I found this factory from the internet and started conversations on making samples in April. They seem to be willing to work with me but since we only knew each other from a few emails, I needed more assurance.
Then a friend of mine who was excited about AGENdA kindly offered help. One Saturday morning, she took a cab and went to the factory. Through her iPad, I first met the owner of the factory and was able to see the factory. I learned that he has been making garments all his life and has built his factory on the 3rd and 4th floor of the building so that there are natural light and ventilation.
After some anxious waiting, he informed that the samples were going to be ready soon and I booked a flight that day. So in June, I finally was there, talking to them in person, reviewing samples together.
I am pretty sure all of this sounds normal but unfortunately it is not.
These days, designers rarely get the opportunity to visit the factory that they are working with. Everything is done over emails. You sketch the designs on the computer and send a technical package as an attachment. It is effective in many ways and let me be clear, I love emails. However, visiting a factory gives you a completely different sense of understanding in the process of making materials and garment assembly. It is crucial that you see and meet the people who you are working with. It is important that you walk around the factory and understand the process. It is exciting that you learn about new technology or method of working. Visiting a factory can help you to understand their way of work and capacity and make real connections. These experiences shape and define your work further. Or at least, they have been for me.
Korea is known for its quality textile and garment production but the industry has been declining with its labor cost incompetency and disconnection in transmitting skills from older workers. The government is trying to revive the industry with various supports and programs but countless small factories have been shut down. Like other manufacturing industries, the work itself does not appear attractive to the younger generation. Maybe learning skills is not something youth are encouraged to do in 2019. But everything comes from the skills, the experiences. The work of couturier is not essentially different from these seasoned workers in the factory.
We will have to think of ways to show respect and appreciation to the skilled workers in more tangible ways. That their work is valuable and meaningful. And doing so, we may help to attract youth who would learn the skills and continue the path.