Tag Archive for Fashion Designer Interview

J KOO: It’s Awesome to be Twosome

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Going into their fourth season, J KOO is a brand led by duo designers Jinwoo Choi and Yeonjoo Koo who met while preparing for fashion school, became friendly while in London during which became close enough to not only start working together but eventually agree… to get married. ;)

As life partners, they encourage and inspire each other while complementing each other as fashion designers and business partners. Having spent eight years in London studying Menswear at Central Saint Martins and launching J KOO, it’s easy to locate mannish elements in their collections, surprisingly but most definitely in a subtle manner. I may had been misinformed or it could have been my erroneous preconception but when I used to hear about a brand that incorporates menswear into womenswear, among the first images that came to my mind was Hedi Slimane’s rather direct reinterpretation of mens suits complete with wide-brimmed hats, slacks, an immaculately tailored jackets (ie Saint Laurent Spring 2013 RTW).

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Shattering this image was J KOO’s fresh approach of incorporating menswear elements that are relatively subdued (requiring further observation to be noticed), such as using high quality wool used in fine menswear suits which can only be found at menswear textile shops, while using tailoring techniques and details only found in such. This is unique to the brand as Choi and Koo’s expert knowledge in menswear is what allows them to pursue a rather unconventional method. This concept comes from not only having been trained at a top notch educational institution but has a lot to do with their passion, talent, and practice since childhood days. What I found particularly inspiring was that all the clothes Choi used to wear back in college days were self-made, which by the way, are still in great shape, displayed along with his new collection pieces at his current studio. He mentioned that his love for fashion started naturally, as he was surrounded by art and fashion since the early days thanks to his father who had a great interest in painting, mother who used to avidly make clothes for him, and sisters who studied art. Coincidentally and fortunately for him, when he was in military, he made friends who were in the design industry who encouraged and inspired him to pursue fashion design when he was feeling discouraged and lost.

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J KOO’s F/W collection touches upon many domains of fashion, ranging from classic to modernism, graphic prints, to cocoon silhouettes.

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As someone who hasn’t touched baggy silhouettes since the 90′s, I must admit that I hesitated quite a bit before finally deciding on J KOO’s voluminous pieces, afraid that they would make me look large.

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Though, now that I think about it, what’s wrong with looking big? Yeah. Exactly. Who cares as long as I’m having fun with it. Working on confidence as we speak- you knew this. ;) Please be patient…

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But more than anything, a great lesson learned is that I need to have more confidence in fashion designers, relying on their sense than my assumptions. Once I put the pieces on, not only did I look slim but felt completely comfortable, free, and beautiful. Oh, was I wrong… Go away, preconceived notions, Seriously. It didn’t take long to reconfirm the genius of the J KOO duo.

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This dress… is everything, literally. The color and print is unique but pretty at the same time, the silhouette changes depending on what your body is doing, the material is extremely soft to touch while feeling even more amazing on, and it’s perfect for layering as the buttons allow for versatility- and you know how much I’m into versatility when it comes to clothes.

Another cool element is that the ventilation is amazing… what I mean is that because it’s so roomy, it allows wind to freely move around inside the dress hence being perfect for the hot summer days in Seoul.

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Dress and Pants by J KOO. Shoes by Jeffrey Campbell.

Check out J KOO

Lie Sang Bong: Passion, Dream, and Korea

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Only a few hours before our scheduled meeting, I found out that my mom was among Lie’s first customers when he had his first boutique in Myeongdong in the 80′s. When I mentioned this to the designer, he cheerfully replied, “Your mom must had been extremely stylish to have worn my clothes back then. There was a saying that a woman in Lie Sang Bong could be spotted even from far away.”

Twenty years passed, and after a few moves within Seoul, Lie has settled in the cozy area near Coex in Gangnam, where a beautiful park is located across the street where he often takes a walk to unwind.

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As we walked into the boutique, we found him busy signing his newly published autobiography for some of the major Korean pop stars, this particular one for 2AM. Since receiving a signed copy at Seoul Fashion Week a few weeks ago, I was able to learn about his life as a student, designer, father, artist, teacher, and most importantly, a man of passion and dreams.

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What caught me by surprise as we walked in was how “different” the clothes looked from how I remembered them from the shows. Basically, they looked more commercial and wearable, but for older women. It’s normal for actual mass produced pieces to be different from sample pieces, but for all the disparity I was seeing, I had to start by asking what his target market was, and about the new brand, LIE.

Interviewed by Justin Shin & Karen Lee of  TOMI:MITO

Translated & Edited by Karen Lee

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TM: Could you tell us about LIE?

