Interview with Mayor Chang-hee Lee of Jinju City, South Korea

By Ashley Anklam

Today we are celebrating the opening of the Jinju Silk Exhibition and Sales Hall at Botani fabric store in the heart of the garment district. I sat down with the Jinju City mayor to discuss what brings such an exotic fabric to the Big Apple:

A: Mayor Chang-hee Lee it’s nice to meet you. Would you please briefly describe Jinju City?

M: Yes! Jinju is in the southern part of Korea, have you ever been to Korea?

A: I have not.

M: It’s about an hour away from the capital Seoul. We are one of the 5 largest silk producing countries in the world with 70% coming straight from Jinju City.

A: Big silk town!

M: Oh yes, we have a long history over 1,000 years producing this silk.

A: Wow! So you guys are definitely good at it. Last week there was the Jinju Yudeung Festival attracting travelers from across the globe, can you tell me about the festival?

M: Well in 1592 Japan invaded Korea, at the time there was only a small amount of soldiers but we won. The next year, 1593, Japan brought 100,000 soldiers and about 70,000 Korean soldiers died. A fortress that surrounded the castle provided protection but in order to communicate with those outside the wall, silk lanterns had to be used. Today the Jinju Yudeung Festival is a festival of water, fire, and light- lighting over 75,000 lanterns in Jinjuseong Fortress and the Namgang River. Jinju has been recognized as an International Festival City by the IFEA (International Festivals & Events Association). It is rapidly becoming one of the top 5 world festivals people will visit each October.

A: That’s incredible, how many people came this year?

M: Around 3 million people, it lasts for 2 weeks.

A: That’s great for tourism! It sounds like silk industry plays a big role.

M: It does, next year you should come! Out of all the festivals in the world you have never seen anything like this. This opening of Jinju Silk Exhibition and Sales Hall will be the base of developing overseas markets for the industry.

A: Why did you want to expand here in New York?

M: It is the fashion capital of the world. After participating in the New York TexWorld Exhibition last year I sought the opportunity to give buyers the chance to experience and purchase Jinju silk themselves. The fabric store Botani in Chelsea is owned by Jinju natives. They were more than happy to incorporate the silk into their showroom.

A: So this is the first Jinju silk has been in NYC, with such a luxurious fabric is there a plan to attract designers?

M: Of course, I think the most effective way to reach them is to host a fashion show of works made with Jinju silk. It is not easy to get picked up by top world fashion designers. Botani is involved with fashion schools in the city. We are going to make an aggressive promotion by organizing a silk design competition for the future designers.

A: This is exciting! So now that you’re expanding into the United States is there a plan to go completely global?

M: Europe is the next focus. We will be attending an exhibition in Munich at the end of the year to strengthen our presence and continuously develop new nature-friendly products with creative designs.

A: Fantastic place to expand! Before we finish is there anything else you would like to add?

M: Spread the word of Jinju silk (laughs) and thank you for sitting down with me today.

A: It was my pleasure!

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