The designer’s hands moved fast. The clothes hanging in the office and the old tapelines indicated that this was the world of professionals. CEO Gyeong-hui Kim, the representative of Ini Planning Co., Ltd. graduated from the Department of Fashion Design in Kookmin University. She established the present Ini Planning after working in LF, SBW. Inc, and Handsome Inc. Ini Planning, which welcomes its 13th anniversary this year, is a strong medium enterprise that houses famous brands like ‘Ryan New York’ and ‘Elle.’ Through these brands, the smart influence and sophisticated style of the owner and CEO Kim was felt in the fashion industry.
According to Ini Planning’s CEO, “When choosing a company, think about ‘which consumers you should communicate with,’ and not about the ‘brand itself.’ And don’t forget that you are always a brand.” Kim added, “It is not much different to actually work in a company and to run a company” and she also emphasized, “I want my juniors to have ‘good attitude.’” Let’s meet CEO Gyeong-hui Kim of Ini Planning, who has dedicated her life as a fashion designer for about 30 years now.
Q. I know that Ini Planning is a strong medium enterprise that houses famous brands like ‘Ryan New York.’ Can you tell us more about your company?
Ryan New York is a brand that strongly conveys healthy values with consumers. Can you afford a coat that costs 1.5 million won? You don’t buy even a coat for 800,000 won. If I run a food business, I would contemplate on how to provide a healthy meal for 6,000-7,000 won. This concept is the same for clothes. Ryan New York provides top quality products at ‘healthy prices’ to share healthy values with consumers. In short, our motto is ‘to cheer up our customers’ and Ryan’s brand concept is ‘to create a trustworthy brand.’ Our mission is to make the consumers happy and make them admire our brand by wondering ‘how could they make such high quality products at reasonable prices.’
Q. It has been 13 years since you established Ryan New York. Have you accomplished the goals you have set in the beginning?
Personally, I wanted to make a transparent and viable company that excluded regionalism, school relations, and kinship. I think that our self-dignity would be shattered if we work in an immoral company with an irresponsible and shady owner. This is not acceptable even if we receive an annual salary of 10 billion. A company should be the place where I can work hard and fulfill my dreams. Maybe because of this idea of mine, the employees of my company never thought of leaving the company (laughs). The workers in the stores are the launching members and they say that they will still work in the stores even if they become old. Moreover, I wanted to create a company that can share the brand’s values with society. This is the same idea as the previously mentioned ‘healthy communication with consumers.’ When establishing a company, I have to think about its future direction. Otherwise, the course of its operation gets too tough. In my case, I set plans on how ‘to construct our own building in the 5th year’ and ‘to build the distribution center in the 7th year.’ These plans have already been accomplished. Earning billions of dollars cannot be the main goal itself.
Q Did you dream of becoming a designer? I know that you actively participated in broadcasting activities while in university.
When I entered the university, I seriously thought of the direction I should take. I was torn between fashion design and communications. My dream when I was young was to become an announcer (laughs). So while studying in the Department of Fashion Design, I also participated in the broadcasting station of Kookmin University. I don’t know the present situation but when I attended the university, the discipline imposed by the broadcasting station was the strictest compared to the Koran newspaper and English newspaper clubs. There were many things to do in the broadcasting station so it was often said that we go to the university not to study, but rather, to work at the station (laughs). I was the student representative of the department for three years. I was afraid of getting benefits from the position so I did not enter the professors’ office and did not have private conversations with them. It seemed that I somewhat neglected my studies but I studied hard so I graduated with honors.
Q. Do you remember the clothes you first designed in the university? I wonder if you actually wore those.
There is an advertisement copy phrase that says, ‘Fashion is one’s self-introduction.’ I think ad copy phrases reflected that time period and it is also the same in fashion. Even in my job interview at LF, I often wore clothes that I personally made. It’s not because I did or did not wear my creations well. I think it’s because I seriously wanted to express myself through my clothes. At that time, Vogue magazine arrived from Europe via Japan, and eventually came to Korea. It took about two years. It was the time when Vogue was hardly available, unless I went to a business trip in a foreign country.
