CEO Nam-hui Kim of Dolsilnai Co. Ltd., a graduate of Kookmin University, has opened 30 stores since the start of her business about 20 years ago in a 16.5m2 small studio and currently, she is operating a business in a scale of 10-billion won of sales. As the name tells, the clothes of Dolsilnai reflect profound elegance with soft texture and color like the flowers on the field. Originally, ‘Dolsilnai’ indicates the premium hemp produced in Seokgok Village in Gokseong of Jeolla Province. The expression ‘making clothes with the thread (Dolsil) produced in Seokgok’ is reborn as the brand name ‘Dolsilnai.’ This name reflects the reverence and hope to those who succeed the tradition of the Korean clothing culture. As a person who continues the tradition of the Korean clothing culture in a place out of sight while turning the beauty of the modest and plain Korean traditional clothes into a reality, CEO Kim is exerting efforts for the development of the Korean traditional clothes. Let’s listen to the story of her Korean traditional clothes.
Q. Was there any particular reason for you to be interested in daily Hanbok?
I graduated from the Department of Fashion Design in Kookmin University but I didn’t choose that major as I liked it. So I wandered a lot at the start of my college life. While taking courses, I read a book of basic philosophy called ‘How to Live?’ and from then on, I changed my thoughts a lot. At the beginning, I just read the book without fully understanding its meaning and later, I asked myself ‘how would I live my life?’ My life’s goal until high school was to meet the expectations of my parents and teachers; thus, I didn’t know what I should be. However, as I changed my mind into ‘what’s more important is the attitude that I have for my life. I did not have to be something,’ I became positive and active. I used to think that I had to create something new by fighting against the objections in life. So I seriously thought about ‘how to live my life’ and as a solution, I experienced the workers’ movement by directly participating in manufacturing. I thought such sound movement should trigger sound organization changes in communities and based on such idea, I attempted an item called Hanbok, the Korean traditional clothes. Since I wanted to actualize and systemize my idea, I formed a clothing culture research club at my junior year and conducted research. After its conversion to Korean Traditional Clothing Research Club later on, I worked with the theme of the Korean traditional clothes in folksy living by finding traditional patterns, techniques, and dyeing. Before my attempt, daily Hanbok in a fashion show was luxurious; however, I dealt with Hanbok for work, daily life, and outdoor activity. Although I gathered information without any particular structure, I started to have a clearer objective as time went by. Rather than be hired in a large company after my graduation, I tried to find the place where I could share my intention and objective. Gradually, I was able to meet colleagues who shared my vision and goals.
Q. What was the prime motor for you to transform from an ordinary housewife to a powerful CEO who leads daily Hanbok manufacturing business with 7.6 billion won of annual sales?
Of course I didn’t expect it at the beginning (smile). At that time, I worked in Life Culture Research Institute that was not even considered as a company. My family was going through financial difficulty during those days and as a daughter, I had to go out to earn money. Meanwhile, my father got sick and I suddenly got married to a man whom I went out with for four years. Since I was expected to support my family as a housewife, I thought my dream would never come true while having three years of a difficult married life with my parents-in-law. Nonetheless, I realized that I was not a person who gives up on one’s dreams and merely stays at home without working. Finally, my family moved out and then I studied on clothing. Having that as a momentum, I think Dolsilnai today could be established. While managing the Korean Traditional Clothing Research Club, I recklessly took on challenges by thinking, ‘Let’s just make and sell. Directly experience what is to come.’ There were countless trials and errors due to experimental challenges but my friend Gyeong-a Jeong (graduate of Fashion Design in 1987) who is a university friend and study member helped me go through the hardships and develop even more. Without her, I would not have been able to take a step further.
Q. Tell us about your management philosophy in Dolsilnai. What philosophy do you stress for Dolsilnai?
Q. Although it is the Korean traditional clothes, Hanbok hasn’t become popular. There must be difficulties due to this and is there any special sales strategy to overcome such situation?
The slogan for Dolsilnai is ‘Dolsilnai that thinks nature and human.’ People work to be happy but there are times when people work for the sake of working, and that makes them unhappy. However in my company, all members are making an effort to realize the society where priority is given to ‘a man’ based on love and respect. For example, people are living with nature but they destroy nature in pursuit of their own good and happiness. In order to reduce such phenomenon, we try hard to vitalize nature-friendly clothing culture. Thus, Dolsilnai almost does not use animal fur except for some clothes used for trimming. We use artificial fur instead.
First of all, I thought I had to change my idea. When daily Hanbok was being popular, I tried to change Hanbok that was developed as clothes worn on special occasions into plain clothes used for our daily lives. For example, the expectation of Hanbok design was lowered, price range was diversified, and the store interior and display method were changed to present a familiar atmosphere for the customers. Meanwhile, a lot of improvement was attempted to harmonize the image that could only be seen in Korean sentiment together with modern and elegant impression. Also, I launched a second brand called ‘A-hoe’ and actively participated in overseas fashion shows. Through such experience, we successfully drew the attention of the related industry. However, it is not fun at all when I make pricey clothes since my dream is to make easily wearable clothes for more people, not to make clothes for certain people who wear Hanbok on special occasions. With A-hoe’s activity, we received national recognition so our improved image was transferred to that of Dolsilnai. In every 2~3 years, we attempted to upgrade the stores so as to create a new image. As the people who worked with me extended their contracts, I followed the rule that I would not open a new store in the area where the contract-extended stores were located. The relationship with most of the branch stores that has been supplemented, improved, and loved for more than 10 years is also considered to be a special marketing strategy of Dolsilnai.