LSB: Lie is a line targeted towards younger women in 20′s to early 30′s that I launched with my son who is also a Fashion Designer; however it is mainly for international market. In Seoul, you will only be able to see it at pop-ups. Since it is a younger brand, the pieces are much more affordable. As far as the “theme” for each season, it will be a season behind Lie Sang Bong; since LSB S/S 2013 was based around butterflies, LIE F/W 2013 will be a spin-off of the butterfly theme.

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TM: Where do you receive inspirations from? Do you look at other designers’ collections?

LSB: I don’t feel the need to look at others’ work, although I wouldn’t mind doing so. But the more important reason that prevents me from looking is that I just simply don’t have the time as I show my collection in Paris, New York, London, and Seoul. Since Seoul Collection is a month or two after New York and Paris, if I were only doing the former, maybe I would have time to see what others are doing, but because I am showing my collection at the same time all the other major designers are showing theirs, I just don’t have the time to do anything else besides focusing on my own collection.

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TM: Could you tell us about your show prepping process?

LSM: Unless you attend every show, you probably won’t notice but every show is different albeit all being held for the same season with same pieces. While there are many different reasons why that is, some of which are rather obvious, such that some of the larger production props are just not being able to be transported, etc., some can be thought of as tailored for market/culture as appropriate. For example, for F/W 2013 Seoul Collection, I was able to do everything I wanted to, such as installing huge Korean vintage window frames to maximize the dramatic effect along with a lighted hat and all. In Paris, I didn’t even show the dress which was the finale piece here in Seoul.

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TM: How did you come to develop your signature style/look? You are recognizable from miles away!

LSB: I’ve had this particular hair style for over 25 years along with these round specs. No specific reason for the glasses, it’s just that back in the days, there weren’t many choices when it came to eyewear, but as for my hair, there is a story behind it. I was at a club dancing one day… By the way, this is when I had half-shaved hairstyle. While dancing like nobody was watching, I suddenly looked at myself in the mirror and was pretty much horrified. I was sweating a lot and as you can imagine, my hair was all over my face, etc. So I went home and just shaved it all off, and voila, many years passed and it’s still here. I must have liked it? As for my beard/mustache combo, it’s simply because I don’t have time to spend on myself.

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TM: Every time we see you, you are wearing black. More specifically, that black cape. Would you happen to have other colors in your wardrobe?

LSB: I’m going to surprise you by saying yes, I do. I actually wear color quite often, it just depends on the occasion and location. But mostly, I wear whatever I feel like wearing. If you see me in that black cape, it’s because I want to be comfortable. I dress for myself, I don’t dress for others. I also don’t want to stress over what I wear. I’m a designer, I design for others, not myself. On that note, I like that I can be subjective when I design, as my options are not limited to what I want to wear, but what I would like to see women wear.

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TM: I’m always in a dilemma. I like wearing heels because they are what really complete a look (along with lengthening and slimming the legs), but I honestly am more about comfort. What should I do?

LSB: You should carry a pair of flats with you all the time and just switch whenever you need to. Simple.

TM: I actually do that sometimes already, but because you said it, I’m ALWAYS going to be carrying a pair from now on. Thank you.

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TM: You mentioned that you used to have a half-shaved hairstyle about 30 years ago. That’s quite bold even for today’s Korean standards. Did you always like being different? Korea is known to be more conservative..?

LSB: I never cared about what others thought of me or said about me. That’s just too much headache, don’t you think? I already have too much on my plate. Why even bother? Actually, if I ever did care about that, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Only way to develop your own style is to do whatever you want, wear what you want, and believing in it. Besides, I never liked being around people anyway except when there are interviews. I consider myself introvert and I’m happy that way.

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TM: I’m actually the same way. I’m just a lot more socially awkward than any other introverts ever lived. :P

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“Designer is wind… water… a tear, a cloud.”

- from “Fashion is Passion” by Lie Sang Bong

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TM: What is the first thing you do after the show?

LSB: The process of “Emptying.” It is very important to me, as it’s the only way I can start “Creating” again. Preparing for a show is “Filling” myself, subsequent to the show, “Emptying” by exposing myself to environment and activities that which help me become creative again.

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“A person who wears fashion is what completes fashion.”

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“Designer is one who creates; Stylist creates trend.”

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TM: What is the process of coming up with a theme for each show like?

LSB: That’s probably the most difficult part of the show. I go through lots of books in various topics, ranging from architecture to fiction. I travel sometimes, but mostly spend my weekends catching up on movies and theatre arts, or going to museums which I find most helpful.

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TM: How long does it take to create each show piece after you have decided on the theme?

