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 by PAVE NC, a local volunteer-run organization that highlights the stories of Asian-Americans in the South, for the month of May. To learn more about PAVE NC, visit their site here or read TCB‘s profile of the 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 from Maunaleo Ventures
Craftroom GSO is a home goods and gift shop in Greensboro specificalizing in handcrafted items, all made by friends Mimi Chang and Young Shin Kye. The shop opened in 2018 and is located at 1329 Beaman Place in Greensboro, next to the Tiny Greenhouse. Using a small studio set up in the back of the shop, Chang and Kye create everything from quilted purses to crocheted miniatures to leather handbags. Learn more about Craftroom GSO by following them on Instagram at @craftroomgso.
“We are not a big success, but we are happy with what we are doing.”
So when did you guys open Craftroom GSO?
Mimi: Around four years ago.
Young Shin: We were in the green building with the face down the street and we were just working and working. And then we moved here one year later. So we’ve been here for three years and we decided to start selling our products for the public.
Tell me a bit about your background. You guys are both from Korea originally?
Mimi: I came in 1990 because I got married to my husband who immigrated here. I moved from Korea to Greensboro.
Young Shin: The first time I 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 was studying at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and I was studying there too for two and a half years. When my husband finished his studies we went back to Korea, and he started teaching at a college. But one day, he said that he wanted to move back to America. So we went to Orlando for three months and then South Carolina for one year. In 2009, we moved to Greensboro for my husband’s job.
Do you guys have kids here?
Mimi: I have three girls but they are all gone, all grown up. One in Atlanta, one in Ohio and one in Seattle.
Young Shin: “I have two daughters — the oldest is attending UNCG and the younger daughter is going to college this year at NC State. They’re all grown up too.”
When I was younger, we moved around a lot for my dad’s job in the restaurant business. Wherever he went, my family went. I imagine that’s similar to how your situations are. So what prompted you two to open up your own business?
Young Shin: It’s actually kind of a complicated story. When I moved to North Carolina in 2009, I was working at a hotel owned by my husband’s family. But then we decided to be independent from his family, so I opened up a restaurant — El Nuevo, a Korean-Mexican restaurant — in downtown Greensboro from 2012 to 2016. After we closed, I was kind of bored so I started teaching a sewing class for my church members in my home. And I met Mimi in 2015, she is my best student!
My major was in product design and my master’s is art fusion design so I always dreamed about my own shop or something in the design field.
Mimi: I’m more simple, but I helped my mother make hanboks, Korean traditional 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.
So how did teaching the classes develop into starting your own business?
Young Shin: At the time, we weren’t that interested in quilting or sewing. We were more interested in ceramics. So we went to take a ceramics class downtown, and at the same time, I opened up that class for my church members. I always wanted my own shop, and I convinced her.
Mimi: She always brings me.
Young Shin: We are not a big success, but we are happy with what we are doing.
What is your favorite part about owning the business?
Mimi: My favorite part is sewing and making things out of leather. I like making small things and bags. I also like ceramics. My hobbies are always sewing or crocheting, making something. 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 always wanted to do something of my own, so this is small but my dreams have come true.
You have a lot of items in your shop. How do you decide what to make?
Young Shin: It’s just about how we feel. Sometimes we want to crochet so we crochet or something we make bags. It’s about following the feelings. It’s good because we are the owners so we can do whatever we want. It’s simple.
What are some of your most popular items?
Young Shin: The crocheted things and the small coin purses.
What else would you like people to know about your shop?
Young Shin: Only running a shop with handmade things is difficult. But that’s why when we make something, the price of the product can seem high. Recently, the price of all of the materials have gone up. But we are happy with what we are doing, and I’m proud that we don’t buy mass products from a factory. Everything is handmade.
Mimi: We use artisan materials. We try to stick to our spirit.
Young Shin: Before the pandemic, I would go to Korea every year and buy material there too. So when people come here, they’ll see that our fabric is a little different from others.
When was the last time you visited Korea?
Mimi: I last visited in September 2019
Young Shin: I went in September 2021. All of my family is over there.
Is there anything about Korea that you miss?
Young Shin: Yeah, I miss the food. But for living, I think it’s more comfortable 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 really like small towns. I came from Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. It was so complicated. After I got married, we went back to a small city where he was born. I feel like small cities are better for me, so I feel 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. The first time I came to San Francisco, there were a lot of Asians so I didn’t feel that weird. But here, there are less Asians, so it’s a bit different.
Mimi: When I first came here, there were two Korean markets — one in High Point and one on Spring Garden. But when my husband came in 1979, there were no Korean markets. He said he wanted to make bibim noodles, but he bought spaghetti noodles.
Young Shin: I also think Greensboro is getting bigger, with the new factories and companies coming. I hope it doesn’t get too complicated. I think Greensboro is a really good place for raising children, for raising a family.
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