But Vogue seems very unnatural. When black is the trend, every brand introduces black. If grey was the trend last year, consumers would not buy grey again in the present year. So trend color changes every year. The usual period to discard clothes from our closet is generally five years. The best cultural code today must be ‘eclecticism’ and I think balanced fashion is the best. I prefer sporty, modern, and feminine fashion styles that trended in the past and even today.
Q. During the time when the culture was male-centered, there must have been discrimination against women. Have you ever experienced such issue while working?
Not doing something because of limitations ever crossed my mind. This can be seen in two ways - whether to recognize or not to recognize the system. If you recognize the system, you are already 50 steps ahead but if you deny the system, you are left behind by 50 steps. I am somewhat MD mind and because of that, I think I can manage my company. Most operators in the fashion industry are men and in order to transcend gender, clothing style should come from the designers’ mind in the planning stage. So there was no reason to be hindered by prejudice.
Q. What do you think is the biggest reason to become established as a professional female manager in the fashion industry?
I have managed my first company for 10 years and my second company for seven years. There are not many fashion designers who were employed by a company for a long period of time. It may be due to the fact that there is no particular fashion design which can represent Korea. It takes time to synthesize and integrate my strength with the consumers’ own thoughts and upcoming trends. It is the same for all occupations as there exists history produced by time flow. But most fashion designers work in a company for 2~3 years and then quit. One of the reasons why I could easily start my business was my long span of career in one company. I gained credibility that I could not easily give up on my own business I worked in a single company for a long period of time.
Actually, there is no difference between running a business and working for a company because our attitude in general decides our values. Increasing salary or moving to another company is a matter of being recognized in my task. Whatever I do and wherever I go, every single act of mine is dedicated to develop my brand. I hope my juniors remember such fact.
Q. What is the most memorable achievement that you have attained as a designer?
The School of Architecture was located right above the fashion design building when I attended the university. Construction lasted for about 100 years since it was built. My dream is to make such fashion brand. Among the brands that I made while working for a company, there are still some brands that exist today and nothing can beat creating a brand that is loved by consumers for a long period of time.
Q. How many brands are there in Ini Planning? I know the business is also promoted to foreign countries. How is that coming along?
There are four brands in our company - Ryan New York, Elle, Pops Avenue, and T. Planet. Pops Avenue is a select shop that is currently being tested and Elle was developed to speed up the overseas promotion. There are 6~7 stores of Ryan New York in Beijing, but it is hard to find a partner. Promotion in China is not an option. I have to think that China is similar to Gyeongsang province in Korea so that we can create more benefits for Korea. Ryan New York is a brand for the early 20s age bracket and we try to make clothes that look different regardless if it is worn every day for a week (laughs). Elle was created for the 30s age bracket, Pops Avenue is local-friendly select shop, while T. Planet offers tea, accessories, and clothes together in one shop.
It is said that there are more than 100 Korean brands being promoted in China but only some of these are successful. This is because their main goal is to expand their business and increase profit. The reason for a brand’s successful promotion in China comes from the concept of ‘consumers’ happiness.’ This concept is more profitable in China than in Korea.
Q. What is the unique company culture of Ini Planning?
In our company, all employees study together. Recently, we have studied ‘Taoism.’ Last year, an instructor of world history came to our office and we studied art history, Chinese, and Chinese characters. There was even a real examination (laughs). We study really hard.
Fashion is closer to humanities, not to arts. I think this is true for all occupations. Some express themselves through food while others express themselves through clothes. For instance, the word ‘normcore’ is a compound word consisting of two words, ‘normal’ and ‘hardcore.’ This reflects the overall social consciousness, not only in the fashion industry. In the past, accessories with big gems were preferred but now such excessive decoration is considered to be shameful. Drawing something well and sewing well is a matter of technique. What is more important is to ‘be interested in the world.’ All methods that a designer communicates with the world are reflected in design so a good communicator can make good clothes.
Q. Do you have a motto for your company?
The motto of the company changes every day. The best of today is not the best of tomorrow. I think there is a reason why King Sejong said ‘Let’s do our best’ rather than ‘It is the best.’ There is no one who asks about one’s success in the future tense. Similar to the question ‘Did he succeed?’, we ask in past tense form. How we spend 5~6 hours today guarantees success of tomorrow. Of course, we cannot succeed if we only play today.