Q. What do you think about the charm of Hanbok produced in Dolsilnai?
The competitiveness of Dolsilnai can be found from a large volume of new item production as much as that of general national brands. Also, it is very important to make clothes that create uniqueness among people. In summer, about 300 kinds of new designs are produced while creating 150 kinds for spring ~ fall and about 200 items for winter. As much as we try, the market consumption is also fast. Thus through product competitiveness, we satisfy the various needs of our customers.
Q. What is the ultimate goal that you pursue?
Dolsilnai pursues only one goal and that is to make people love our clothes, Hanbok. In order for more people to wear Hanbok, I hope that more people would join in making the Korean traditional clothes. Now, I exert my utmost efforts to grow Dolsilnai into an organization with distinctive identity as we have unique clothing culture in Korea and in doing so, it will encourage the development and promotion of fair competition among the businesses in the same industry.
Q. How far do you think have you reached your initial goal that was set at the start of Dolsilnai?
I don’t know since I have always achieved more than what I have expected. I didn’t even know whether I do it as a means of living. It was something that I liked right from the start and someone had to do this job. I kept doing what I had to do and that’s the reason why I achieve beyond my expectations. So I always appreciate. Until now, I have lived by seeing the goal right in front of me while exerting efforts on the things ahead of me and thinking how to develop within the limit I had. Although the daily Hanbok Dolsilnai has secured a solid foundation, I feel sorry for its settlement as the silver target brand. This is not bad but such impression may give an idea to the young generation that Hanbok is clothes for those in their senior years. That is the reason why I pursue a refreshing image to the brand. In line with this, we are preparing a second brand called ‘Ccomaque’ that approaches the young generation with the Korean traditional clothes through the items that suit their sentiment and taste. I never aim to hit the jackpot when launching a new brand. Instead, I focus on ‘how to survive in the market.’ Some may think my dream is too small but anyhow, I do my best without giving up. Maybe the answer is to keep contemplating how to run the business well.
Q. Was there any interesting lecture or event during your college life?
If I only studied in the Department of Fashion Design, there wouldn’t have been a particular meaning. At that time, I participated in a club called ‘Painting Love’ that was formed by the students of Design College. At first, the members were limited only to those from Design College and from the 3rd year of the club activity with other students sharing the similar sentiment, students from other colleges joined. It became popular and through this club, I was able to open my eyes to witness the society. It was fun to express sentiment and support the society through painting. Also, I met a man in the club and after 4 years, I got married to him.
Q. Can you give us an advice as to what ability we should develop in order to firmly stand in the society?
I want to point out the desperate yearning to get qualification. Of course, knowing a lot helps but it is not everything. A man with great knowledge speaks well so such person is not helpful at all when actualizing the business. A person who knows a lot wants to know more so he neglects practice. What’s more important than to graduate from the university with a lot of certification or qualification is to have the ability to wisely solve a problem by practicing the initially set goal. It is like developing a strong will. Also, it is important to cultivate the spirit of hunger. Don’t consider the efforts made from the bottom as suffering. Rather, try to think of it as the first step to be reached. As you climb each step one at a time, you will eventually reach the top. I think that the mind to reach the top without such effort is just ‘pretension.’ The man who reached the top all of a sudden can be easily collapsed. Do not set your initial goal to high but make an effort for the things that are given at the moment. While doing what you can do, you will someday reach the goal you set for yourself. Do not hesitate as you make a step toward your dream.
Q. Tell something to those who are preparing to start a business.
I think such people should have a different level of tenacity. Starting a business does not imply a positive thing. I hope that you do not target the ‘business itself’ at the start but rather think of your tenacity. There should be the eyes to see the big picture along with the ability to take initiative. Such disposition will enable you to stand firmly in the society. Apart from these, you must develop special qualities and they are the strong will not to give up, patience to search for a solution, and emotional power to face challenges. Many people can have such qualities but these are easily collapsed due to ‘pretension.’ It is wrong to easily get more than the effort that you put in. I never say ‘This is the time’ when business runs well and ‘This is the end’ when business is bad. The visible amount of profit that is revealed among others is not important; rather, the actual profit is more important. Since how to manage is more important than how to earn when it comes to money, pretentious attitude is never allowed. Also, never expect easy victory. My life’s motto is ‘Everything pays.’ If you want to get, you have to pay so if you get without properly paying, you will pay someday. Do not expect something free as ‘everything pays.’
After the interview with CEO Nam-hui Kim who makes roads out of nowhere, I felt the challenging spirit, tenacity, and disposition away from pretension. I expect all Kookmin people will confidently walk the way they want without hesitating to take on new challenges along the way. Once you keep walking, you will feel the importance of each step that you have made. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Likewise, what’s important in creating the outcome you desire is to become stronger and firmer by gradually developing yourself.