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Netflix's fashion competition winner talks her brand, ultimate goal

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Park Ji-won

You may assume that if a fashion designer continues to sweep up international awards and run his or her brand successfully for years in the cutthroat industry that the person would become self-centered and picky about everything ― like a devil wearing Prada.

But Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's latest fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," which aims to establish a designer to lead the next generation of the international fashion scene, completely reverses the norm.

Kim won the fierce race by releasing 10 breathtaking design pieces in the final competition round and ended up receiving $250,000 as a prize with a chance to release her brand at high fashion online mall Net-a-Porter. Throughout the competition, Kim's designs received high appraisal for their voluminous silhouettes and feminine details in playful patterns; which is the identity of Kim and her brand. Her latest collection is available online, and some items have already sold out.

In addition to her achievements on the Netflix show, Kim has been already showing unprecedented performance as an emerging designer; in 2013, she won the H&M Design Award as a student working on a capsule collections with the fast fashion brand while being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers in 2014.

She also has been successfully running her own brand "Minju Kim" since 2015, releasing collections every year in the global market and working with leading K-pop groups such as BTS and Red Velvet. She is the one who designed BTS's world tour costumes for their songs "DNA" and "I Need You," while dressing Red Velvet in the music video for its song "One of These Nights."

However, regardless of her triumphant designs, as many witnessed in the show, she insisted to remain remarkably humble and knew the significance of working with others and the power of asking questions, which may have played a significant role in her victory in the competition and which resulted in designs resembling the designer's personality.

"I love feedback. I am so happy when someone gives me an answer…. I cannot create fashion designs by myself. I always have my team behind me. I ask my sewers and staff everyday whether I am okay with making the design in certain ways," 33-year-old Kim told The Korea Times during an interview at the paper's headquarters in Seoul, Thursday.

"I am extremely happy to win the competition… But I am a very lucky person. I have really good memories and experiences in my life…. I will do my best with my work so that I could give people a choice in fashion and share good things with them. That is what I believe and I continue to try to become a better person…which is forever my goal."

Girl with no intention to pursue fashion

Born and raised in the southwestern city of Gwangju, Kim studied in New Zealand in her teens with hopes to become an art teacher but then started studying fashion at Samsung Art and Design Institute (SADI) in Seoul after graduation following her parents' advice.

"I loved painting and wanted to become a cartoonist since I was young. I was planning to enter an art school in New Zealand, but my parents gave me advice to study fashion in Seoul and that was the beginning of my career in fashion… I was not a person who was born to become a fashion designer. I was far from being fashionable and envious of my colleagues who wore fashionable clothes in design school. That's one of reasons that it took me such a long time to study fashion and assure myself that I really love fashion."

She later went to Belgium to continue her fashion career at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, where she learned the joy of being a fashion designer and the love toward fashion being surrounded by renowned fashion figures including designer-professor Walter Van Beirendonck, she recalls. At the school, Kim learned how to be make art and design into fashion, which helped her to launch her own brand rather than working as an employee of a fashion company.

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
A piece from Minju Kim's Spring/Summer collection 2020 / Courtesy of Minju Kim
A piece from Minju Kim's Spring/Summer collection 2020 / Courtesy of Minju Kim

Kim aimed to make her own path in the international stage with her brand based on her international background. However, she found it hard to keep working remotely with clients overseas without a local base. That's when she decided to establish a base camp in Seoul where there are lots of garment factories with skilled cutters and sewers.

"When I first started my collection, I kept trying to release them for overseas markets. However, even though I worked with highly renowned fashion designers, it didn't work well as I was far away (from the client) and could not using my mother tongue, Korean. So I came back to Korea so that I can communicate with people face-to-face and control the products' quality directly."

She also took the advice of Jung Ku-ho, creative director of KUHO and one of the most renowned local designers, urging her to promote her brand in Korea, which was one of the main reasons that she accepted Netflix's proposal to participate in the fashion survival show.

"I met Jung, the artistic director of Seoul Fashion Week, and was told that a Korean designer needs to be loved by Korean people as it makes the fashion brand sustainable. The advice helped me to settle my mind to expand business here."

Inspirations from daily life in Korea

Kim's artworks are known for being voluminous, wearable and their sophisticated coloring that is uniquely feminine. Her works look somewhat similar to Korean traditional "hanbok" garments.

