Designer Kim Hong-bum talks about two secrets of success
Designer Kim Hong-bum who has appeared in three consecutive seasons at N.Y. Fashion Week
By Park Jin-hai
Kim Hong-bum, 34, is a star among designers who run small booth-like fashion stores in Dongdaemun street.
He has achieved what all dream of. With just a capital of 5 million won, the aspiring designer outperformed his peers and turned his young business into a major success, posting 1 billion won in sales annually.
What is more, the graduate of a local university showcased his own brand "Cres. E Dim." at the New York Fashion Week for three consecutive seasons. His works are also being sold at four concept stores in New York.
The brand name, borrowed from music terms crescendo and diminuendo, signifies the concept of his lines ― layers of fabrics flowing through the bodyline, in simple and modern design.
"I previously studied hair and make-up. I entered the fashion world a bit late at 22," said Kim, sitting in his workshop and office in Sindang-dong, Seoul, filled with clothes that were paraded on the recent runway.
"I saw a fashion show, held in Changdeok Palace a few years ago. Afterwards, I couldn't help but picture myself, in the place of the designer of the show," he added.
So he transferred to major in fashion as a senior at Sejong University. "It was hard at first. Except for a fashion sense, compared with other classmates who spent years practicing sketches at preparatory academies, I was rather short on basic skills. So, I worked hard."
He diligently studied both day and night for almost two years, working on his own projects. His friends nicknamed him the "ghost of the university" because of self-imposed isolation during those years.
He applied to participate in 10 fashion design competitions, while in college and won nine out of the 10 contests. The small store he opened in Doota building in Dongdaemun in 2008 was partly established from the prize money he received from one of those competitions.
He is also one of five designers in 2012 and one of seven designers in 2013, selected for the "Concept Korea" project. Together with established home-based designers like Lie Sang-bong, he was chosen as a next-generation designer and received government support to showcase his works during the New York Fashion Week.
Kim, who participated in several fairs and fashion shows in the "fashion capitals" like Paris and New York, says he is witnessing the steady rising status of K-fashion.
"In the past, Korea was not the subject of talk in the fashion circles. Now, buyers from Hong Kong and America fly here just to attend Seoul Fashion Week," said Kim.
His designs are regarded as bold and modern. Some of the boldest designs include clothes that used the same material as LED lamps, acrylic clutches and metal bags. "I spend as many days in making accessories as I do to make clothes. The metal bag was especially hard. I had to go to the welder and asked for the bag to be emptied to make it light for the show."
Now, he prepares to use 3D printing techniques in his style.
"Increasing number of Korean designers put their names out there through fashion competitions, too. This year, I was also notified that I made to the final 50 contestants for the famous Mango Fashion Award," he said. "A Korean designer winning a global fashion competition was unimaginable a few years ago."
What didn't change, he said, is rather the perception of local people. "Here it seems that people still regard foreign brands as better than local ones," he added.
He said the most difficult part was financing. "Buyers don't make deals with the company they see for the first time at the fair. Because, they fear the brand, however hot it may be, might go down over night," Kim said. "To win their trust, the designer should at least take part in the show for three consecutive seasons. That takes money."
He added that designers should know the basic dynamics of the industry before seeking to enter overseas markets. "Studying each fair's character is a must, since each fair is different. Given the cost of lending a nine-square-meter-booth in global fashion, that amounts to 10 million won, plane tickets and others, you'd better learn about the fair first before you actually go," he said.
Kim will also appear on TV, pairing with actor Lee Ji-hoon, in a fashion-themed variety show, tentatively titled "Fashion King Korea," to be aired from next month.
Kim partners with the actor in a collaborative project to survive each episode. Other cast members include pop-idol Tiffany of Girls' Generation and Bora of Sistar.