LSB: That’s the easier part, because I can then focus which means my mind doesn’t need to wander anymore. That’s when comfort comes to heart, when my mind is at peace. It’s easy from there.

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TM: I understand you have created many collections around a Korean theme. Does your collection always have some kind of Korean element in it?

LSB: No, not all the time. Working around a Korean theme is the most difficult, because there aren’t enough resources to refer to. I wish more designers would do it; not just fashion designers, but designers of all types.

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TM: What are your thoughts on Korean fashion?

LSB: Fashion designers these days seem to know what “sells”… which is a good thing. Back in the days, we placed more focus on philosophy, the artistic aspect of fashion. We had dreams, and that’s what drove us.

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TM: In the book, you mention that your dream was to show your collection in Paris, and that was achieved quite a while ago. What now?

LSB: The only one who can say that he’s achieved his dream is one who is about to pass away. I have bigger dreams now, which is to travel the world and continuing to be an ambassador of Korean culture and tradition through fashion.

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TM: Can we talk about education a bit? How can one become a Fashion Designer?

LSB: Exposure comes first, not Learning. Many parents seem to think that putting knowledge into children as early as possible will help them become smarter or better, but the truth is, what they are exposed to is so much more important than what is (often reluctantly) deposited into them.

TM: Basically you mean instead of learning how to draw an apple, it’s better for them to play with one, eat one, or maybe even picking one at a farm.

LSB: Yes, by “learning,” you are only limiting a child’s potentials.

TM: As a psychology major, that totally makes sense. Everyone has his/her own unique way to process thoughts, and by training everyone to structure their thinking in a certain way, you only limit their true potentials when they may naturally have had a different yet creative way to do so.

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TM: Are there things we can do to think more like a designer? What are some of the things we can do on our own besides schooling?

LSB: Compare and contrast. Practice paradigm-shifting. In order to develop your own style, it’s important to know and fully understand what others are doing. For example, to develop a new style incorporating Korean culture, you need to know what those in Western country are doing with their own culture. As for paradigm shift, you really need to start thinking differently- for example, I turned a traditional Korean hair accessory into a brooch for one of my collections.

TM: Yes, you also had a necklace that looked like a vintage Korean doorknob at the last show. Brilliant.

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“There are certain activities I do to enhance my creativity, one of which has now become more like a hobby. Before I fall asleep, I close my eyes and think about everything that happened that day, backwards.”

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“I’ve lived a life that is full of passion, sometimes having to fight against myself. Many years may have passed but I’m still learning about myself. What I do know so far is that fashion is my destiny and purpose. So far, I’ve been running a race only looking ahead, but from now on, I want to pay attention to what’s happening around me, too. With this upgraded mindset and passion that constantly and unceasingly seeks challenge, I want to continue walking the path that has been given to me. I am where I am because of all those who sacrificed for me and helped me along the way, and some luck too, considering my skill-set. On that note, I would like to thank everyone who knows me and has been with me.”

- Fashion is Passion by Lie Sang Bong

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See Lie Sang Bong F/W 2013 

Lie Sang Bong S/S 2013

Tastemakers

Are leggings pants?

Chloe has adorned the runway with their version of wide-legged tailored pants, signaling a come back of the so-called “real pants.” Apparently, many refuse to include leggings in the “pants” category which is rather publicly demonstrated by an astounding number of “likes” of the Facebook fan page called “Leggings are Not Pants.”

While they may be different, I suggest that we reexamine the definition of pants: what are they? Wikipedia notes that pants (or trousers) are an item of clothing worn on the lower part of the body from the waist to the ankle covering both legs separately. Well, don’t leggings do just that? So what is the problem here? What I sense is a contradictory discrimination. If style is a freedom to creatively express who you are, who are we to judge how or why things are worn the way they are?

As a devoted leggings enthusiast, I must say that the human body boasts the most sophisticated and beautiful silhouette, which is why I consider leggings as one of the best fashion articles available. They not only accentuate one of the strongest and sexiest part of a woman’s body, but have a magical quality of enhancing imperfections when paired with strategically designed high heels (think elongated, slimmer legs). It seems clear to me that leggings are indeed pants albeit different.

