SaekDong: The Colors of My Culture - Portmanteau Home

SaekDong: The Colors of My Culture

In my teen years, the time when I favored the palette of winter sky, I found the bright, vivid stripes of Saekdong garish and childish. The unapologetically pure blues, reds, yellows, greens and whites were all too jarring and too earnest. They seemed to lack the sophistication of muted tones and lack the subtleties of gentle pastel tones. The fact that most children's hanbok featured Saekdong prominently didn't help the fact that I had come to think of Saekdong as a choice of fabric for children.

Now in my 40s as a mother of two, I find myself irresistibly drawn to Saekdong with all its seemingly arbitrary mix of colorful stripes. The same vibrant colors that once struck me as infantile, now seem joyful and intimate. The sight of Saekdong fills me with visceral nostalgia of many holidays spent playing "yoot" and eating tasty Korean treats on the laps of aunties also dressed in colorful hanbok. The little lines of jewel tone colors no longer read common and brash, but something that is unmistakably Korean, something that gave a visual identity to my cultural heritage. Regardless of people's nationality, anyone who shares Korean heritage carries this special connection to Saekdong, and in this, the Saekdong fabric is an artifact of a cultural identity.

When I started to look into the history of Saekdong, I was surprised and humbled by the fact that I knew so little about this familiar vestige.  Saekdong refers to a traditional Korean patchwork fabric consisting of stripes of bright colors based on the philosophical concept of the five elements and yin-yang. For example, red represents fire, sun, and summer, while blue symbolizes the sky and spiritual powers. Yellow stood for center, earth, brightness, and peace. The juxtaposition of colors symbolized the harmony of elements coming together, as well as the desire to bring luck and ward off evil.

It was common practice to trim children's hanbok with Saekdong because people hoped to invite in good fortune and offer protection from evil for their children. In modern times, more colors were added to accentuate the pattern and Saekdong was produced with pigmented threads rather than done as patchwork by hand.

When I set out to create a brand for mixed race people like my children, Saekdong was a natural starting point. It was a visual memory I hope to impart on my children, to share my history with them, and to connect them to their own heritage.

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