, touch it, smell it and taste it if you must – inspect it thoroughly. Do this before your vendor cuts it from the roll, otherwise it becomes much more difficult to return. Don’t be afraid to ask these vendors for advice as they have a wealth of experience and can advise you on what textiles you’d need certain things, and how much of it you would need. Don’t forget to always buy an extra half meter of whatever textile you’re buying, just in case something happens.