August 30, 2020

Q&A with Honguyen

Honguyen at her sewing machine.

Honguyen, Sewing Supervisor In Training, stands in front of Rainbow, American, and Earth flags at the TOM BIHN factory in Seattle.

Kim Do (Human Resources & Office Manager here at TOM BIHN) recently interviewed Honguyen, Sewing/Assembly/Sample Cutting/Supervisor-In-Training here at the TOM BIHN Factory in Seattle.

As you'll read in the interview, Honguyen chose to use this space to share recognition for Fong, her co-workers, and the company; we'd like to use this space to share recognition for Honguyen, who is respected and admired by all of us at TOM BIHN. We're fortunate to work with her and learn from her on a variety of topics including sewing, management skills, and how we can continue to work to live our company values.

Can you tell us about the work you do here at TOM BIHN?

I’ve been working at TOM BIHN for eight years.

This is such a great company to work for; everyone I work with, including my supervisors and managers, are kind, positive, and happy and I really enjoy working here. The benefits are good and I think the company keeps employees in mind and asks us about our concerns — especially during the pandemic. We’ve implemented a lot of new safety protocols for the lunchroom and work areas. That helps all of us feel safer coming to work.

I'm always happy to come to work — even on tough days, like if I didn’t get enough sleep or I have muscle aches, I think about the contributions we’re making as a company by making cloth face masks. 

Back in March when we began sewing masks, you asked me if you could volunteer your time instead of clocking in. We, of course, said no and that you had to clock in!

I saw the importance of what we were doing by making masks — the shortage of PPE was in the news and I was very concerned about that. Doctors and nurses were in need and there was a lack of supplies. 

When a photographer visited the factory that month and interviewed me — he said: “Thank you for making and donating masks!” This is very meaningful work for me; I would have been happy to volunteer my time and skill for an effort like this.
You've been in training under Fong to learn to be a Sewing Supervisor for over a year now. What has that been like? What have you learned? 

I’ve learned a lot from Fong so far — she said it was okay for me to take it slow and learn as much as I can. Learning to sew on different machines really slows down my sewing — but Fong is patient and tells me it’s okay to learn at my pace. That support gave me more motivation to learn different things. 

Before training with Fong to become a Sewing Supervisor, my typical work involved sewing only one part of a bag. Learning to become a Sewing Supervisor means I need to learn the process of making most parts of a bag. Fong has showed me the process from start to finish — starting with cutting the fabric all the way to the entire sewing process. 

It’s important to Fong that I see the entire process of how the parts/pieces of bags are put together at different stages, and Fong wants me to learn Lisa’s side of the production floor as well — even though I would be a Sewing Supervisor on Fong’s side of the production floor, if I know the work on Lisa’s side, that gives me the context around what happens next and helps me to know the entire process. Fong also pointed out that if I’m able to learn everything I’ll be able to step in for anyone who takes time off for vacation. However, with the pandemic and making masks, we’ve been too busy for me to learn Lisa’s side so far. 

What has the transition of making bags to making cloth face masks been like for you?

The cloth masks are very simple and easy to sew; it doesn’t take much time to sew the masks together from start to finish. The patterns are simple and material is very light and easy compare to work with compared to the heavy ballistic nylon and other materials we use to make our bags! Plus, our bag patterns are much more complex — much more complicated in design and pattern. It depends on the bag, but most bags have many pieces and parts that go together, which takes a lot longer. Making masks is easy and fast on on our industrial sewing machines. 

Thanks to your efforts and the efforts of the entire crew, we've been able to donate over 126,000 masks to healthcare workers, retirement communities, low income areas, elders and other communities who need masks. We know that very early on you were motivated to make masks to support these efforts to donate; what does it feel like now, after looking back over the past few months?

I just feel so happy to be a part of this. I want to thank Fong, Lisa, and the company for taking on the project of making masks to help the world. 

Tell us about yourself! Everyone would love to learn more about Honguyen :) 

I don’t like to talk about myself much! During my free time, I like to learn English vocabulary on YouTube and I love to watch K-Drama. So many different dynamics going on…. I enjoy it. 


Kay Hei - February 14, 2021

I have watched the videos on making the masks. I am an avid seamstress but I need printed instructions. Are there printed instructions to put the masks together from start to finish.
Greatly appreciated, indeed!

Kay Hei - February 14, 2021

I have watched the videos on making the masks. I am an avid seamstress but I need printed instructions. Are there printed instructions to put the masks together from start to finish.
Greatly appreciated, indeed!

Nadya - September 18, 2020

Thank you, Kim and Hongyuen! I appreciate all that you do and it is helpful to learn about the process of making bags vs. masks. Your heart for service and caring for others is so apparent! Thank you.

Wendy - September 1, 2020

Great to hear what you do and how everything is going. Appreciate all that you and the rest of the crew do making masks and making such lovely bags!

Amy Hesting - September 1, 2020

Thank you, Kim, for making such beautiful, well-made masks and bags for us. I love everything I have from Tom Bihn. I appreciate the work and love you put into it.

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.