Local Celebrity in Sangju Hu Ho
Hamchang in Sangju, Gyeongsangbuk-do was once well-known for traditional Korean silk. Even though its reputation disappeared into the mists of history, Hu Ho succeeded in creating a new sensation by promoting traditional Korean silk. Let’s learn how he took the road less traveled to weave his own happiness.
Rediscovering Value Premium Silk Made with Defective Cocoons
Hamchang is the only region in Korea where traditional methods are still used in silk production. Hu Ho, CEO of Hu’s Silk Textile, is exploring the hidden value of traditional Korean silk while maintaining the tradition of Hamchang silk.
“Silk markets used to be held in Hamchang where several silkworm farms were located. My mother’s side of the family produced silk for a long time. I joined the business to help my mother, and now I am the fifth generation maintaining the family business.”
In the past, traditional silk (myeongju in Korean) was considered an expensive textile, but the silk market shrank significantly around 1980 as nylon fibers gained popularity. Hu Ho kept an eye on oksa (silk made from cocoons that have two silkworms), which was once considered defective as it had an uneven surface with small bead-like bumps. Oksa was once a headache to silk producers. Korean silk producers considered oksa a problem since it had to be sold at a discount.
“While I was thinking up new ideas, I realized that the small lumps on the surface of oksas looked like knots. From that time on, I dedicated my whole life to the silk business.”
The test products that Hu Ho made with oksa became a huge hit. These once defective products, which had cost less than half of standard silk, now became more expensive. It was a miracle by rediscovering the value of faulty silk, a new idea that turned into a great success.
Happiness Gained by Throwing Away Greed
Hu Ho gained a lot thanks to the success of faulty silk threads. However, he decided to close his business while he is on top, to keep the promise he made to his wife of having a less stressful job once they earned enough money.
“We wandered around, looking for an easier yet profitable job, and people told me our previous work was already a happy job. So I discussed this with my wife, and we promised to continue weaving silk, but not think too much about money this time.”
Once Hu Ho’s perspective changed, he began to see things that he had not seen before. Abandoned old looming machines and other items seemed new. Hu collected old things that were once regarded as junk and created a small museum with them. He experimented with several methods for combining warp and weft, creating more than 100 kinds of new silk products. He also succeeded in dyeing silk with persimmon after experimenting for 7 years. In 2013, he was chosen by the Gyeongsangbuk-do government as the best master in textile processing. He also received the Gyeongsangbuk-do Culture Award (in culture) in 2018.
“Silk is everything to me.Once I gave up my job and changed my mindset, everything looked new and I found true happiness. I am living a happy life now thanks to silk.”
The silk cloth flapping in the wind looks like the silk road that Hu Ho has taken throughout his life.
Hu’s Silk Textile uses traditional weaving methods in an era of advanced technologies. What makes the company stay competitive?
Even though most of the weaving process has become automated as times have changed, we still produce silk using traditional spindles. We use wet weft threads and dry warp threads, the two different threads adhere to each other, making textile that has a soft surface but a solid structure. Further, warp and weft threads do not easily loosen even when the silk cloth is pulled. The silk cloth does not loose shape even when wet since the areas where the wet weft and dry warp meet are fixed in the manufacturing process. These are the greatest strengths of Hu’s Silk Textile. Weaving silk using a spindle may be inconvenient, of course, but such inconvenience holds a significant value. That’s why I cannot give up the traditional method even if advanced technologies are available. Sticking to tradition is the secret to quality silk.
It took you a long time before you were able to dye silk using persimmons. Why didn’t you just give up this natural dyeing technique?
I tried for as long as 7 years before I succeeded in persimmon dyeing. Common sense said that silk, which is made with an animal ingredient, cannot be dyed with plant-based dyes such as persimmon extracts. Actually, I wanted to just give up when two years had passed after I started the experiment. But then, I realized I was trying to combine two major elements that represented the city of Sangju. The city is known for three things: dried persimmon, cocoon and rice. That is why I decided I had to make it work no matter what. I desperately wanted to combine these two different things. After going through so many trials and errors, I gradually learned various techniques such as how persimmon extract matures; and how weather and other factors affect the outcome. Later, I also learned how to create various patterns and used several ingredients including onion skins for dyeing.
What is the value of silk as a cultural tourism content?
The greatest value of Hanchang silk lies in the fact that it represents the well-preserved tradition of Hamchang. As a symbol of Hamchang, silk contributes greatly to promoting the area, through the Hamchang Silk Festival. Also, Sangju was designated a cittaslow, or a slow city, thanks to its silk business. When the review team from Citttaslow International visited our house, I introduced traditional Korean silk as the city’s main legacy. The Korea Silk Road Expedition team also visited the city in 2013; and the town was born into a silk art village as part of the Hamchang Village Art Project in 2014. This confirmed that the traditional Korean silk industry has enough potential to become a cultural content. Likewise, Korea’s traditional silk business, when combined with art, culture, and fashion, creates new values, proving that it is a valuable cultural tourism content. Currently, Korea Hanbok Center is under construction in Hamchang, and the project was initiated since the tradition of silk was kept alive in the city. In addition, various cultural tourism content related to traditional silk are being developed such as the Silk Theme Park, the Hamchang Silk Festival as well as the Hamchang Silk Museum. I’m very happy that the business that I know very well is transforming the region.
Silk Textile Factory and Exhibition Hall Tour
An exhibition hall on the first floor of Hu’s Silk Textile building displays machines for producing silk and related items such as spinning wheels, reels, reelers, reel winders, and a special spinning wheel made with a bicycle. You can touch age-old articles that silk masters once used; and look around the exhibition hall as you listen to Hu’s guide. You can also visit the textile factory where silk is being produced and learn the production process of traditional silk.
Silk Weaving Class
The silk making process is comprised of extracting raw silk threads from cocoons; feeding them into the spinning reel; winding the thread; weaving the silk using a loom; drying and boiling the cloth; drying the boiled cloth; and dyeing and ironing. Participants can experience part of the weaving process including spinning the wheel to extract threads from cocoons and actually weaving silk cloth using a loom.
Natural Silk Dyeing Class
You can experience dyeing silk with persimmon extracts using a method that Hu Ho developed after several years of trial and error. Make your own scarf using Hu’s special persimmon dyeing technique.
- Dyeing Class:
- Small size
- Large size
- Small size
RECOMMENDED TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Hamchang Silk Museum
The Hamchang Silk Museum exhibits reproductions of the whole silk making process from extracting threads to weaving silk cloth using a loom. You can learn about the history of Korean silk, the features of Hamchang silk, and weaving silk on a loom. Don’t forget to visit the Silk Theme Park, the Silkworm and Insect Museum, the Butterfly Garden run by the Gyeongsangbuk-do Silkworm & Insect Management Center and a workshop that holds natural dyeing classes.
- 1593 Muun-ro Hamchang-eup, Sangju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Hamchang Art Road
Hamchang Art Road was developed with artwork created during the village’s art project “Hamchang Yegoeul: Geum Sang Cheom Hwa” (the original meaning of Geum-sang-cheom-hwa was adding luster to what is already beautiful). The artworks are exhibited in four different theme zones: Geum zone in Hamchang station; Sang zone in Jinggeuraemi Village where Goryeong Gaya Kingdom’s royal tomb is located; Cheom zone in the Hamchang traditional market; and Hwa zone at the site of a brewery.
- 31 Gaya-ro Hamchang-eup, Sangju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do