Fashion school students around the world are preparing to enter an industry that's rapidly changing. There are courses to pass, design prompts to ace, runway shows to prep for and professional connections to make. In our series, "Fashion School Diaries," those students give us a firsthand look into their day-to-day lives. Here, we meet So Jung (Hailey) Kim, a California College of the Arts class of 2020 fashion student, after winning a $10,000 scholarship towards her senior year from Joe's Blackbook Foundation.
When it comes to fashion capitals, San Francisco may not be at the top of the list, but So Jung Kim, also known as Hailey and a design student at California College of the Arts, says the Bay Area city has its perks. "We get to see fashion in a different way than a place like New York," says Kim. "I feel like studying fashion here gives me a chance to think outside of the box."
Kim's family moved often throughout her childhood, which she says fueled her interest in "how people wear different things and trends in different places." She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and lived there until elementary school. By second grade, she was in Canada for about three years before going back to Korea; by high school, she returned to the U.S., first living in Denver, followed by her latest hometown in Southern California's Orange County.
When it came to choosing a fashion school, Kim wanted to stay in California, where she grew up for the past eight years. But attending college in Los Angeles wouldn't have felt like a big enough change, so she settled on just-far-enough San Francisco. "And to be honest, they gave me the most scholarship, too," says Kim.
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Now, Kim will be able to put $10,000 towards her senior year at CCA after winning an annual competition from Joe's Blackbook Foundation in April. The New York-based organization, comprised of connectors and consultants across the fashion and retail space, has been granting scholarships to menswear and women's wear design students since 2011. This year, it received more than 100 specially-selected submissions from schools across the country, and its six finalists hail from Otis, Parsons, FIT and, of course, CCA.
For the final judging, the students were flown to New York City, where they presented their collections to industry professionals, including designers Sandy Liang, Emily Bode, Nomia's Yara Flinn, Michael Colovos, Tommy Ton for Deveaux New York and Francesco Fucci for Theory, to name a few.
"I got to talk to the judges about making portfolios — how we can make them nicer when we're applying for internships, and what they're looking for," recalls Kim of the special event. "It was such a good opportunity, and the comments that they gave me is really going to help with my final year of studying."
Read on to learn more about why Kim decided to focus on menswear, how she balanced schoolwork while applying for the Joe's Blackbook scholarship and her plans for senior year and post-grad life.
"I started college with a very shallow knowledge of fashion. I didn't really know what being in the fashion industry and learning about fashion design was going to be like. First it was exciting — I got to know more about what [designers] have to do and about pattern making, designing, concepting — and, actually, it became challenging because it was different from what I expected. When I thought about fashion before, I just thought about the clothes itself, not really the process of making clothes.
So I got to know more about that part: All the sewing and all of the time that goes into getting the concept and idea, and how a collection comes to be. It was challenging, but I feel like it's gotten better. I start to find myself getting excited for a new project.
I wanted to focus on menswear by my second year. We had to choose an American subculture and I chose teddy boys and hiking, and when I was researching about teddy boys, I started to get into menswear and men's tailoring. I feel like in menswear, there's not much of a variety of things compared to women's wear. Men's design gives me a feeling that I want to try something new that people haven't seen before or it makes me of concepts that might be interesting and not typical of menswear.
I first heard about the Joe's Blackbook Foundation scholarship during our second year, and started thinking up the concept over winter break of junior year. When we came back from break, we talked with our teachers and started working on our submissions. Not everyone did it because it was a supplementary project, so it's of a lot of work. Before it was the final week of submitting, I didn't sleep that much. But it wasn't stressful for me because I was working on a collection that I was really into.
My concept for Joe's Blackbook was people who live on the streets of San Francisco — how they wear things and how they overlap things in interesting ways for survival, not for styling — as well as traditional Korean garments. I tried to use a lot of plastic-y materials or fabric that I would usually catch on the street. I also have some tailoring in my collection, so I'd combine these fabrics with wool, too. I created seven looks in total. There is one look in my collection that I really like — this poncho-feeling parka, layered on top of another really, heavy, oversized parka.
People on the street is such a daily thing in San Francisco. As I got to see more, I got to be interested in the people and so I tried to study their lives. Also, over winter break, my grandmother in Korea passed away and that made me think more about myself, too. I'm always far away from home and even though I feel lonely and insecure, I still have to do my studies and continue. When I first started the project, I only had the idea of people on the street. But after winter break, the project really got me to rethink about myself in a way, too, so I tried to really apply that feeling towards the product.
We had to submit our packet to Joe's Blackbook in New York City by mail, and I tried to think about the packaging and how, when they open it, what's the first thing they're going to see. I tried to focus on small details and when they start to see my packet, what kind of feeling I want them to get. I used the theme of Korean traditional painting to really show a part of me. I made my journal and my pages really packed out and puffy because I wanted to give the feeling of my product. I had a stamp that had my name in Korean on all of the pages.
It was after three weeks that I found out I was a finalist for the scholarship. Joe's Blackbook invited us to New York City to present our packets to the judges. I was really nervous because I know I'm not a person who's really good at talking and I sometimes forget what I'm going to say when I get nervous. But I just tried to let go of everything and not get stressed.
Before the presentation started I was really nervous because everyone seemed so calm. I feel like I was the only one who was nervous, but when it actually started, I felt OK because the judges were really nice, too. I got to talk to all of the finalists and it was interesting to learn about their schools and how each one has different ways of teaching.
My last year at CCA is all about our senior thesis and we’ll be working on a show, so it's going to be really busy. I heard from the seniors that it's a lot of work. You have to make one garment per week. When I graduate, I'm hoping that I can get a job or internship somewhere in New York. I would say my favorite brand is Thom Browne because I'm doing menswear. But if I get a chance to go back to Korea, I really want try to start up my own business, too. That's what I'm thinking about for my future right now."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.