It’s 7:30 am and she’s already begun her day. Fabric swatches lay sprawled across her desk as she looks carefully at each, analyzing the color, the weave pattern. This was never supposed to be more than a hobby. At least that was her parent's expectation, but with each new thread of knowledge came the desire to learn more. A desire to hone her craft. With a clear understanding of what the customer likes about each fabric she begins deconstruction. Using her pick glass she meticulously pulls apart each thread, recording the weave, the color. Her seasoned eye picks up patterns. She finishes and moves on to the next. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the swatches she has pulled apart, she can begin reconstruction, only this time with modifications. Modifications that reflect a vision laid out by the customer. Six hundred individual threads are dressed and she begins. This is Eun Hong, and she’s Senior Technical Designer at American Woolen Company.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where were you born and how did you decide to come to the U.S.?
I was born in Busan, South Korea. I graduated from college there with a major in English literature. I then attended a fashion school in Seoul for Merchandizing and Coordinating and later worked at a hand print studio my uncle owned. The studio produced hand painted patterns for women’s apparel and men’s ties. I loved drawing patterns and mixing paints to create colors. After working at the studio for one year I realized I wanted to pursue a career in textile design. My parents and I then decided I should further my studies in the United States.
When did you decide to become a technical textile designer? How did you become interested in this field?
I came to California in 1991 and attended Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing (FIDM) in Los Angeles in order to study weaving, knitting and hand printing. Later, I transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts, concentrating in textile design. I then completed a Master’s degree in textile design at Philadelphia University in 1996.
Prior to graduating from Philadelphia University, I did an internship at Warren Mills which was then owned by Loro Piana and is now owned by American Woolen. I also worked at the New York office of a Rhode Island based textile company as a junior stylist in their men’s division. In 1999 I received a full-time job offer as a Technical Designer from Warren Mills and I stayed there until 2012. When I received a call from American Woolen in 2014, I jumped at the chance to be part of the team.
What is the most rewarding part of your job as a designer?
When I know that I’ve successfully established the technical data of a new product that is well received by the market. When I know that I have fully understood a customer’s request and enabled them to achieve what they want in a fabric. But the most rewarding part is working with experienced people in the industry and learning/applying knowledge I’ve gleaned from them.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Anything that stands in the way of producing the highest quality product in the most efficient way possible. That can take the form of inferior raw materials, malfunctioning machinery, or miscommunication in the product development process. The challenges are never the same.
What’s the purpose of a handloom at an industrial textile mill? When do you use it and why?
When a customer has an idea or an inspirational fabric swatch, a handloom can give them a concrete visual example of their ideas. The handloom is more efficient and requires a shorter lead time than producing sample yardage in production. So the customer benefits by seeing confirmation of their design and colors prior to placing a production order.
What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in learning technical textile design?
The person has to have a passion, willingness to put his/her mind and soul into everything they learn at school. Other skills such as paying attention to details, knowing what to ask / when to ask and having a persistent mind set are important as well. I also highly recommend that young people seek out opportunities to visit and work in industrial textile settings. No amount of academic training can prepare you for the realities of the production floor.
What do you like to do in your spare time? Anything surprising?
I love watching movies, particularly documentaries about artistic chefs, travel and interviews with artists. I am fascinated by the stories, work, life experiences and philosophies of artistic chefs and how they use their creativity. I have endless respect and admiration for creative artists.