[ser-uhn-dip-i-ty]: Unique By Design, Discovered By Chance
© srdpt - Citywalker collection in green
Meet Kelly, the designer reminding us what fashion is really about - exploring our identity and expressing who we are and want to be.
It's not often you meet someone with a perspective so refreshing that it encourages you to question your own. Yet, this was the case when I met Kelly, founder, and designer of Korean fashion brand srdpt.
While her journey into the industry doesn't inspire the name of her brand, it is somewhat serendipitous that fashion is where Kelly found herself - and we should be thankful for it. Armed with a creative business degree and a lifelong love for fashion in hand, she founded her brand during the peak of COVID in 2021, thanks to a university assignment.
Of course, founding a business is never easy, but Kelly had, quite frankly, an onslaught of tumult. From travel restrictions and sampling stress to unique design elements causing manufacturing challenges and doing it almost entirely single-handedly - all the way down to modelling. Yet she persevered with a genuine passion for her goal, a headstrong attitude, and a fresh mindset that feels uncommon for designers, or at least under-appreciated: fashion is not just about dressing for aesthetics, but for who you want to be. Intertwining psychology, business, and design, Kelly is proving that there are still new ideas as she gives her consumers (myself now firmly included) something they really haven't seen before.
In a conversation that I felt could have lasted hours longer, Kelly gave a truly eloquent critique and thoughtful consideration of fashion as an industry, as well as what it can represent, that left me evaluating my own outlook - in the best way.
What sparked your interest in fashion, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
I’ve been into fashion since I was a little child, but I didn’t pursue it for my academic major. I wanted to work in magazines in the beginning; that's what I was going for with Graphic Communications Management so that way I could be in the fashion industry, but I wasn’t sure I would make it as a designer. I had to start a business as a start-up for my graduation piece, so I decided to go into the fashion industry, and I actually loved being in it.
I found that I love creating new pieces and designing my own designs, and, at the end of the day, I had to find something to do after graduation and could not see myself being in a company working for a different business I’m not really interested in.
When I was younger, I wasn’t sure if [fashion] would be a path for me to pursue forever, but then as I was growing up seeing how the fashion industry worked in general, I saw that it isn’t just about designing, but there is so much more into it. I think there are communities for people to be a part of, and I felt comfortable and like I belong in this industry. I can’t ever imagine myself being in accounting or on the super opposite side of the world. There's definitely a path for everyone, and I think I would have returned to fashion either way.
What was it about fashion that drew you to it?
I think it was about expressing my identity through fashion. I was in love with putting outfits together, and wearing different pieces that nobody wears makes me feel more special. I think some people would be into make-up to express themselves, some people are into their hair, and some people are into things rather than just visuals. The thing that gave me confidence and let me know who I am was through fashion. So that was always the way I was attached to, to express my feelings, express my identity, and build my identity.
I always think about it when I do photoshoots, design the pieces, or curate the [Instagram] feed or the branding: the whole brand is kind of representing me as a person. I think the brand definitely has my personality in it rather than just going for what's trending or what's going to be more attractive to people. I believe in myself and what I like, and I think whoever likes what I like would follow my brand. I want to create a community that can elaborate on my brand to show its identity - that was the main goal.
So you started your brand, srdpt, in 2021. What is it like to start up your own brand?
In the beginning, it was very exciting, obviously, to show people. To build something from scratch all by myself was a lot of work, but at the same time, it's more [about] the feeling of achieving something on my own. It was more giving the challenge to myself.
I think nowadays it's so hard to find a path, like what you’re good at or what you're really into, or what you need to pursue for the rest of your life - it’s very confusing. When it came to the point where I had to decide on something, it didn’t take a lot of thought to move forward in fashion. Once I started it, I had to prove that this could go further than what I thought it could. So it was scary as much as it was exciting, and I think I’m still in the process of growing and slowly proving to myself that I can build something based on my identity and my creativity. So I can’t say I’ve done something; I think I’m still doing something!
© srdpt - founder, Kelly
So as well as the personal challenge it presented, did you face any external challenges, such as COVID?
It was definitely so hard since I produced everything from Korea, and it was COVID, so I couldn’t really go there in person. The sampling process took way longer than it should have taken, and everything was going back and forth by shipping, so I was so frustrated to release this piece [citywalker] and get it done.
The manufacturing process was smooth because I work with my family back there, so they take care of the majority of the communication with the manufacturers. We work with amazing people who have been working in the industry for 30 years, so they taught us a lot. They’re absolute professionals, so things that I wasn’t aware of, they would always let me know and help me perfect the pieces. But I really wanted to be there in person to see the whole process of it being made and also to build a relationship with everyone who was producing it. The hardest thing was not being able to be there in person, physically.
Have you ever experienced any kickback from being a female-founded brand?
