A few months ago we asked the question is Etsy a good thing for the cross stitch world? And whilst we found that it was in principle good, we got a lot of people asking about Aliexpress. So we’ve broken down the main areas AliExpress operates in, and deep-dived into how it impacts cross stitch.
What Is AliExpress?
Many of you might not know what AliExpress is, so let’s start with a crash course. AliExpress is like Amazon but based in China. The big difference is that instead of stores selling products, like Amazon does (or even Amazon itself), AliExpress gets rid of the middle man; you buy direct from the factory.
This means that prices are often MUCH cheaper, but come with the downside of you have no quality control, and postage takes a very long time (weeks to months).
The first thing we need to talk about is threads. And there is a reason this is first; by and large, the reason people come to AliExpress is the threads. Brands like CXC and Royal Broderie are only available through AliExpress at the moment but are picking up a lot of interest amongst cross stitchers due to their price, and their perfect color match to DMC threads.
This has a good side and a bad side. In the past, we’ve looked into if cheap embroidery threads are worth buying and we put some rumors to bed about their quality. We used CXC threads for most examples and they came out looking great, they don’t bleed, don’t melt, they hold their color, they are nice to use, and with a price point at less than 10 cents per skein, they are a fantastic price. But we picked CXC threads as we knew they were the best of the cheap thread brands. There are others that don’t even have brand names, which are frankly the worst things I’ve used in my life. They do bleed, they do melt, they do break, they do knot. In fact, you can even see fake threads on AliExpress as well as there is no regulation. In those cases, you often see people reselling them and getting reports of DMC dye lot issues (when they’re actually just fake).
So you need to be careful when buying threads, as you can get really screwed over. But that doesn’t mean that’s the end of the issues. You have to wait weeks or months for your threads to arrive, and if there is an issue, it takes more weeks to sort out. This isn’t a quick process (and buying them can be a pain too).
Let’s move onto the next thing people tend to buy on AliExpress; aida. Thanks to the likes of SewandSo going out of business last year, finding aida other than black and white can be hard. And even then, if you’re looking for super sized aida it can still be hard. This is where AliExpress starts to shine.
Yes, there are loads of bad quality aidas out there, but as per our list of the best cross stitch aida brands, aida doesn’t actually need to be of that high of a quality. Essentially it needs to be gridded, and starched, which most aida supplies. The fact that it’s super cheap just makes this a better deal.
There are still pitfalls though. There are some aidas out there that aren’t correctly made up, so you get something more like 13 count or 15 count instead of your 14 count. This isn’t a super big thing most of the time, but if you’ve purchased just enough aida for your project, or you want to frame it, you start to get into tough situations.
There’s also next to no variations here either; you get a set of 10 basic colors, and you’re done. No pre-gridded, no waste canvas, etc.
And now we get to patterns. One of the biggest things about Etsy was its copyright issues, and whilst this does exist with AliExpress to a MUCH smaller impact, poor quality patterns abound. It’s hard to find a good cross stitch pattern on AliExpress, and we even suggest avoiding pattern shopping on there at all. However, this is somewhat unfair to AliExpress.
You see, there are massive markets for cross stitch outside of English speaking countries. And patterns from these areas can’t sell in traditional markets due to the language barrier. However, as an experienced cross stitcher, you don’t need the text at all, meaning you can pick up some awesome patterns that you can’t see anywhere else in the English speaking world. These patterns tend to be larger, tend to prefer silks (although there are always embroidery thread conversion tables) and tend to look fantastic. These are the gems of AliExpress, but be prepared to pick a lot of bad apples before you find gold.
But it’s not all doom and gloom!
Price is the biggest thing with AliExpress. Thanks to being manufactured in China, purchased directly from the factory, and normally super slow mail, you can get everything super cheap. Yes, the quality stuff is more expensive, but even that is considerably cheaper than more established Western brands like DMC or Anchor. The upshot of this is that people with lower incomes can get into cross stitch. This might be younger people, people from less economically developed countries, people on lower pay, or even just those not willing to spend a load of money on something they might not like.
It also has the added benefit that over time it will probably lower the price of all cross stitch goods, meaning things like DMC threads will be cheaper. But there is a downside here as well. By reaching for something cheaper and cheaper, quality falls. So far we know the like of CXC threads are good quality, but others are starting to try to make cheaper threads. If this continues CXC will go the same way, meaning AliExpress may soon only deliver poor quality products. Although this might be years off.
But what about legacy? By this I mean what impact will AliExpress have on the legacy of cross stitch. Let’s run an example. Let’s say a new cross stitcher comes to AliExpress, picks up some threads, aida, and pattern for a great price. They feel let down by the quality of all of them, and then never cross stitch again. This will impact how cross stitch is seen in general.
Thankfully, AliExpress isn’t particularly well known at this time, meaning new cross stitchers probably won’t go there first, but with the increasing knowledge of the store, this will start happening soon. But there is something else too. Resellers. You can buy poor quality fake threads on AliExpress and then sell them on online stores elsewhere, which people will buy and then, in turn, will assume the real brand is to blame. A good example of this is the DMC dye lot issue, and selling second hand threads. Whilst fake threads aren’t the main issue here, people really fear dye lot issues and stay clear from CXC due to them. In reality, it’s about storage of embroidery threads, but that doesn’t stop people who aren’t in the know from making an incorrect assumption.
So Is It A Force For Good?
Unlike Etsy, which we can see is for the better, it gets a little harder with AliExpress. There are many pitfalls to the AliExpress model, but its size and power allow for high quality, cheaper products to be made available to cross stitchers across the world. I think AliExpress will continue to rise but will fall short of overtaking the likes of Amazon and more specialist stores. Therefore, these cheaper brands will be made available in other places, but the bad quality items won’t.
Therefore, I would say; AliExpress is ruining cross stitch.