The Chief Visionary Officer of one of the world’s largest luxury houses and one of Korea’s most powerful women offers her views on fashion.
Who inspired you the most to become involved in fashion?
Fashion itself was the biggest attraction. I began my career at Bloomingdale’s in 1985, one of the most prestigious department stores in the USA, to learn the basics of the retail business. I came back to Korea in 1988 and established Sungjoo International, as I saw business opportunities in the luxury market in Korea. After starting my own company, I successfully launched globally renowned brands, such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel and Marks & Spencer as exclusive franchisees for the Korean market. I also acquired the global business of German luxury goods brand MCM in 2005. My father wanted me to do family-related business but fashion was what I knew best and enjoyed most.
What obstacles did you have
The path I took in starting my own business wasn’t the easiest. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and doing business in the retail industry in Korea during the early 90s was not an easy game. When started off, a senior in the industry gave me three tips to become successful: bribe, drink and conveniently lie if needed. It was a cultural shock and an alarming reality that made me determined not to succumb to “tradition.” It was a lonely war with no one on my side, but through perseverance and a belief that good will prevail, Sungjoo International was able to turn the tables and prove that you can indeed succeed without dirt on your hands. Being unconventional is always a challenge, but is rewarding as well.
Has fashion got the ability to change people’s perceptions about themselves for the better?
Honestly, fashion is about what meets the eyes, but if you take a careful look you’ll be able to read between the lines. I think the philosophy behind many fashion brands provides wisdom for life. For instance, MCM is a luxury brand that was built in Munich during the golden era of the city. The brand is a natural embodiment of a spirit that empower individuals: unconventional ideas, travel, and passion for life. Delivering this message in a more effective manner to consumers is something we continually work on, in the hope that we empower individuals.
What are a few big upcoming trends for fashion globally?
Fashion, especially the luxury industry, is turning to the “smartness” factor. I believe people in the industry are searching for a more gender-neutral, unisex flavour. I plan to revolutionise luxury fashion accessories and travel goods, with craftsmanship that values the spirit of modern day Global Nomads.
Can fashion be good for people and planet?
I believe you can make a lot of money and do good at the same time – if you want to. The question is: do you believe in it enough to act on it? MCM is currently collaborating with musician and philanthropist Will.i.am and The Coca Cola Company for the EKOCYCLE project – creating awesome products out of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles. With technology and an increasing effort within the industry, I believe we’ll be hearing more stories around sustainable fashion.