Saturday, August 11, 2012

idealism and expectations


Updated at 11pm on 11th of August:  Youtube disallowed my video because the content is owned by KBS World.  These screenshots will give you an idea of this charming documentary about the tailor shops in Seomun Market. I filmed with my iphone directly from a Korean channel on cable television.
























The film goes on to capture more moments in the lives of the tailors and the clients.



Have you read Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline?   For anyone who likes to buy cheap clothes, this book will be a real buzz-kill. 

Unlike the client - tailor relationship depicted in the Korean documentary, Cline describes how drastically the business model has changed in clothing manufacturing over the last few decades.  We Americans buy clothes that have been manufactured in other countries.  

Hobbyists aside, sewing happens somewhere else.  When we see brand new garments selling for less than $20, it is natural to assume that it must be spit out by a machine somewhere.  Perhaps there are people feeding the fabric into the machine, but - somehow it's fast and easy, right?  [Maybe something needs to be expensive in order to get respect?  That is a whole 'nother discussion].



So, back to the documentary - we see people talking to each other about clothing! The purchase is not an anonymous, faceless transaction.  The outcome is based on the taste of the purchaser and the skill of the tailor.  There is mutual respect, as well as respect for the actual garments.  I like that.  There is somehow more meaning infused in every garment sewn and every garment purchased.  (clearly, this is the idealistic part of today's blog post)


PER-ANDRE HOFFMAN/GETTY IMAGES/LOOK


In a similar vein, check out this article in the Travel section of the Washington Post, by Marian Smith Holmes, about the many good reasons to vacation in Viet Nam.  In addition to the beaches, food, and fascinating culture, we accompany the author to several tailoring shops.  She orders a dress, a top and a pair of pants - all in beautiful silk fabrics.  As she says, "Scores of tailors will work all night at sewing machines in back of the shop ... to complete my order and dozens of others by morning."  The price for the top is $40.  Yes, you read that right. 

The next day, upon return to the shop, the author is very happy with the dress and the top, but the pants are too baggy and 
"they must be sent back to the tailors and won't be ready until the next morning ... buyer caveat: Allow sufficient time for final alterations. Sometimes even Hoi An's bespoke tailors need a do-over". 

Whoa, that was a fast shift from idealism to expectations, and by that I mean unrealistic expectations.  I am stunned that anyone could expect a perfect fit in these circumstances.   The difference between us and Ms. Holmes is that we sew.   We understand how much time is required and that fitting doesn't magically happen on the first try.  The author is simply not familiar with the process in the same way as the client in the Korean documentary. 
Having said that, I did enjoy the article on Viet Nam and hope to visit there someday.  Of course, I would also have clothes made - it would be the highlight of the trip for me.  

Aside from ruminating and navel-gazing (I'll spare you the navel-gazing) I have been sewing.  In the last week I have advanced from pajamas to shirt-making and I have a linen jacket in progress.  There will be a fashion shoot soon!
Til then, happy travels throughout the blogosphere

18 comments:

  1. Neat post! Made me think of getting clothing made by Tibetan tailors in India (seamstresses? female tailors? I don't know the right term!) At most they took 2 or three measurements... and by the next day they had created the most PERFECTLY fitting traditional wrap dress. Incidentally, I wore it later that day when I waited in line to shake the Dalai Lama's hand! I was really amazed at how precisely made and fitted the garment was, with so little information and no fittings. I guess when you only make one garment, day in and day out, you really become a master! I wish I could tell those women that I still have it and really value their workmanship!

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    1. wow, you got to meet the Dali Lama?! That had to be amazing!
      great story.

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  2. Sadly I cannot view the video - some copyright infringement? Never saw that on a blog before.

    Anyway I found your post to be thought-provoking. It is hard to remember when clothing was expensive.

    I too have had clothes made in Asia - Hong Kong in the 80's. Two perfectly fitting suits and one perfectly fitted pair of leather pumps. It was during a long sewing hiatus and so I did not appreciate all the work involved. Sad, but I did love those suits and wore them for years. The shoes were the most comfortable pair of heels I ever owned too.

    So glad you're blogging again!

    Martha

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    1. Martha, it's nice to know that the suits and shoes lasted for so long.

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  3. I can't see the video either - blocked for copyright reasons. Too bad.

    Yes, our culture has been conditioned to ridiculously low prices for RTW. It's sad and it definitely devalues craftsmanship. I think, in a way, Project Runway has a similar effect. It these designers can whip out a ballgown in 24 hours, it has to be easy, right?

    Anyway, this is a great discussion.

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    1. I agree with your point regarding Project Runway, although I am actually watching it again this year. There is some discussion of the designer's thought process and I just ignore the self-imposed drama. They put the participants under ridiculous time constraints and pressure, just to cook up some drama!

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  4. Great post Robin! Fast fashion isn't my cup of tea; there are so many moral and ethical ramifications to this topic.

    Looking forward to your fashion shoot and your new creations.

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    1. So true Judith, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject and Elizabeth Cline did a good job putting pen to paper & raise awareness.

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  5. I am reading Overdress right now. Very enlightening. So ture that when people don't sew they have no idea what is involved in getting the right fit and putting together a garment especially if there is alot of detail.

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  6. Interesting post---regarding clothing manufacturing, I have worked in dept. stores and knew that the retail $ was @ double the cost, give or take 10%. I assumed the manuf. cost would be the same. Then I read Teri Agins' book "The End of Fashion" and that in fact, the manuf. cost has a 400% markup. So if it retails or $40, the cost to the seller is $20 and the cost of the manufacturing is $5. Add a designer name to the 'pocket' and the markups change even more!!! What a rip-off. That is why I sew, and for the pleasure of turning something flat into something round!!
    Really enjoy your posts. Renita W.

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  7. Thank you for a thoughtful post. I loved the interview with the Korean tailor and hospital patient, and want to commend you for putting up the stills so we could all enjoy the dialogue.

    I bought very nice business wear in the 80s which took a large chunk out of my first pro paycheck and then inherited lots of clothing. I have never been able to afford that quality again. I feel sad for young women now who have so little choice of quality and so much quantity--->makes for devaluing each piece of clothing.

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    1. Mary, I did the same thing. I bought quite a few suits, blouses and cardigans for my first job. They lasted forever.
      The quality of fabric in the 80's was still good.

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  8. Great post! I'm not masterful tailor but since I do sew for others I too enjoy the interaction between the sewer and the client. It's so much more than just creating a garment. As depicted in the film you can become part of their life/situation in a unique way. I'd love to travel abroad to Korea and visit their tailor shops! That would be an amazing experience!

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    1. Victoria, with your attitude, I bet you make the process enjoyable for your clients.

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  9. Your writing, as always, pulls me in from the first sentence & holds me to the end (and I often want more!). I loved the little pictorial tale about the Korean tailor and client (thanks for taking the time to do that!).

    I still haven't bought any RTW since I re-started my sewing; I think even a trip to Asia wouldn't change that!

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    1. Well then you will have to be satisfied with fabric shopping, won't you? I found lovely fabrics in Korea when I visited.
      :)

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  10. Thanks for the post. Now reading Overdressed.

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  11. Re-do of the almost famous red linen jacket? Glad you are back on the bandwagon. It is so good for the soul.

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Thanks for visiting my blog and Happy Sewing, xo

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