The last word of former Samsung CEO Byeong-cheol Yi was ‘to listen courteously.’ I have many exclamations and question marks during the day when I see a delivery man, owners of restaurants, parents, husband, my child, and employees. Only a person who feels ‘Ah!’ can get what he/she wants. That’s why our motto changes everyday. As a female business manager, I can stand firmly because of my attitude to listen courteously. You cannot get anything by having a cool attitude.
Q. As a manager of a fashion company, can you tell us the recent trends and direction that will be promoted?
It is said that 85% of the population existing in the world will live in cities that are 2% of the ground surface. Based from this idea, I have always considered venturing in work related to the environment if ever I quit the company. Because of the recent launch of SPA brands, this is said to be the era of ‘wants’ and not the era of ‘needs.’ People get clothes not because of necessity but because of their desire to have them. There are many clothes with labels on them in England. This is not a problem in England only but a great dilemma for me as well, as a manager in the fashion industry. We must encourage consumption but it also creates proportional damages.
Some say that humans will have to leave the earth about 800 years into the future. So in order to extend this period, we have to save water and prevent environmental pollution. I keep a big container in the restroom to save used water and use it for flushing. It is too typical to say but the Japanese elementary school students participate in ‘environment protection activity’ for 48 hours a year. They visit a company to observe regulated room temperature and management of waste recycling. Since children observe everything, adults must follow regulations. I think such are needed in Korea. When I heard that red is the current trend, I worried about how much water was used in Daegu to dye the fabric in red.
Q. You are very interested in animal protection. What activities are you promoting?
I watched a video with my employees. It was about a duck down manufacturing site. The ducks’ feathers were pulled and their scars were stitched on site. It was horrible! But what was more terrible was that the feathers were pulled again after three months when the feathers have grown again. After two years of suffering and giving their feathers, the ducks were killed for their meat. So ducks often harm themselves and die. This is clearly a case of animal cruelty. That’s why we try not to use duck down in our products. Actually, Korea is not much receptive in wearing products made with duck down. Originally, duck-down was used by the mountain rescuers in Canada. In our company, we substitute a newly developed material for duck down, which makes the garment 17 degrees warmer when exposed to sunshine. On the other hand, fur is produced in China and Korea is the largest importing country of fur. In foreign countries, wearing full-skin fur coat is opposed but Korea is still in the stage of transformation. But recently, interest in animal protection has increased so I expect a better situation in the future. My company recently produced 5,000 ~ 10,000 brochures about the animal association to support it. The amount of water I save now and the things I presently protect will surely unburden our children and descendants.
Q. You were a judge during the graduation fashion show of the School of Fashion Design in Kookmin University last October. You also worked as a mentor for the cultivation of junior designers. What was your impression about the juniors’ works?
I won the award in the ‘Korea Fashion Design Contest’ that was held by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy for two consecutive years in 1984 and 1985. I have been a judge in this contest for many years but what I always felt was that we would never really know the process by just looking at the results. I wonder if you have watched a TV program called ’Project Runway.’ This program shows that the process is much more important than the results of design. By knowing the process, it is determined which idea, concept, and efforts were used to come up with such results. But most judgments are based on results, and not on the process so I feel sorry about this. I judged the works during the graduation fashion show and I witnessed the passion of the students. I graduated in 1984, and their designs were so sensible that I thought ‘Could I have done it like this in the past?’ Four students were awarded by the alumni association and works that reflected wearable trends were impressive and there were many creative works. In the Department of Fashion Design, there is a word ‘Kok-Seo-Hong’ which pertains to Kookmin University, Seoul National University, and Hongik University,. Among these universities, I think Kookmin University is the best in terms of fashion sense.
Q. Everyone seriously thinks about direction after graduation. Can you give graduating students any advice?
The students worry about getting a job, studying abroad, or studying further after graduation. I advise the juniors to find a career path right away. It is important to read consumers’ minds if you want to have a business in Korea for Koreans. I want the new graduates to build their careers while directly working in the field. We cannot be inspired by only reading magazines. The estimated lifetime of the current generation is 120 years old. Once you graduate, jump into reality and find your career immediately. After accumulating experiences, it is not too late to start studying again.
