Blend jewelry and sculpture at Bomb Metal & Fry Jewelry. (Photo: Courtesy Bomb Metal & Fry Jewelry)
Shopping is not what one normally thinks of when planning a trip to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. Sure, the city has many high-end shopping malls that sell the usual famous brands, as well as colorful night markets that offer everything from inexpensive clothes to household trinkets.
But unbeknownst to some is that scattered across Taipei, there are creative, indie boutiques where local artists and designers sell handmade crafts and clothing.
Whether your taste is quirky or elegant, the mishmash of small stores is certain to have items catering to each shopper’s liking. Here are some of the best under-the-radar places for Taipei shopping.
Start your day in the historic Datong District, an area in western Taipei that was a hub for the tea, silk and traditional Chinese dry-goods industries during the late Qing Dynasty. These days, Datong buzzes with a different type of entrepreneurship.
Peruse artwork at MBMore, Taipei’s oldest printmaking shop. The artists featured use traditional techniques such as letterpress, woodcut and silk-screen. Visitors can also pick up handmade printed greeting cards and tote bags.
Head over to Bomb Metal & Fry Jewelry, a shop that blends sculpture and jewelry. Founders Peggy Hung and Ting-Ting Tsao chose the name to describe the metalworking process that goes into making their gravity-defying earrings, necklaces and pendants.
For a more hands-on experience, wander over to Nostalgic Future for a DIY workshop in bookbinding, sewing or wood carving. Chat with the shop’s owner, “Retro Nana.” The quirky antique collector will tell you why she dislikes shops that are “too commercial.”
In addition to hosting workshops, Retro Nana sells handmade items by young artists, such as dolls, canvas bags, dream catchers, wooden animal figurines and old-school berets, as well as antiques she’s salvaged, like ’50s-era Taiwan Beer glasses.
Continue the crafts hunt in the uber-artsy Ximending neighborhood, where graffiti art colors dilapidated walls. The center of life in Ximending revolves around the Red House, an eight-sided brick landmark.
Most people know the area for bars and nightlife, but on weekends the pedestrian walk outside Red House is a happening arts and crafts market. Artists and designers gather to sell their printed tees, knitted garments and the like.
Known as Taipei’s more upmarket area, the east side is not just home to big-name designer brands, but boutique names as well. Internationally renowned Taiwanese designer Shiatzy Chen has a few outlets nestled in the lattice of alleys between the Zhongxiao Fuxing and Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT stations.
Her style is known as “neo-Chinese chic.” Her form-fitting dresses and lingerie employ delicate Chinese embroidery while elements from the traditional qipao inspire her pantsuits and billowing capes.
Another store selling items that blend Chinese motifs with modern design elements is Kun’s Crystal at Eslite Spectrum department store in Taipei’s posh Xinyi District. Their glassware ranges from decorative items such as barn animals to minimalist vases and whiskey glasses.
End your day with a shopping spree at Wufenpu. This outdoor wholesale clothing market sells everything from kooky prints to elegant patterns in an area with more than 1,000 stores. These days the market is as popular among visitors seeking a good bargain as it is with retailers.
Word of advice: Bring cash as most of the stores at Wufenpu do not accept credit cards.