She said she didn't mean to create hanbok-like costumes, but it comes out naturally while being inspired by her daily life and the things around her.

"When I release my patterns and designs, people often say they are very Korean style. (My experiences here) come out naturally in designs… My hometown is Gwangju. That's why I said in the pattern-making episode that forsythia is pretty in spring. I get inspiration when I take rest alone. I play games a lot, watch movies, go to museums and buy design books."

She self-proclaims her brand as "fairytale-like" and her collection as a diary because it contains so many things inside, that can be interrelated in many ways and touch the hearts of all.

"My collections are like my diary. I try to make my thoughts and moments which were beautiful or sad into part of my collection. For example, in my third collection which includes patterns about cats, I wanted to recall the moment I adopted my kitty. When I had bad dreams after breaking up with people who I liked, I put the memories into my collection."

Goal as aspiring designer

Kim is now working on her Fall/Winter 2020 collection to be presented at the Paris Fashion and Seoul Fashion weeks, which are slated for the last week of February and the beginning of March, respectively; while also collaborating with Korean fashion firms. She is planning to expand her design lineup which has primarily been dresses so far. Kim not only works as a designer, but also busy a lecturer at Kookmin University nurturing the fashion designers of tomorrow.

She said the reason she can work as a designer and a lecturer is simply because she likes her past work and doesn't want to regret being idle with her art pieces.

"I didn't give up because I love what I did. Some people say designers should not look back. But I think my past works can create the next me; my new work. That's why I want to do my best and be more honest with myself."

She said she will continue to do what she does and keep working hard to help people get inspired through her work.

"I am so happy that I can teach the way I get inspired and make ideas into illustrated artworks… I would remain the same with my brand as well. There are so many brands in the world. I don't have a big picture. But I simply want to stay close to customers. I want to make my brand as one of the options that give people a chance to sense their feelings and styles which were easily forgotten."

Kim Min-ju, center, designer of
Kim Min-ju, center, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netlix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses with the programs hosts Alexa Chung, left and Tan France after winning the competition in this undated photo. Courtesy of Minju Kim

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Park Ji-won

You may assume that if a fashion designer continues to sweep up international awards and run his or her brand successfully for years in the cutthroat industry that the person would become self-centered and picky about everything ― like a devil wearing Prada.

But Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's latest fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," which aims to establish a designer to lead the next generation of the international fashion scene, completely reverses the norm.

Kim won the fierce race by releasing 10 breathtaking design pieces in the final competition round and ended up receiving $250,000 as a prize with a chance to release her brand at high fashion online mall Net-a-Porter. Throughout the competition, Kim's designs received high appraisal for their voluminous silhouettes and feminine details in playful patterns; which is the identity of Kim and her brand. Her latest collection is available online, and some items have already sold out.

In addition to her achievements on the Netflix show, Kim has been already showing unprecedented performance as an emerging designer; in 2013, she won the H&M Design Award as a student working on a capsule collections with the fast fashion brand while being shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers in 2014.

She also has been successfully running her own brand "Minju Kim" since 2015, releasing collections every year in the global market and working with leading K-pop groups such as BTS and Red Velvet. She is the one who designed BTS's world tour costumes for their songs "DNA" and "I Need You," while dressing Red Velvet in the music video for its song "One of These Nights."

However, regardless of her triumphant designs, as many witnessed in the show, she insisted to remain remarkably humble and knew the significance of working with others and the power of asking questions, which may have played a significant role in her victory in the competition and which resulted in designs resembling the designer's personality.

"I love feedback. I am so happy when someone gives me an answer…. I cannot create fashion designs by myself. I always have my team behind me. I ask my sewers and staff everyday whether I am okay with making the design in certain ways," 33-year-old Kim told The Korea Times during an interview at the paper's headquarters in Seoul, Thursday.

"I am extremely happy to win the competition… But I am a very lucky person. I have really good memories and experiences in my life…. I will do my best with my work so that I could give people a choice in fashion and share good things with them. That is what I believe and I continue to try to become a better person…which is forever my goal."

Girl with no intention to pursue fashion

Born and raised in the southwestern city of Gwangju, Kim studied in New Zealand in her teens with hopes to become an art teacher but then started studying fashion at Samsung Art and Design Institute (SADI) in Seoul after graduation following her parents' advice.

