Featured Photo: Young Shin Kye and Mimi Chang in the sewing room (Photo by Nancy Sidelinger Herring)
In celebration of AAPI Month, TCB will be sharing stories from PAVE NC, a local volunteer-run organization highlighting the stories of Asian Americans in the South for the month of May. To learn more about PAVE NC visit their website here or read TCB‘s profile of co-founders Tina Firesheets and Christie Soper here. This story was originally published by PAVE NC here.
Story by Sayaka Matsuoka, photos by Nancy Sidelinger Herring, digital production by Dave of Maunaleo Ventures
Craftroom GSO is a Greensboro homeware and gift shop specializing in handmade items, all made by friends Mimi Chang and Young Shin Kye. The store opened in 2018 and is located at 1329 Beaman Place in Greensboro, next to the Tiny Greenhouse. In a small studio at the back of the store, Chang and Kye make everything from quilted purses to crocheted miniatures to leather handbags. Find out more about Craftroom GSO by following them on Instagram at @craftroomgso.
“We’re not a great success, but we’re happy with what we’re doing.”
So when did you guys open Craftroom GSO?
Mimi: About four years ago.
Young Shin: We were in the green building facing the street and we worked and worked. And then we moved here a year later. So we’ve been here for three years and we’ve decided to sell our products to the public.
Tell me about your background. You are both originally from Korea?
Mimi: I came in 1990 because I married my husband who immigrated here. I moved to Greensboro from Korea.
Young Shin: When I first came to the United States, I was studying in San Francisco in 1997. Then I went back to Korea in 2001 and came back to the US in 2008.
In 1997 my husband studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and I also studied there for two and a half years. When my husband finished his studies, we went back to Korea and he started teaching in a college. But one day he said he wanted to move back to America. So we went to Orlando for three months and then to South Carolina for a year. In 2009 we moved to Greensboro for my husband’s work.
do you have children here
Mimi: I have three girls but they’re all gone, all grown up. One in Atlanta, one in Ohio, and one in Seattle.
Young Shin: “I have two daughters – the eldest is attending UNCG and the younger daughter is going to college at NC State this year. They are all grown up too.”
When I was younger we moved a lot for my father’s job in the hospitality industry. Wherever he went, my family went. I imagine it similar to your situation. What made you both decide to open your own business?
Young Shin: It’s actually quite a complicated story. When I moved to North Carolina in 2009, I worked at a hotel owned by my husband’s family. But then we decided to be independent of his family, so from 2012 to 2016 I opened a restaurant – El Nuevo, a Korean-Mexican restaurant – in downtown Greensboro. After we closed I was kinda bored so I started teaching sewing classes to my church members at my house. And I met Mimi in 2015, she is my best student!
My major was Product Design and my Masters is Art Fusion Design so I’ve always dreamed of owning my own business or something in the design field.
Mimi: I’m simpler, but I helped my mother make hanboks, traditional Korean dresses. Now I’m a housewife.
Young Shin: But she has all these talents.
Mimi: My kids were already gone and I was in an empty house, so I wanted to start something.
How did teaching the classes to start your own business evolve?
Young Shin: We weren’t that interested in quilting or sewing back then. We were more interested in ceramics. So we went downtown for a pottery class, and at the same time I opened that class up to my parishioners. I always wanted my own shop and I convinced her.
Mimi: She always brings me with her.
Young Shin: We’re not a great success, but we’re happy with what we’re doing.
What is your favorite part about owning the company?
Mimi: My favorite activity is sewing and making things out of leather. I like to make small things and bags. I also like ceramics. My hobbies are always sewing or crocheting, doing handicrafts. That’s why I like it.
Young Shin: I’m always thinking about new things, that’s the happiest part for me. I have to study the materials and the colors and everything. I’ve always wanted to make something of my own so it’s small but my dreams have come true.
You have many items in your shop. How do you decide what to do?
Young Shin: It’s all about how we feel. Sometimes we want to crochet, so we crochet or make bags. It’s about following your feelings. It’s good because we are the owners, so we can do whatever we want. It’s easy.
What are some of your most popular items?
Young Shin: The crochet things and the little purses.
What else would you like to tell people about your shop?
Young Shin: Just running a shop with handmade things is difficult. But that’s why the price of the product can seem high when we make something. Recently, the prices of all materials have increased. But we’re happy with what we do and I’m proud that we don’t buy bulk goods from a factory. Everything is handmade.
Mimi: We use handcrafted materials. We try to stay true to our spirit.
Young Shin: Before the pandemic, I went to Korea every year and also bought material there. So when people come here, they will see that our fabric is a little bit different than others.
When was the last time you were in Korea?
Mimi: I was last there in September 2019
Young Shin: I went in September 2021. All my family is over there.
Is there anything you miss about Korea?
Young Shin: Yes, I miss the food. But I find it more comfortable to live here.
Mimi: I miss Korean food, so I cook a lot.
Young Shin: She’s a really, really good cook.
How do you like living in Greensboro?
Young Shin: I like small towns very much. I’m from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. It was so complicated. After I got married we went back to a small town where he was born. I feel like small towns are better for me, so I’m comfortable in Greensboro.
Mimi: My husband immigrated here in 1979, so his family lives here. That’s why I came here and I take care of my husband and my husband’s side of the family.
Young Shin: She has a big family here. When I first came to San Francisco, there were a lot of Asians, so I didn’t feel that weird. But there are fewer Asians here, so it’s a bit different.
Mimi: When I came here, there were two Korean markets – one in High Point and one in Spring Garden. But when my husband came in 1979, there were no Korean markets. He said he wanted to make Bibim pasta but bought spaghetti pasta.
Young Shin: I also think Greensboro is getting bigger as new factories and businesses are added. I hope it doesn’t get too complicated. I think Greensboro is a really good place to raise kids to start a family.
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