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June 24, 2017

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Dreams made in Taiwan

Life was very different in the 1960s when Hung Chi-feng's (洪啟峰) grandmother made a living sewing clothes with leftover fabric scraps they got from garment exporters in his hometown of Changhua (彰化). The family set their foot in the clothing industry because the entrance threshold was low. "Everyone who knows how to sew can make clothes," Hung said.

One generation later the family had moved to Wanhua (萬華), Taipei's wholesale hub for clothes, when Hung's mother sewed her own maternity clothes as she had when Hung was in her belly. Maternity clothes were sold with other clothes by accident. But when it became a popular item among neighbors, the Hung family paid more attention to those products.

"Later on I realized maternity clothes were popular because it was during the baby boomer period, and the demand grew naturally," explained Hung, who grew up seeing how his parents did business, later becoming the 3rd-generation owner of Yumeeiren Maternity Garment (YMR, 玉美人孕婦裝).

Made-in-Taiwan Label

Things have changed, as the birth rate in Taiwan is relatively low these days. Hung takes orders from other markets to keep his factory running when the demand for maternity clothes is not flourishing locally. In the meantime he keeps thinking of ways to promote his business. One direction he has looked into is making his products more attractive.

"Consumers' standards for maternity clothes have changed. It has to be good-looking, fit the body's shape, and still be wearable after the pregnancy," he said.

When the Fashion Institute of Taipei (FIT, 西園29服飾創作基地) was preparing to set up in Wanhua earlier this year, YMR was one of the first local manufacturers FIT approached for collaboration, and they introduced Hung to a designer to create this year's YMR winter collection.

The FIT was established by Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs (經濟部工業局), commissioned to Taiwan Textile Federation (TTF, 中華民國紡織業拓展會) this year.

"Design talent is something we lack. Not just for us, this is a common problem among Taiwanese secondary sectors and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), and that's how FIT can benefit us," Hung said.

When larger enterprises move their factories to China, Cambodia or Vietnam, where they find cheaper labor, smaller businesses that do not have the capital to move face problems surviving in Taiwan.

"With an institution like FIT, we have someone with which to seek consultancy, and to ask for help when we need it," Hung added.

After a month working with Hung, the designer created 15 items ranging from a mantle to shorts and several tops. Hung produced 50 to 60 pieces each, and they are available in his shop now.

"The design we made on our own was based on what we have seen. We didn't dare to make something that looks very different, but FIT's designer expanded that line and his design attracted women who are not pregnant as well!"

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