Sewing happiness into uniforms

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alternations manager, uses a computer program in conjunction with an embroidery machine to precisely create patterns on textiles on May 7, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Before coming to America, Lai spent 25 years of his life in Hong Kong where he tailored patterns for clothing factories. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alternations manager, uses a computer program in conjunction with an embroidery machine to precisely create patterns on textiles on May 7, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Before coming to America, Lai spent 25 years of his life in Hong Kong where he tailored patterns for clothing factories. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alterations manager, and his wife and co-worker Ai Ling Lai, work together to get uniforms and clothes done in a timely manner on May 7, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. The alterations shop sews on new pieces of clothing from patterns and designs and also alters existing garments to fit a customer better. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alterations manager, and his wife and co-worker Ai Ling Lai, work together to get uniforms and clothes done in a timely manner on May 7, 2015, on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. The alterations shop sews on new pieces of clothing from patterns and designs and also alters existing garments to fit a customer better. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alterations manager, sows on a name tape on an Airman’s uniform on May 7, 2015 ,on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Lai specializes in customizing and repairing existing clothing of the military uniform. Along with his wife, Ai Ling Lai, they have been working together on base for more than 10 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

Kin Fat Lai, Exchange alterations manager, sows on a name tape on an Airman’s uniform on May 7, 2015 ,on Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. Lai specializes in customizing and repairing existing clothing of the military uniform. Along with his wife, Ai Ling Lai, they have been working together on base for more than 10 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/released)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The military uniform is a unique symbol; it's what strings the men and women who serve the country together. Needless to say, behind every uniform there is a person who stitches every patch, name tape and military branch you work for.

Kin Fat Lai, alterations manager at the Exchange here, specializes in customizing and repairing existing clothing from military service dress to fixing zippers on a jacket. Along with his wife, Ai Ling Lai, have been working together on base for more than 10 years.

Lai was born in China and lived in Hong Kong where he spent 25 years as a tailor for clothing factories.

"When I worked in Hong Kong, almost every day we competed with each other," said Lai. "If we didn't meet the target number of products done, then someone [would] get laid off."

Even though his salary would be the same as working in United States it was a stressful job, so he decided to relocate his family to San Francisco in 2003 to move closer to his relatives.

"I moved from California to North Dakota in 2004 because I was contracted out to a military base," said Lai. "One year later, I signed another contract to work as the alterations manager for the base."

Sue Humphress, Exchange main store manager, recalls the day Lai became the alterations manager.

"He was very excited about his job," said Humphress. "You can tell he was the most caring person in his job field and did not want to disappoint anyone."

Lai shared his experiences of coming to an unknown place with nothing in hand.
"I lived in the trailer park across the base, so I had nothing, not even a window curtain," said Lai. "The community in Grand Forks is so kind and caring when I needed help."

A manager who worked at the trailer park helped the Lai family find furniture by asking a local farmer if he had any extra tables and beds for them to use.

Even though the Lai family is far away from China, his family still celebrates traditions such as Chinese New Year.

"We celebrate Chinese New Year with our two daughters by giving them money," said Lai. "We also pay respects to our relatives back home and wish them a wealthy and healthy life."

Lai mentioned why he likes his job and doesn't want to move to a bigger base, even to earn more money, because to him money isn't important in life.

"We guarantee our profession; when we make the customer happy, we are happy," said Lai. "The best customers are the military men and women because they are so professional and polite; every day is a happy day."