top of page

The Slow and Free Life of Hanbok Designer Lee Hyo-Jae

Translated from a Kyobo Book News article by Sungsoo Lee (이성수), published April 14, 2011

"How are you doing these days?"

"Just in the house....”

"I want to hear about your way of life, your philosophy of life.”

"I don't have that. I just live without big thoughts."

The question was too big. After all, the question was for Lee Hyojae, a renowned hanbok designer, so I thought it would suit her, but I was wrong. So I thought of Hyojae as a simple homemaker and started with the question that I was most curious about. People often say, "How does Hyojae manage her living so well? What's the secret?"

As expected, Hyojae answered with only what she could come up with. "Everyone is good at living, but I've just been noticed. Making things is my job, so my ability to see the big picture is a little better than others. There are some advantages to this job after all."

She says, "Anything Hyojae touches should be pretty." It has to be meticulously pretty, too. At the same time, anyone could have done what she thought of. Her works are that simple. But in reality, it is not easy to be simple and beautiful. That's why those who have cooked for 20 years says it's the hardest to make a good bean sprout soup. Hyojae thinks she pulled it off when people exclaim, "That's very easy!"

Hyojae doesn't even waste time when thinking. People think that Hyojae look at ease when she's knitting, at least outwardly. But she actually thinks the most fiercely during the activity. "One day, I knitted for 14 hours on a flight to New York, and I finished a scarf. Some say that's time to relax and think about what to do in New York. But for me, it's better use of time to work and think than to look out the window blankly." Likewise, Hyojae is a laborer. "I think I have the happiest time when I'm working (including knitting)."

Her heart ached when she saw the earthquake in Japan. The hostile history between Korea and Japan remains, but who is not heartbroken when people suffer?

"My heart hurts so much. I heard that the history of Japan is filled with natural disasters. And that's why Japanese believe in all kinds of gods. Moreover, the leakage of radiation from Japan's nuclear power plant seems to have caused people on Earth to take the environment seriously. I have acquaintances in Japan, and I'm going to make kimchi and send it to them so that they can eat and cheer up. I hope kimchi warms their hearts.”

Hyojae's naturalism is not a result of forced seeking. Rather she only accepts what she is. Accept life quietly as it is. Thereby, she thinks we can practice naturalism even in the city center.

"If you can't live like that, that's unfortunate. Whether it's happiness or nature, you have to find and enjoy it yourself. Living close to nature is a little uncomfortable. But even if it's uncomfortable, I just live. If I had pursued money, I would have made money by selling my repaired house. But I can't do that. I don't live like that because I can't do that. I live as I want. I live here because I like quietness. It doesn't matter where it is. It's important to live as I want."

Hyojae saye she will live like Tarzan. Although she is physically in the center of the city, she insists "I live in the mountains no matter what anyone says," adding, "I want to live freely and naturally like Tarzan." For her, it is arrogant and conceited to discriminate food. Her philosophy is that food should be viewed from the perspective of the Earth's resident. It doesn't look good to throw away leftovers when those on the other side are starving.

"There are so many people on Earth who are still suffering from starvation that they can't afford to worry about food. I don't like it, but I also eat ramen and spaghetti. Even if you eat something like this, I'm thinking of drawing from the nature. For example, it's better to boil ramen with water parsley.”

Eating mild food makes people mild. Just as it doesn't matter where you live, it doesn't matter to Hyojae what food you eat. For her, food is only a substance expressed as energy. You can wrap the food around a large cloth and use it well. It's purely up to the person eating. The world goes so fast that it is blinding. People who come to Hyojae with their cutting edge smartphones saying, "I can see what you are doing through the phone." Hyojae is surprised. The world has become so small. Nevertheless, Hyo-jae is slow. The fur shoes I wore throughout the winter have ripened and I can't take them off even though the spring sun is clear. People see me and say, "You're too late to adapt." She replies, "I'm just late for the change."

"In the old days, people used to say I acted odd. But look now, my living style has become more trendy."

Many people want to live "Like Hyojae (title of her book)." What would she say to them?

Living 'Like Hyojae' is not difficult. First of all, the housewife like myself stays at home without spending money outside, so I think that alone makes me happy. I think that being myself is more than anything else about having well-mannered speech. The affection of the world begins with a beautiful way of speaking. Daughter takes after mom. If you think your future daughter will be who you are now, it wouldn't be hard to live like Hyojae.”

Hyojae has been running a wedding gift shop for more than 25 years. So she knows the daughter and mother better than anyone else. According to her observation, the daughter resembles her mother. Living like Hyojae must mean living without shame for her daughter. It is as if drawing the daughter's face in about 20 years, which seems to send the message, "You have to live well." She insists on remaining a woman 10 or 20 years later. She refuses to turn masculine as some women do when they get older. Since she is a woman, she hopes to stay a woman fiercely. Living as a woman is something that must not be taken away.

I asked Hyojae what her family motto is. She replied, "There is nothing special." At the same time, she shares her personal creed to the journalist looking for something special.

"There's nothing special. I'll feed when it's time. I'll put to sleep after dark."

Wait, if that's not philosophy. What is? It is not difficult to live "like Hyo-jae." Feed when it's time, sleep after dark, as life in nature is not complicated.

129 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page