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  • Stitching the 24-Hour City: Life, Labor, and the Problem of Speed in Seoul by Seo Young Park
  • Jinwon Kim
Stitching the 24-Hour City: Life, Labor, and the Problem of Speed in Seoul, by Seo Young Park. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2021. 186 pages.

Once a symbol of the labor movement in the 1970s and '80s, where Chun Tail-il—a sewing worker and labor activist—immolated himself to death by calling for standard labor law compliance in 1970, the Dongdaemun [End Page 415] Market now seems to have lost its past memories of the nation's once industrial backbone—the manufacturing industry and its industrial warriors. The Dongdaemun Market is now well-known as a late-night shopping mecca at the heart of Seoul, attracting both locals and domestic and international tourists looking for "fast fashion" items, including uniquely-designed and/or imitation clothing, shoes, and handbags. Hosted and organized by the Seoul Metropolitan Government at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) twice a year, Seoul Fashion Week also brings vivid and trendy fashion vibes to the "creative" class, from designers to fashion models to entertainers. However, often overshadowed by the flamboyant lights of the night shopping district and fashion shows, the industrial "past" of the city still resonates in the Dongdaemun Market, from manufacturing factories to garment workers and wholesalers. In fact, the Dongdaemun Market is a unique space, reinforcing contradictory and paradoxical urban images, for example, the postindustrial present and industrial past, and imitation and creativity, intersect and coexist in the fast pace and rhythms.

In Stitching the 24-Hour City, Park introduces and reminds readers of those who are often forgotten in the postindustrial urban discourses, but, who, in fact, create and recreate the space behind the scenes in the context of time and space—garment workers to wholesalers and retailers to market designers to labor activists in the rise and peak of the fast fashion industry. Research on the garment industry and the "fast fashion" industry is nothing new; scholars across the globe have paid attention to and analyzed various social issues around these industries, such as the gendered dynamics of the work, hazardous working conditions, labor exploitation, flexible production, ethical consumption, and environmental justice from boycotts against Forever 21 (a fast fashion brand) in L.A. to the Rana Plaza factory building collapse in Bangladesh. However, based on detailed fieldwork between 2008 and 2010 and periodically afterwards, Park uniquely and provocatively examines aspects of "sped-up" work, production, and circulation cycles in the industry with the rise of postindustrial spatial orders in South Korea through the knowledge economy and creative industry. More importantly, based on detailed participant observations and in-depth interviews, the author brings the local context from local histories and a sense of the time period to the front of her analysis. She shows how such unique traits of the work and industry are intertwined with workers' everyday lives in the context of intimacy, affection, and passion; how these workers actively construct and reconstruct the meaning of work. [End Page 416]

Part 1 focuses on how the fast-paced cycle of production and circulation are infused in personal lives of various actors in the Dongdaemun Market, including garment workers, wholesalers, retailers, and designers. Chapter 1 depicts the nightscape of Dongdaemun Market as a space for fast-paced ceaseless production and circulation and as a symbol of tense energy. In Chapter 2, the author shows how such everyday relationships in marriage, extended family networks, and colleagueship (often sisterhood) are interwoven in the sped-up production of the industry, particularly at home-factories and long-term development of networks. Chapter 3 challenges traditional understandings of the hierarchy between creativity and imitation and between designing and manufacturing; and raise questions about the ambiguity of such divisions in their work. Though Dongdaemun brands are often known as imitations or knockoffs of global or luxury brands with fast production, designers and seamstresses speak of their passions and emotional attachments to the products that they make, and they interpret the production process as creative evolution.

Part 2 focuses on the dissident and alternative spaces that labor activists and the local government create in order to...