The alumni association held a mentoring concert last December 16th. The graduates became the mentors for the current students and there were graduates from various fields such as distribution, fabric, bedding designer, CEO, display, and so on. There are many areas in the fashion design industry. Five mentees were assigned to one mentor and this mentor sometimes helped the juniors and gave them guidelines after the mentees’ graduation. Of course that was not the best situation as I wanted to devote some time to contribute to the juniors’ careers but it was hard to personally meet all of them.
Q. What is the most important refinement that a designer must have?
It is to understand the flow of the world. That is why reading the newspaper is important. Do you know which city has the largest population? It is Tokyo. There is an 8-story building for luxury brands there and people ask why Korea only has a 3-story luxury building. Since there are about 16 million people living in Seoul, a 3-story building is enough. In Tokyo, 33 million people live there.
Without social background, it is impossible to promote one’s design and business. If you are a designer, it is necessary to envision what certain phenomenon could occur. Once you know the root cause, you can understand the basics of trend. I realized a basic fact when I studied world history - the reason why Asia has a big population is because of rice. Since a larger amount could be produced from rice than wheat, it was possible to feed more people, and as a result, the Asian population has significantly increased thousands of years later. The reason why there were many philosophers in the Mediterranean area is the same. That area has good weather so there was nothing much to do after sowing seeds in fields. So people contemplated and researched about many things and that produced many philosophers (laughs). Koreans want things to be done quickly and such culture is not just bad. Korea has a small land area and the ancestors had to go through the season of spring poverty once farming has failed. That’s why Koreans have the habit of doing things quickly. There is a book called ‘The Consciousness Structure of Koreans’ and if you think of venturing in a startup, you should read this book.
Q. Is there anything you want to share with the juniors of Kookmin University they enter their senior year in campus?
In a TV program, a survey was made on the preference of talents between ‘a person with ability’ and ‘a person with good attitude.’ But 99% chose the latter. I did, too. It is very troublesome to take certain responsibilities while attending school but those who participated in such activities tended to brighten the surroundings and make people happy. Many people who prepare for employment try hard in making a great portfolio. But I think it is more important to think about perspective from the society and employment. Those who come to a job interview without knowing the number of our stores and company scale are rejected. That is a reflection of their attitude without passion.
There is a person who specializes in physiognomy and the first thing he sees upon meeting a person is the skin color. He said that it is possible to know how one lives based from the skin condition as the skin changes depending on one’s lifestyle and values. For example, there is higher possibility for a person with severe dark circles and skin trouble to be irresponsible and without self-control. Smoking is not tolerated in some companies so if nicotine is detected in the annual health examination, that person would be asked to leave the company. Health and attitude about life are also what we choose. We cannot expect to be healthy while choosing something bad for our body and mind. If I get sick, it causes inconvenience to other employees. So I do not do anything that is bad for my body. My responsibility is to prove the fact that the employees of my company made the right decision when applying to us. Depending on the choices I make today, the brand called ‘myself’ and the clothes I make promote change.
CEO Gyeong-hui Kim of Ini Planning encourages participation of mentees from Kookmin University. Those who major in other fields (not fashion design)_may also apply and for application details, contact the email (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Ini Planning Co., Ltd.
Graduated with honors in School of Fashion Design in Kookmin University in 1984
Won the ‘accessit’ category in the Korea Fashion Design Contest on October 1984
Won the ‘accessit’ category in the Korea Fashion Design Contest on October 1985
Worked in LF from 1983 to 1990
Worked in SBW. Inc (Design Director of KEITH and TWOc) from 1991 to 1996
Launched KEITH in August 1991
Graduated from the Graduate School of Ewha Women's University
Worked in Handsome Inc. in 1997 (Executive Director of Mind Design)
Launched Lynn on January 1998
Launched Line on January 1999
Established Ini Planning Co., Ltd. on November 2001
Launched Ryan New York on January 2002
Awarded with the Grand Prize in the Korea Fashion Brand Awards on March 2005
Awarded with the Grand Prize in the Korea Fashion Brand Awards on April 2006
Awarded with the Grand Prize in the Lotte Best Brand Awards on December 2007
Introduced Elle in 2009
Launched Pops Avenue on November 2013
Introduced T. Planet on August 2014
Conducted a special lecture on design in the Ewha Women’s University
Conducted a special lecture on ladies apparel design in Dongduk Women’s University
Became Adjunct Professor in Soongeui Women's College