In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, many young women flocked from the countryside to Seoul seeking work in the burgeoning garment industry and at the sewing factories of Pyeonghwa Market. They worked and lived in squalor and were brutally exploited; many suffered from starvation and were unable to access education. They became politicised and started to organise, struggling for the improvement of their lives by forming women’s networks of solidarity, setting up activist labour clubs, as well as literacy and learning classes.
This was met with opposition by the industry and the government, and sometimes faced resistance from the existing male-dominated labour unions. The contribution of women to the birth of democratic trade unionism in the 1970s is still insufficiently acknowledged, despite the decisive political changes it brought to Korean society. Sewing Sisters honours this history, bringing together some of the women protagonists of this struggle to reminisce candidly about those years, sharing their memories about the difficulties, but also great achievements, they experienced through photographs, documents, and manifestos, as well as the slogans and songs they chanted.