The Ally Files: Singapore Suit Buying Challenge
Today I'm introducing a new blog topic--how important it is to have an ally. There is a common misconception that being a strong, smart woman means going it alone. I want to promote the idea that we are stronger together--in little things and big.
To kick this off, I'm sharing a story from a business trip I took to Singapore last spring.
Prachi and I had been working on a project and travelled to Singapore to see it go live. After a couple days of work we decided to spend the day sightseeing and ended up in Singapore's China Town.
We tumbled out of our taxi onto a street lined with shops and places to get snacks. The sun baked us as we peered into shops looking for souvenirs and (more importantly) a place to get a drink to cool off. Singapore is right on the equator--of all the hot, tropical places I've been, this was the hottest for me. Prachi agreed that it was hot but not nearly as hot as Mumbai. I could only shake my head at this because I was sweating through my clothes and it was only 10:30AM.
We turned onto a street where men sat on stools just in the doorway of tailor shops--they all beckoned to us to come in and get measured. We lingered outside one shop that had a large photo of Bill Clinton standing next to a man who I presumed to be the shop owner. A second later a small bearded man with a big smile was offering us cold water and a look around. We just went in. What can I say, it was moderately cooler and our resistance was low.
I knew I was about to be sold to. I also rationalized I could use a new suit--buying off the rack in the US is dismal and depressing and looking for plus sized suit for women usually is some polyester horror show or tent like affairs with lots of large print. At least that is my experience. The idea that I could have something made for me really appealed to me.
He pulled out bolts of fine wool and silk, color swatches and a book of different suit cuts. I was being drawn in. Before I knew it I was being measured for a navy suit in a smart cut with two hand made shirts in fine, polished cotton. He did some quick work on a pad of paper and showed me a number for the suit. It was definitely more than I paid for my last suit but I rationalized that this was hand made for me and would be far less than having the same thing made for me back home. He said I would need to come back for a fitting with the tailor the next day and the suit would be ready a day before I needed to fly out. I paid the total for the suit and shirts. I only glanced at the total-it felt a little high but I was also hot and a bit tired at that point. I left feeling like I spent some money but it was money well spent.
Prachi and I wandered happily through China Town for the rest of the day buying souvenirs, visiting the Hindu temple and enjoying a large dim sum lunch. Thoroughly tired, we took at taxi back to our hotel to rest before meeting our team mates for dinner.
That evening over dinner one of my coworkers leaned over and said "I just got talked into buying a suit".
"Oh? me too. Tell me about it" He then told me how he bought a suit with two pairs of pants, two ties and two shirts for roughly HALF of what I paid.
I went quiet. And then my thought machine turned on. It was basically a crazy jumble of DAMMIT I GOT RIPPED OFF!!!!
As I stewed, Prachi started talking about how she felt one of the shirt vendors didn't give her a square deal. I was silently going insane going between thoughts of "well, you could have haggled/should have asked for the math/did more research" and feeling like a victim because I didn't know the landscape for how to get a deal. While everyone around the table relaxed and enjoyed themselves I was replaying scenarios of how I could have done things different. If I was frothing at the mouth nobody let on that they noticed.
That night I Skyped with Keri. I told her about my day and my suit buying fiasco. She was thrilled to hear I was getting some new clothes and listened patiently to me melt down. She then kindly asked
"Do you think you won't like your suit?"
"No. I just feel crappy that I got taken."
"Could you buy them here for less?"
"Then let it go! Don't let this spoil your trip. You're going to look great in your new clothes and at the end of the day you got a deal. Let it go, let it go, let it go."
She started singing "Let it Go" had me smiling and laughing by the end of our call. I relaxed and felt better. Still, I felt I wasn't done with this--how could I get closure without another meltdown?
The afternoon Prachi and I decided to do some more shopping and go to the spa. While looking for a bathing suit for herself she told me how she spent the morning. She went back to China Town and did a little price checking. Her instinct about her shirt purchase was correct--they over charged her! She calmly went into the store she bought the shirts at, presented the evidence and they GAVE HER A REFUND without any fuss.
"I don't know why I didn't haggle with them. I'd never be that way at home."
I got an idea.
"Prachi, can you help me? I want to go back to the place I ordered my suit."
She quickly agreed and we talked over all the details of what happened in the shop. We did a little price checking around and came to the conclusion that yes, the tailor we went to got a very good deal FROM ME. I fretted a little about going back but Prachi calmed my fear.
"Sasha, everyone has to be happy with the deal. They are too happy."
I didn't want to let it go. I have a history of walking away from bad deals and shouldering the blame instead of advocating for myself. Because I paid in advance and it was a custom order I had very little to work with. I wanted the suit. I also wanted to feel like I was getting a fair deal--not to rake them over the coals or crush them. Just something that felt better.
I took a moment to see what felt like a good deal for me and immediately it came to me that two more shirts felt good. If we couldn't make any headway on this I was ready to walk away but I was going to play every card I had in my hand. Prachi and I agreed on the plan and went to back the shop.
The same man with the beard and big smile greeted us and offered us some water to drink. Prachi took a seat on a stool and I politely asked the shop keeper to explain the pricing. The suit was what he originally showed me but the shirts--the two shirts alone cost what the suit did! I brought up that his price was far higher than the one my peer bought and he started to talk about polyester vs silk vs wool. I tried to reason that my peer didn't have a suit made in polyester. At that point the man from the picture out front, the owner of the store stepped in. I was wedged between them--one trying to get me to believe that the price difference was cost of materials and the other telling me that coming back when I should have complained up front was my fault and I didn't have the right to ask.
Prachi, silent til then broke in "I think you cheated her". Immediately the two men started getting louder and pressing their point. The owner of the shop started pulling out bolts of silk and trying to get me to accept some yardage to make me happy. What the hell am I going to do with a yard of silk? It felt a little absurd but all the while I felt perfectly calm.
I turned away from the men and just spoke to Prachi at this point.
"I don't know Prachi. I don't think this is going anywhere. Do you think I should call my bank?"
Silence. The men turned their attention towards me. Finally the shop owner spoke.
"I'm going to make this better." he turned to the other man. "Make her two more shirts--same quality."
I glanced at Prachi briefly. This was exactly the deal we wanted before we even walked in the door. Before we even said what we wanted.
"Done." The room relaxed, everyone was smiling again and peace restored. I even ordered a second suit (at a price that felt right)!
I wanted my suit and shirts. What I wanted more was to show up for myself. Having Prachi with me as my ally enabled me to do more than I could alone--no force, no threats. We came in prepared knowing what we wanted to happen and were ready to walk if it didn't.
This is what having an ally can do for you. It's powerful to be able to stand up alone--sometimes you have to do that. I think we often forget that it isn't always necessary. You can do so much more with the right support.
Want your ally story told? Leave a comment below.