So what’s with the hate? Why discriminate? Well, here’s my take: while fashion designers are talented artists, they are also business people. As we all have felt it in one way or another, running a business of any sort in a difficult economic climate is challenging if not impossible, requiring one to think outside of the box not only in an artistic approach but strategic business planning as well. This is one reason that’s forcing some to believe that leggings belong to another category other than pants and that they don’t deserve the attention they have been receiving. What I mean is that because leggings are products that do not require exceptional designing or engineering skills, it’s reasonable for those in high-fashion industry to dismiss them as a tasteless choice. Not only are they “second-class”, they don’t generate the kind of money they want, hence the lack of motivation for promotion. For average consumers like myself, I see no reason to purchase leggings that cost $1,000 when I can get one in a similar style and great quality for a fraction of the price. That is, unless you are a luxury mania who don’t consider anything less than Chanel or Hermes wearable. (like this girl who has officially made the most detestable yet largely popular debut this week in Korea) In short, leggings don’t necessarily require a superior craft or training to manufacture. They embody much more of a practical element of fashion than art which is considered superior to the former by couture designers- too “light” for their taste or too “commercial” is what they would say. Anything that deserves pricing higher than a plush leather sofa should be made in luxurious materials with Italian precision and craft, they say and leggings just don’t cut it.

Designers are who they are because they are unique, creative people who pride themselves of their distinctive style & character, which is a basic requirement for a successful brand establishment as well. In other words, it requires one to be strong-opinionated and egotistic in a way to be a designer. Without it, there is no basis as to what makes one a designer or an icon in first place since the word design means to create something that which didn’t exist before. We all have crazy thoughts every once in a while but to actually execute them requires some serious guts, which is often why an average citizen may question the mental state of exceptionally “fabulous” fashion icons, i.e. Lady Gaga. You would agree that while her musical talent is unprecedented, it is her unique, if not strange, fashion sense that got her where she is today. Though undeniably risky, such is the strategy that she (or her stylist) decided upon, which brought her much success in her musical career and popularity. Fashion design is not for those who are lukewarm and indecisive in character but for those who are unique, strong-opinionated, and most importantly, who are not afraid to express it, hence the title “tastemakers.” They have the power to set the trends, and of course they do so in a way that benefits them. Leggings are hurting the high-fashion industry by injuring their pride and financials, hence the hate.

So the story of fashion continues with the inevitable discrimination along the way; however it does not affect my philosophy of providing unique fashion that embodies both practical and artistic elements of fashion. A good fashion should be two things: aesthetic and practical- just what Tomimito boutique does best. So go ahead and hate all you want, but leggings will always be my fashion staple. :D

Image Source: Elle & Google Images

Dream Chaser

I was in the paper today. Sorry if you can’t read Korean- basically it says that I have the coolest blog ever. lol jk.

It’s about how this blog and my shop came about; also how fashion has always been a part of my life and will always be my passion.

Many of you don’t know this but I studied art throughout my childhood and going into teens. My parents sent me to an art studio when I was six and without a doubt, everyone thought I would become a designer or artist of some sort. I always knew that I would end up in an art school. And I did, though not exactly what I had expected when I started with the fundamentals at a local state college. I hated it. I felt like I didn’t belong there and felt extremely incompetent, but it wasn’t until that day when the professor gave me a C on a project for using a white chalk. I had used it to highlight the bright spots though I knew that he had specifically told us not to. I visited his office later to appeal to only be disappointed for the second time. So I decided that it was the time. I switched to a local community college instead trying to “find myself”. I had to lie to my parents for a few months until I announced my decision to move… to New York City, which almost sent my parents to a hospital. My dad had just moved in with us from Korea after almost five years of living by himself. He was traumatized. Call me selfish but I carried on. Nothing could stop me. I wanted to be surrounded by those tall buildings and be awed by the glitz and chaos. I wanted to date those stock brokers in long coats and leather gloves.

Destination: FIT.

Fashion had always been a part of me. I started collecting fashion magazines when I was 15. I subscribed to Vogue with the money that I didn’t have. I starved so I could buy baggy jeans. I hid in my room every night and put eyeliner all over my eyes staring into a stained mirror, in hopes of looking like the models in the magazine. I secretly admired the cute overalls pretty unnis wore (older girls) at church. My notebooks were always filled with drawings of girls in cute dresses and makeup. Fashion design assignments never felt like assignments- I didn’t have to eat nor sleep as long as I was able to artistically express my creativity. In my high school Fashion Design class, I was #2 (#1 was a friend of mine who was the most amazing fashion illustrator ever!) and everyone including the teacher never doubted that I’d become a fashion designer. So I decided to go back to where it all started- what makes my heart skip a beat. As soon as it was determined that FIT was the only school in Manhattan that was affordable, the sleepless nights started. After a month, my portfolio was complete with 10+ designs and 30+ sketches. I don’t know, but if someone asked me to sit and come up with designs all day, I would. I probably could come up with one every 5 minutes. If that doesn’t suggest that I was born to do this, I don’t know what is (not assuming that they are all manufacture-able). Fast-forward six months and there I was, standing in front of FIT on 7th Avenue in New York City, confused. Has anyone gone through this before? You are extremely stoked and just ready to go chase your dream, but someone comes along and just breaks everything into pieces? That’s basically what happened to me. and no, this was not a bf, but someone very close at the time and one whom I greatly respected. I was told that not many fashion designers succeed and that it’s an extremely competitive field. I was advised to look elsewhere that’s more stable and secure, i.e. accounting. Being an artist all my life, I didn’t even have a clue what accounting was, but it made me think… for a while. I didn’t have a plan as to how I’d pay tuition either, so I thought, ‘Heck, I’ll give it a try… whatever it is. He’s got to be right, because I respect and trust him.’ So just like that, everything ended and started over. Luckily I was able to find a school that didn’t cost a fortune and a job that paid just enough to let me live in that expensive city. and instead of dating a stock broker, I started working for one. Just like that, my adventure in the business world started.

