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The Salvation Army’s Tailor: Fifty years of bespoke uniforms

David Kwan-Yong Kang survived an astonishingly difficult childhood. Orphaned at two years old after his father was killed during the opening salvos of the Korean War in 1950, he lived on the streets of Seoul with other abandoned youths.

He eventually found his way to The Salvation Army’s local orphanage and went on to serve in the South Korean military. There he discovered a passion for tailoring, and in his twenties he immigrated to Toronto, Canada, to sew uniforms for The Salvation Army. That was nearly fifty years ago.

Since then, while running his own successful tailoring company, he’s sewn thousands of bespoke Salvation Army uniforms, including those of the last 14 Generals (the international leader of The Salvation Army). This is the remarkable story of the man behind the uniform: David Kwan-Yong Kang.

Below is a transcript of the video, edited for readability.

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David Kwan-Yong Kang: I have been interested in clothes since I was young. I have a memory of The Salvation Army ministers who came to Korea. They were so beautiful and good. Because of that, the uniform looked very cool to me, and it was something that gave strength. I thought that the uniform carried strength from God.

When I was two, my father worked for the government. When North Korean soldiers invaded and took over Seoul, he was probably one of the first people to die. So I lost my [only family] when I was two years old.

There was a bridge by Seoul Station, where about 60-70 kids like myself lived under that bridge. Since I was the youngest, they took good care of me. I ended up at The Salvation Army’s orphanage, or Youth Care Center. It is there that I met Jesus.

There was a small mountain [by the orphanage], I went there regularly and prayed: “God, why did you take my parents so soon?” “Why don’t I have parents?” I asked God this in the mountains.

But when I was around 8, a teacher at school called me out “Orphan, come up to the front.” I went to talk to the principal. “My name is Kang Kwan-Yong, why did you call me Orphan?”

“I have a name.”

So, the teachers had a meeting at school. They were told not to call us Orphans. The school changed. God started bringing change through my words. I loved hearing the Word of God. God’s provision was with me even at that young age.

I didn’t think that I would be making clothes. As I went to the mountain to pray on my knees, God gave me a vision. He called me. So I obeyed. I ended up making uniforms for The Salvation Army.

When I constructed the clothes for them, it would fit so well, so I just kept making them. Because God called me to make it, I was able to come to Canada in the uniform section.

[One day] General Wickberg peeked through the door, and told me to come so I went to him, and he asked me to make his uniform for him. I didn’t have experience making the high-collars. Honestly, I was actually afraid, because I didn’t think I had that level of skill. It was an unimaginable task. So I had no choice but to pray.

I finished in two days. It came out wonderfully, even if I may say so myself. I was surprised. God can do it all. I didn’t believe in the work of my hands, but I believed that God gave me wisdom and strength.

People liked it so much. I guess I was good at my job. I [also] made clothes for other outside groups and every piece I made turned out so great. So, the customers started to acknowledge my work. TV anchors and famous people from downtown came, and I made clothes for them.

These were expensive clothes. Uniforms were $308, but these other clothes I made were $1100. [But] I didn’t think about whether I made money or not, because I could do God’s work. That is why I make it. So, if you count the entire process, it takes about 12-14 hours [per uniform].

From the moment I hold the measuring tape, I think of the person. For some people, depending on the face, I adjust the shape of the collar ever so slightly. I bend it a little more or stand it up slightly. So it’s different for every person.

When creating a piece for a person, I pray that the uniform will be used for God’s work. “Please help this student to do mighty work for you in the future,” I pray.

If I think back at the prayers through the years, I’ve seen it come to pass. That brings me so much joy. So the uniform is very important. We like looking at clean and beautiful things.

I wonder if that’s how we are made. God made clothes through me, helping this person look wonderful, and as a result, God gives the viewer joy.

So as long as I have the strength, as long as I can work, I will give it my all.


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