DEAR magazine began as a call for attention to independent fashion labels where the owners actually hold needles and thread in their hands. In a metropolitan capital brimming with citizens of all ages exhibiting the latest overpriced designer attire — or lookalikes — the stories behind products are often forgotten, and commodities are often overlooked as machine-made merchandise. DEAR reminds consumers to apprehend the material and existing story living in every item, which attributes more character to fashionable products considering these inevitably make up the essence of fashion, allowing items to become commodities rather than merchandise for the masses. We asked the makers of DEAR some questions.

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Chincha: How did this magazine get started?

DEAR: We published the first issue of DEAR in November 2011 to participate in a self-publication feature by g:colon, a Korean design magazine, with support from Hankook Paper. We were later picked up by Seoul Design Foundation’s Young and Social Entrepreneurship Promotion Initiative, which provided financial support for our second and third issues.

The initial members were a group of school friends, but it grew as we received contributions from columnists, designers, illustrators, musicians and translators. For our third issue, we collaborated on our photography with Keith Kim, who was in Seoul temporarily.

What does the name DEAR Magazine signify?

Just like the word “Dear,” which we use to call someone we hold dear in our hearts, the name of our magazine carries our affection for our subject. We look at the manufacturing sector of the fashion industry and listen to small-scale and independent artisans and workers. It’s through revaluing their efforts that we try to bring a fresh perspective to the public.

What is the goal of DEAR Magazine?

We want to bring people’s attention to the relatively neglected side of fashion: the actual production. There are people behind the glamorous main stage of fashion, who actually make any of it possible. They’re often simply summed up by the word ‘artisans,’ but their world is so broad, so diverse. And there’s an added layer of its specificity in Korea. With all of this in mind, we hope more people to be genuinely interested in the production processes.

What were the three issues so far about?

Our first issue, being the first, wasn’t given another title. It featured a tailor in Itaewon, an embroiderer, a stage costume store, an alteration service for foreigners, a bookstore, and small shops. From the second issue we started concentrating more strongly on fashion. It was titled ‘THINK TWICE,’ implying that fascinating designs can only come to realization with the help from the makers, whose endeavours as a creative process deserves a ‘second thought.’

The third issue is titled ‘Local-Specific Fashion,’ and this time we focused on regional trends and local manufacturers around Korea. How is fashion produced, consumed, and experienced in specific locations? And how are people in the business informed by their personal and social relationship to specific places?

On our website, we’ve posted a short trailer and introduction for each of our issues.

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Do you feel frustrated at the ways your subjects market their craft?

Sometimes. Manufacturing, just like any other industry, has great variance in terms of business size, and bigger companies have their long-term strategies and have the resources to execute them. The bigger they are, the more they can afford to think about how they market their products. The smaller firms, on the other hand, have barely enough time or money to concentrate on production. Especially with outsourced manufacturing, heavy price competition often results in undercompensation. In these cases, ‘marketing’ becomes almost a luxury. We hope that DEAR Magazine’s focus can bring attention to these aspects and invite discussions. We are a small operation ourselves, but we hope we can provide marketing opportunities for those who can’t afford more conventional methods. Ultimately, we would like the readers to try and rethink fashion from this perspective.

Do most of your subjects want their companies to remain small?

As we said, many can’t choose to grow beyond the size they can afford. Particularly with sewing, printing, washing, sample rooms, and other typically-small operations, they are unequipped to carry out larger projects or control their workload. Larger factories that do exclusive OEM with major labels, on the other hand, have good benefits for employees and education program on fashion manufacturing as well.

Many of our interviewees point out that the quality of fashion manufacturing in Korea is high enough to compete globally, but for it to really grow it needs to upgrade the quality of employment and management, maybe with a policy-level subsidization.

DEAR Magazine also meets and listens to independent designers, educators, and international brands. Some designers choose to keep their companies small to stay true to their vision and minimize compromise. These place their values in producing a small number of high-quality designs rather than focusing on cost or mass-appeal; they often team up with small factories, which we believe is an effort to help Korean fashion find the right direction.

From your research, do you think your subjects keep up with trends or do they tend to leave their style unchanged?

Working in fashion inevitably involves both, and we don’t believe that one is central and the other is peripheral. But we can say that, when we look back on our subjects, most of them have a very clear style of their own.

Do you think people are becoming more conscious or curious about where the clothes or material they buy are coming from?

Definitely. And we think it is a crucial part of branding to explain how a product is made, what it’s made of. It confirms your belief in quality products.

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Where can people pick up copies of Dear Magazine?

On/offline in Korea: Your-mind, The book society, msk shop; Offline, Korea: Works, Take Out Drawing, 1984, Gagarin, Thanks Books, From the Books, Shop Makers, The Pollack, lure at; Online, Korea: 29cm, Aladin, Musinsa Store, alvo; abroad: Do you read me (Berlin), Pro qm (Berlin), Standard Bookstore (Osaka), SALON FÜR KUNSTBUCH (Wein).

Interview by Marisol Park
Images by Keith Kim