Study of the Mind: Marketing was a fascinating subject. It was like a combination of art and business, which was just so perfect for me. Although it took me a year to learn about the field and finally switch my major (believe it or not, I started off as an accounting major- ouch! you accountants have my respect!). Then towards my last year of college, I learned about a new field called Organizational Psychology. It was like getting hit in the head with a huge rock. WHAT?! ‘This is friggin’ amazing’, I thought. I sat in front of the room in every class and aced every single test (yes, I was one of those). I bothered the professor until she started avoiding me. I almost cried when she “tried” to give me an A-. I told her I wanted to pursue a PhD in the field. I took three of her classes consecutively and memorized the texts religiously. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer at one point while taking a law class (I loved writing briefs), but no, now I wanted to be a PhD- a kid who failed trigonometry in High School! LOL

That summer after finishing school, I told my boss I was moving back to California to pursue a graduate degree. I secretly wanted to stay and go to Columbia, but even if I ended up going, I thought I’d come back later. I needed a break from New York.

I emailed renowned professors at research institutions across the country who were experts in the specific field/topic that I was interested in. After numerous email exchanges, I ended up in LA working on an academic journal on minority employer’s perceptions toward hiring people with disabilities. I worked as a research associate for a year while preparing for graduate school. With God’s grace, I received an acceptance to my top choice in California. The two years were more than an academic training for me- it was rather a time in which I grew as a stronger person. Being the only student in the incoming group with a business background, I had to try twice as hard to catch up with the smart folks from the prestigious schools all over the world. So many times I wanted to give up and go back to my comfort zone, yet I persevered because I considered it a gift that God had given me. Go ahead and laugh, but I felt blessed just being able to work with such smart people and be trained by world-renowned researchers. The two years taught me that anything is possible if you try hard. I had never thought that I would end up with a Masters Degree in Psychology, or studying Global Business at Oxford University for that matter. What, a naive art student who moved 3000 miles away from home to be surrounded by pretty things?! O.. K?!? haha. Anyways, I digress.

So here I was, with two degrees and a marriage certificate (I got married right before graduation). Fast-forward two years, I’m sitting in a cubicle researching cars. Oh yeah, that totally makes sense- you spend $70K to study people’s mind and end up reading about cars. Absolutely! ha. You know what, life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want it to (I actually learned this the hard way!). If you didn’t know that, don’t worry, you will, soon. Trust me, it’s not completely irrelevant though- research is the basis of psychology, and that’s what I’m doing, right? Anyhow, after coming home from a stressful day at work, I’m on the phone one night with my mother in law in Korea who’s in fashion business. I ask her if she could get me some durable, “truly-opaque (was having a hard time finding one here)” tights and leggings that are comfortable yet cute. I receive a box the next week filled with goodies including but not limited to, leggings and tights. I love the products. My friends show interest. I decide to post them on my blog since I write about fashion anyway. and the rest is history- then again, that was only two months ago! All this may sound either funny or whatnot, but my past 10 years have been no less than adventurous. Exactly after 10 years, I’m back to where it all started running a fashion business, and in those 10 years, so much happened that I just cannot believe that they all actually happened (do I even make sense?!). More than anything, I want to let you know that while I obviously am not here to lose money, but it’s more than business for me. It may have come at an unexpected time in an unexpectedly expeditious manner, but this is where my passion lies and all I want to do is to share with those who are seeking, whether it’s life or fashion. were you ever lost? were you let down? were you discouraged? Now it’s your time to shine. Be yourself. Be brave. Express your creativity. Be who you want to be. Tomimito is for those like me, who went around the world to find herself, who is finally sure of who she is and want to express it through fashion.

My Article on the Internet (Korean)