‘Sympathy’ and ‘Empathy’. Do you know the difference between these two words? ‘Sympathy’ is feeling pity at another’s pain. ‘Empathy’ is sharing other people’s pain as if it were your own. So, what do you feel about the former comfort women; sympathy or empathy? In 2010, one male student who had a dream to be a salaried worker of a major company empathized with the scratches and damages of former comfort women. His life was changed by this empathy. While other people got a job in major companies, he set up a company in order to regain the preciousness of former comfort women. His company was established with the intention of being clearly different from other companies whose purposes were just ‘profits’. What was the driving force to found a small social venture? His story helps us to not only better understand comfort women, but also reconsider the reason why we try to be employed or set up a business.
1. I wonder about how you founded Marymond.
When I returned to school after my military service, I happened to enter a business club. At that time I was placed on the comfort women team. When we had ideas and made strategies, we said groundless things. We couldn’t proceed in such a state anymore, so we went to the Comfort Women History Museum at Gwang-ju. I was totally shocked and began to think a lot. Comfort women must have had much more pain than what we read about in history books. I was curious about why it was simply dealt with as an ethnic problem. I was very sorry to remember them as only victims because they were ordinary grandmothers when we looked for them. Actually I was not thinking of setting up a business at that time, but I got very involved in this work. As the chairman of our club before graduation, I participated in making a brand and founded a company. When I founded it, I just thought f making a sub-brand ‘Heeum’. However, people confused ‘Heeum’ with ‘Heeum the Classic’, so I changed the name to Marymond and managed it differently. Now it treats comfort women but I plan to reconsider the stories of other women, too.
2. I wonder about the operating system of Marymond. Have you received investment and sponsorship?
When I started the business, I received founding financial support, not sponsorship. There was a government-sponsored project for social enterprises and development businesses. After deciding on starting a business, I prepared and applied for it. Luckily I was given a subsidy. We produced scarves and handkerchiefs for men and many other things during the first year, but they all failed. I had some idea of what the job would be like by the time we made a pattern book. Among the 300 teams that participated in the project, 20 teams could be given secondary support. We were selected for corporate support when we made a presentation of our business plans. We were more enthusiastic during the second year. We have not received any big support since then. If operating costs are required, I enter a PT contest and win a prize. Marymond can be given investment because it is a company, but in general, companies invest in other companies which can create profits easily such as a game app company. Even if our company can create profits, we have difficulty distributing them and donate a certain percentage of them, so it is hard to get investment. In November, the application will come out. My plan is to look for ways of receiving a personal small investment through it.
3. When did you feel a sense of satisfaction as you proceeded with the project for comfort women?
There are two aspects. First, when the seniors who led this movement and the family of grandmothers thank us, we feel “Oh, we are really helpful to them.” Second, we gain strength when we receive the feedback like, ‘I didn’t know what to do with grandmothers before, now I can express respect and support for them through this method.’
4. How do grandmothers want the issue of comfort women treated?
That depends on grandmothers. In fact, there are support payments and subsidies by government and local governments. It is the most appropriate way to give the money to grandmothers who need the cost of living and nursing. But they want people to listen to their stories sincerely, to empathize and show support and respect, rather than money. People think of them with sympathy, not respect, since they regard them as victims. Actually when making patterns, many works by grandmothers are beautiful enough not to need more touching. Their artistries are excellent and they make a good speech at Wednesday meetings. They show clearly in their speeches the recognition that what they ask for is not sympathy but that the next generation will live properly. However, it's regrettable that this part is often hidden. So, our role is to support them so that their stories are shared with as many people as possible, for example, with people like the president of an idol fan club.
5. What is the most memorable story about comport women?
Every testimony is sad. Whenever I read their testimonies before designing a pattern, I feel depressed and confused. Recently some employees visited comfort women in China with collected donations. He is still posting his experiences of his China business trip on SNS. When hearing of his experiences, I felt strongly that this is not an old story, but exists even now. He came to work harder after going there, and it is also helpful to me.
6. Two grandmothers who made the works that are motives of Marymond products are dead. Are products made from only their works? Are you inspired by other work?
I was given about 200 pieces of work from Sunak, Kim’s grandma, and Dalyeon, Sim’s grandma. I think the less work there is, the more rare and valuable the works are. Even from the same work, different patterns and products are made depending on designers. We appreciate the limited number of work, which results in increasing the value of the grandmothers’ work, and we can show they are artists. It is the same as the songs of the Beatles and other legendary singers. They are felt differently depending on which band is singing.
7. What is the goal of ‘Marymond’?
Now, an application and a new ‘Mother project’ are the most important. After the app comes out, unlike now in which we concentrate on products, it is expected to do business based on book media content from the app. We plan to create various versions for other countries and distribute them free so that grandmothers’ stories will be known abroad. Since many companies make patterns but don’t use an application, it will be our strength. In addition, our ultimate goal is to sell goods overseas via the app, and in the long term, open our stores in famous overseas spots so that when people enter the store, they can get a sense of history from grandmothers’ photos and show respect to them.
When we asked for a piece of advice for founding a business, he said he couldn’t give any advice for making a better selection. But he said if there is not a clear, ‘why’, then we should not start a business. For the question, “Don’t you have any difficulty?” he answered that of course he had hard times. Sometimes even if there are always sales, there is a net loss. However, he can’t give up, owing to the obvious reason why he keeps on doing this work and the team mates who are eager for it. Even if the grandmothers are all dead, this story does not end and should never be forgotten. Therefore it is his role to make people not forget these stories by melting them in the products people use in their daily life. From now on, not only grandmothers’ stories but also the stories of mothers whose housework is undervalued because they are not assigned a monetary value, and the stories of many women of the world; these will be conveyed by him. I think he who conveys these stories and regains their preciousness is the true Marymond of this world. (Marymond means ‘flower that symbolizes the hope of restoration’)
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