Have you ever wondered where your clothes were made? You’ve probably noticed the tags on your clothing often say “Made in China”. But while many Westerners have an image of industrial China churning out massive quantities of clothing in big factories, there’s another side to the industry that gets less press: China’s local, independent tailors.

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One of the many independent tailors in Guilin has become a bit of a celebrity in the CLI community after a CLI Study Abroad student wore one of his suits to a political function in Washington DC and had his photo taken with President Obama. The man now known as “The Obama Tailor” has since received many visits from CLI students for tailored suits — and for a glimpse of the famous photo that now hangs in his shop.

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Students sometimes choose to visit one of Guilin’s several fabric markets where they can shop around, bargain with their best Chinese, and pick out wholesale priced fabrics for their custom suit. The Obama Tailor also stocks dozens of fabrics in his shop for those looking for a break from the challenge of fabric market bargaining.

Students have branched out from standard suits as well, asking the tailor to make everything from casual shirts to tuxedos to qipao dresses to winter coats. The tailor is always willing to experiment to meet students’ requests.

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Going to the tailor not only provides an opportunity for students to get out and practice their Mandarin, it also creates a sense of connectedness with the Guilin community. Getting to know local residents in Guilin enriches language study by getting students off the beaten path of the typical study abroad experience and giving them a unique look at Chinese culture and daily life. For this, there is no substitute.