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A Family Business Transformation

A Home, A Factory, A Microcosm of Taiwan’s Economy


A Home, A Factory, A Microcosm of Taiwan’s Economy

Source:Mingfang Li

From a labor-intensive family business to a half-automated manufacturer, the embroidery factory has witnessed Taiwan’s industrial shift. Read a microcosm of Taiwan's economy from the memories of the son of the factory's owner.



A Home, A Factory, A Microcosm of Taiwan’s Economy

By Mingfang Li
web only

The selling of the manufacturing machines in my family’s embroidery factory meant the retirement of my parents.

My parents started their business when I was a one-year-old baby boy. They started from stitch sewing machines (those you use to have your uniform named, with the brand 'Brother'  as the most well-known), then, they bought two 16-headed HAPPY-brand computer embroidery machines, which gradually replaced the traditional manual machines.

Our embroidery factory was a microcosm of Taiwan’s economy, from a labor-intensive family business to a half-automated manufacturer, changing specializations from women & children wear to lace knitting. As son of the owner, I used to pride myself on being on the cutting edge of fashion, with my shirt and pants straight from the pattern manufacturer, of latest upcoming designs that no one else could have tried on before me. When pattern sewing went outdated, my parents replaced stitches with tape, turning design patterns into punching holes to be read by the computers. The second floor of our factory was once flooded with tape.

After I went to high school, my father brought a Pentium 100 with a 512MB hard drive, a 8M Ram, a CD drive of double speed, a VGA signal card, and a HP jet400 inkjet printer. With a total cost of nearly NTD$ 70,000, my house had finally completed a digital transformation, too.

When I was a boy, every time my parents took me to a department store, they would start making comments on the embroidery of the children wear. “Which factory could have done this?” “How could they not even trim the bottom lines?”

That was a time when the concept of logo property was not widely established yet. Have you ever noticed which direction the tail of a Lacoste’s crocodile points at? Which hand does the Polo rider hold his mallet? Which ear of Disney’s Stella Lou is folded down? I think my parents have embroidered loads of logos with loads of different twists.

I never remembered any code for any color. What is red? What is glitter? I only know I grew up playing domino with staples and thread spools, heaps of empty spools that were at my reach. My parents never bought floss or flossers. Pull some thread from the holder, wrap the ends around the fingers, and floss away.

My parents have been talking about retiring for about 15 years, ever since I found a job. Then they said they would wait until I marry, until I have kids, until my brother gets married, until my brother had kids...

“If your old dad and mum have no job, your brother’s in-laws would think he came from a poor family.” said my over-worried parents.

After I got a job away from my hometown Tainan, my parents saw me less and less. Since the industry moved overseas and orders dwindled, my parents worked less and less. I wonder how they felt watching the factory getting emptier and emptier. A bit melancholy, I guess.

A couple of pictures were taken last time I brought my son with me back to the factory. Though my son no longer has a chance to relive the roomful of memories and stories that belong to our family, I still wanted to hold something back for him.

This is the life of my brother and I, weaved by Dad and Mum stitch by stitch.

Translated by Sharon Tseng.

Additional Reading

Finding Happiness in the Family Business
♦ Taiwan's Diverse Families
Stan Shih: No Outsourcing Granddad's Role