"I loved painting and wanted to become a cartoonist since I was young. I was planning to enter an art school in New Zealand, but my parents gave me advice to study fashion in Seoul and that was the beginning of my career in fashion… I was not a person who was born to become a fashion designer. I was far from being fashionable and envious of my colleagues who wore fashionable clothes in design school. That's one of reasons that it took me such a long time to study fashion and assure myself that I really love fashion."

She later went to Belgium to continue her fashion career at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, where she learned the joy of being a fashion designer and the love toward fashion being surrounded by renowned fashion figures including designer-professor Walter Van Beirendonck, she recalls. At the school, Kim learned how to be make art and design into fashion, which helped her to launch her own brand rather than working as an employee of a fashion company.

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Kim Min-ju, designer of
Kim Min-ju, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netflix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses during an interview with The Korea Times at the paper's office, Seoul, Thursday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
A piece from Minju Kim's Spring/Summer collection 2020 / Courtesy of Minju Kim
A piece from Minju Kim's Spring/Summer collection 2020 / Courtesy of Minju Kim

Kim aimed to make her own path in the international stage with her brand based on her international background. However, she found it hard to keep working remotely with clients overseas without a local base. That's when she decided to establish a base camp in Seoul where there are lots of garment factories with skilled cutters and sewers.

"When I first started my collection, I kept trying to release them for overseas markets. However, even though I worked with highly renowned fashion designers, it didn't work well as I was far away (from the client) and could not using my mother tongue, Korean. So I came back to Korea so that I can communicate with people face-to-face and control the products' quality directly."

She also took the advice of Jung Ku-ho, creative director of KUHO and one of the most renowned local designers, urging her to promote her brand in Korea, which was one of the main reasons that she accepted Netflix's proposal to participate in the fashion survival show.

"I met Jung, the artistic director of Seoul Fashion Week, and was told that a Korean designer needs to be loved by Korean people as it makes the fashion brand sustainable. The advice helped me to settle my mind to expand business here."

Inspirations from daily life in Korea

Kim's artworks are known for being voluminous, wearable and their sophisticated coloring that is uniquely feminine. Her works look somewhat similar to Korean traditional "hanbok" garments.

She said she didn't mean to create hanbok-like costumes, but it comes out naturally while being inspired by her daily life and the things around her.

"When I release my patterns and designs, people often say they are very Korean style. (My experiences here) come out naturally in designs… My hometown is Gwangju. That's why I said in the pattern-making episode that forsythia is pretty in spring. I get inspiration when I take rest alone. I play games a lot, watch movies, go to museums and buy design books."

She self-proclaims her brand as "fairytale-like" and her collection as a diary because it contains so many things inside, that can be interrelated in many ways and touch the hearts of all.

"My collections are like my diary. I try to make my thoughts and moments which were beautiful or sad into part of my collection. For example, in my third collection which includes patterns about cats, I wanted to recall the moment I adopted my kitty. When I had bad dreams after breaking up with people who I liked, I put the memories into my collection."

Goal as aspiring designer

Kim is now working on her Fall/Winter 2020 collection to be presented at the Paris Fashion and Seoul Fashion weeks, which are slated for the last week of February and the beginning of March, respectively; while also collaborating with Korean fashion firms. She is planning to expand her design lineup which has primarily been dresses so far. Kim not only works as a designer, but also busy a lecturer at Kookmin University nurturing the fashion designers of tomorrow.

She said the reason she can work as a designer and a lecturer is simply because she likes her past work and doesn't want to regret being idle with her art pieces.

"I didn't give up because I love what I did. Some people say designers should not look back. But I think my past works can create the next me; my new work. That's why I want to do my best and be more honest with myself."

She said she will continue to do what she does and keep working hard to help people get inspired through her work.

"I am so happy that I can teach the way I get inspired and make ideas into illustrated artworks… I would remain the same with my brand as well. There are so many brands in the world. I don't have a big picture. But I simply want to stay close to customers. I want to make my brand as one of the options that give people a chance to sense their feelings and styles which were easily forgotten."

Kim Min-ju, center, designer of
Kim Min-ju, center, designer of "Minju Kim" and the winner of Netlix's fashion competition series "Next in Fashion," poses with the programs hosts Alexa Chung, left and Tan France after winning the competition in this undated photo. Courtesy of Minju Kim

Park Ji-won jwpark@koreatimes.co.kr


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