Q&A: Kim Phan of Yumi Kim
A California girl at heart, Kim Phan knew that in order to pursue her passion for fashion, she had to head out to the Big Apple. After six successful years in the industry, Kim's brand, Yumi Kim, has established itself as the go-to brand for adorable sundresses, jumpers and silky tops. Every piece is crafted in 100 percent silk, and although they're fun for warmer months, they can be easily worn year-round. Whether you pair a floral jumper with sandals or fit in a flirty blouse under a blazer, her styles allow women to show a little femininity, no matter the occasion. Inspired by her world travels, each piece by Yumi Kim gives you a taste of different continents—from South East Asia to the tropical Pacific—and you don't have to grab cross-country tickets for a chance for the cultured-chic look.
LadyLux: Tell us how you started.
Kim Phan: The line is six and a half years old now. It just sort of… happened. I’m big on kharma and the universe. I think everything happens for a reason. I moved to New York to work in fashion, but instead I ended up in music for a couple years and I realized I wanted to go back to where my passion was… in fashion. I started taking classes at FIT at night. I started with t-shirts, the American Apparel ones, I started putting embellishments and embroidery on them. From there I made my first trip to Asia and I found a factory. A couple people I met there held my hand, and taught me how to make garments, dresses and tops. The rest went from there.
LL: How’d you develop your aesthetic? You have a very a distinct, silky, summery look.
KP: I’ve always been that vintage girl. That’s always been my style. When I created the line, I wanted it to be something that I would wear, so that’s how I came up with pretty floral dresses. They are clothes that make you happy.
LL: I’ve heard you’re quite the jetsetter.
KP: My other passion is travel. I love to see the world. That’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I think, a lot of times when you travel, you come back changed. I like to incorporate little bits of my traveling in my collections.
LL: Any examples?
KP: For example, in my Spring 2010 collection there was quite a bit of embroidery. That was from my trip to Malaysia. I was at a flea market there and found this beautiful embroidery from Bali and Indonesia. So I thought I really wanted to incorporate embroidery in my next collection. You’ll also notice a lot of Hawaiian influence too. For the summer, I did a bunch of tropical pieces because I had a family reunion there last year.
LL: Upcoming travel plans?
KP: I’m leaving on Monday to Asia! I’m going to Seoul, South Korea, for the first time. I’m really interested to see the fashion over there.
LL: How has Yumi Kim evolved over the past six years?
KP: I think the first couple years, when you have a line, you think you want it to be a certain way…but it takes a while to realize what your customers want and what sells well. I think the line is also very representative of my personal life. I was living in New York, going out at night and started dating again. I later realized that being single was a big change in my life. I wanted a dress that I could wear to work, and then I could wear it to a date afterwards. So appropriate, yet still cute and sexy.
LL: Do you feel a lot of women need that too?
KP: Girls come in and say, “I want something that I can wear to work…under a blazer or a nice pair of slacks.” They wanted something that they could wear to the office, but also go out and not feel too conservative. That was something that became a niche for me. Over time you start to grow and discover what your customer wants. Over time, I've learned that the Yumi Kim customer comes to me for vibrant prints and colors. They are clothes that will get you noticed and you’ll be happy when you wear them.
LL: What are you working on right now?
KP: Right now, I’m finishing Spring 2011.
LL: Can you hint?
KP: It’s kind of funny, everyone is always asking me what I’m inspired by every season. For me, spring is always very consistent. I just want to keep making pretty clothes. It’s the same formula every season. I love using bright colors and pretty florals. But I do think I’ll experiment more with placement prints this season.
LL: You say the “same formula every season.” How you do make your line fit for fall/winter, since it is such a summery brand?
KP: I’ll be honest with you…one of my hardest seasons is fall and winter. It’s really, really hard. I’m so used to working with vintage florals, pastels and prints. When it comes to fall, I have the hardest time. Now what I do, is during the fall/winter time I bring out the geometric shapes and if I do use floral patterns, I go for winter florals with black backgrounds with more neutral or jewel tones, versus brights or pastels.
LL: Any advice for up-and-coming designers?
KP: You have to be passionate about what you do. When you’re passionate about something, all the struggles and obstacles you will encounter, it’s that passion that will continue to fuel you and you won’t give up.
Yumi Kim‘s silky summer dresses are currently sold at Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom. If you're in the New York area, check out her flagship boutique on the Lower East Side, located on 105 Stanton Street.