“We by no means put out a product until we completely find it irresistible.”
For Hannah Kim, Joanna Lee and Rebekah Ma, staying linked throughout COVID-19 wasn’t simply essential for typical familial causes like catching up and sending good vibes. The three siblings additionally helm ai Toronto Seoul, a sustainably-minded vegan purse and accent model that’s based mostly in Toronto and produces its wares on a small scale in Seoul, South Korea. Kim and Lee are positioned in Canada, whereas Ma has lived in Seoul for the final two years and lends a hands-on strategy to how their merchandise are made.
The trio collaborates on the model’s designs with their mom, Hun Younger Lee, who along with being an award-winning positive artist, helped her daughters to develop their ardour for trend. “Our mother, who was an immigrant in Toronto within the Nineteen Seventies when she was in her early twenties, felt trend was one thing she may join with when she got here to Canada as a result of it’s a common language,” says Kim. “Rising up, we all the time had the most recent Vogue and InStyle and Chatelaine on our espresso desk. And watching Style Tv each Sunday evening was our ritual.”
It’s by one other household connection that the sisters got here to study sustainable and aware manufacturing, as their aunt owns a facility in South Korea that makes vegan leather baggage. The nation, Lee notes, was a pioneer by way of creating and producing such supplies. “We grew up carrying our aunt’s baggage,” says Kim when reflecting on how their consciousness of conscious design developed. “It’s one thing that’s been a part of our lives with out actually pondering of it.”
After all, rising up in Canada, the three honed an understanding of caring for the setting in numerous methods. “We had been all the time educated about respecting the earth at school, like recycling,” remembers Lee, including that these components all contributed to how they shaped a mannequin for ai Toronto Seoul’s personal manufacturing. Its baggage and different equipment — together with hair clips and sun shades for teenagers — are made in restricted portions; if a mode doesn’t promote, they don’t make it once more. “Going that route was very pure for us,” Lee continues. “Our philosophy is that sustainability relies on a group of selections — the little selections that you just make [contribute to] how we’re affecting the planet.”
The three additionally got here to an appreciation for such decision-making when Kim was recognized with a tumour a number of years in the past; her chemotherapy remedy lead the household to rethink how they ate, turning them to a extra plant-based eating regimen. “It shifted our pondering by way of well being,” Lee notes.
The diagnoses proved pivotal within the profession course the sisters would take, too. “We had been at a degree in our lives once we had been all within the schooling discipline,” says Kim. “Once I was recognized with the tumour, I needed to cease working. It was a wake-up name for our household, and my mother felt like we wanted to do one thing collectively. We had all the time needed to, [but] that felt prefer it was the appropriate second. I used to be doing chemo, and she or he needed to get my thoughts off it.”
Starting by importing their aunt’s baggage to Canada after which “ghost labelling” for a Toronto-based designer for 2 years, their confidence grew with the success of every mission and ultimately, they branched out into making a model of their very own. The hassle is a group one — “Everybody needs to be on board with a choice,” Ma says — with the matriarch Hun Younger appearing as head designer.
“She has visionary sense,” Lee says of what evokes ai Toronto Seoul’s items. “We by no means put out a product until we completely find it irresistible.” Along with their mom’s forward-thinking sense of fashion, Ma says that being based mostly in South Korea has given her perception into the fast-pace of development adoption there. “The style right here is past evaluate,” she says. “Residing my complete life in Canada, there was a little bit of a tradition shock — however the trend is so enjoyable.”
One can sense the admiration for this distinctive perspective in the direction of dressing in ai Toronto Seoul’s choices, just like the Esse bag fashion, which was launched final 12 months to handle the need to have a hands-free bag that carries solely the necessities. The cross-body is available in a wide range of colourways from tonal to two-way blue and yellow, for these a bit of extra adventurous of their accent selections.
When the model launched reusable masks near the beginning of the pandemic — Ma noticed the nice want for them in South Korea and urged her sisters that it was an merchandise worthy of making for his or her buyer base — they not solely customary them in eye-catching colors. They selected to craft them out of material made with an antibacterial yarn known as Aerosilver, which has been granted an Eco-Mark award from the Japan Environmental Affiliation. The sisters, who’ve household who’re healthcare staff, integrated a donation element into gross sales as nicely.
“It was a no brainer for us,” Kim says about giving one masks to a frontline employee for each masks bought. The introduction of the masks additionally impressed the sisters to supply chains product of recycled acrylic; talking to the notion of sustainability by versatility, a further hook included in a number of kinds means it’s also possible to affix your eyewear or AirPods for close-keeping.
Multi-purpose performance was additionally a key element in one other product launch for ai Toronto Seoul throughout the pandemic — a convertible bag and canine leash set that was created in collaboration with tv persona Tanya Kim. “After we had been younger, there weren’t actually many Asian, not to mention Korean, girls on tv that we may relate to,” remembers Hannah Kim. “Tanya was the one individual we may relate to. We’ve all the time appeared as much as her, and she or he’s all the time been a powerful supporter of our enterprise. There’s a mutual respect.”
That idea is equally essential to the model’s founders on the subject of the remedy of the makers who craft ai Toronto Seoul’s items. They usually do what they will to tout the strategy of the group, and the circumstances beneath which they work. Highlighting the protections mandated by South Korean authorities to make sure equitable and protected environments for staff, Kim says that now greater than ever, these factors are of eager curiosity to shoppers. “We attempt to inform this story to our prospects [because] we all know how essential that’s.”