I think in Korea, especially in the fashion industry, there are a lot of female entrepreneurs. Fashion is more diverse for women in general - a lot of elements can be different for a women’s piece than a menswear piece, especially back home. It was actually not so hard for me to build relationships since the majority of the people we were working with were females.
So it was quite fun! Maybe in a different industry, it would be different, but I was in the fashion industry in Korea, which is mostly run by independent females who are doing amazingly, and the businesses they are building are huge. So yeah, I think that was pretty easy.
You mention that you source sustainably and that sustainability runs from manufacturing to sales. Can you explain a bit more about your sustainability efforts?
All the fabrics are deadstock fabrics which is the reason we have to keep very limited stock because we can’t always have them: they might be sold out, so we can’t produce anymore. My brother sources all the materials for us; there are amazing wholesale stores back in Korea, so we always try to source through small wholesalers who source deadstock fabric.
Sustainability is important, but being made ethically is also one thing that I want to pursue. I want to build relationships with everyone who is needed for each process. Even the packaging, I try to do as sustainably as possible. In the beginning, we tried lots of different things like recycled boxes, and we tried not to use plastic as much as possible, so I think we try to do our best to stay as sustainable as we can.
Are there any other things you think could be done by the industry as a whole to move towards increased sustainability and ethical production?
I think we could do more to stop pushing specific trends. Trends come and go, and I think that's the biggest [problem] with mass production.
For large brands to make margins and offer affordable pricing, it has to be a huge production to save some costs. If it doesn’t sell out within a year or two of their goal period, then it's all eliminated. I think instead of pushing very specific trends and having that trend for a very short amount of time so that the product is no longer in demand; I think we should slow down in general as a fashion industry to come back to more classics, more of being individual brands. Everyone wants to pursue what people want, and if there's a big trend, then every brand wants to produce it. Rather than having a clear identity, it became more about who sets the trend first and everyone follows after.
I think it's going to come in a couple of years. It's been a hectic year since COVID, but the more fast-paced [the fashion industry] is trying to go, the more waste will be made.
© srdpt - Citywalker collection in white
I think it's positive, as someone who's not a designer, to hear someone say the fashion industry is getting there! I wanted to talk a bit about your Citywalker collection specifically: what was the original inspiration for this?
So when I was sketching the pieces, I wanted something that was in between feminine but also masculine. I always want to design what I want to wear, and I believe that would come to people wanting to wear what I’m wearing, so that's always been my goal. A lot of the time, people see fashion magazines or pieces that are really cool, but they can’t really imagine wearing them. Or there are pieces that are very basic, like everyday pieces, but wearing those doesn’t make you feel special. I wanted to make something that's in between the basic and unique that people can actually see themselves wearing.
I wanted to make something similar to a corset but not. A corset is a corset, you know? People love wearing them, but at the same time, it doesn’t make you super unique because it's so widely done already, so I wanted to make almost a new type of clothing that doesn’t exist in the industry. I think this comes from me not coming from a traditional fashion background: my perspective comes from more of a wearer than a designer. Being a designer is my job, but I think the most important thing is to make people want to wear this piece. It's wearable; it's accessible.
Do you feel like it's important that your designs are more than just aesthetic?
When I was designing I kind of imagined what kind of persona would be wearing this. I think through fashion you can be feminine; you can be more masculine, you can be sexier, you can be more conservative: you can express a lot of things, and I don’t think just because you wear one type of fashion means you necessarily have to stick to that.
So when I was designing Citywalker, I was imagining a confident woman. It's not too feminine, but it also embraces the female body, showing off the curves. When people buy this, I was expecting them to buy “her”: this piece’s personality, and they’re wearing her personality when they're wearing the style. It's a set, but I think both the top and bottom are unique and, at the same time, simple, so it could be matched with different outfits.
I don’t want to make pieces that are already designed by someone else. There are so many fashion brands now, so it's so hard to stand out. When I was making the pieces, I wanted to make sure they were special on their own. It really depends on who wears it, and I want them to express the personality they might not have but want to have through the pieces.
I think it's really interesting that your starting point was knowing what you were trying to create, and then it was just the process of getting there.
Locations and things like that obviously are in my head, but I don’t think that's the main thing I focus on. I think [my starting point] is one thing that makes the whole designing process really hard, especially with sampling: I have to express and explain this thing in my head to the people [I work with], and they're always telling me “is there a sample piece or pieces that are a similar fit? It's going to be easier than making it from scratch” and I’m like, “I don’t have anything” because nothing is!
And where does the name srdpt come from?
A lot of people ask me this! It came from when I was starting the brand and the clothing pieces I like. I tend to browse when I’m buying from different brands, and then if something really catches my eye, even if nobody else wants to wear it, if you can pull it off, that's what really fits you.
I think srdpt itself represents something that's unexpected, the luck that you find unexpectedly without looking for it, without forcing it. There are lots of meanings related to my name, but I didn’t want to make it too personal. I was never going to be a designer like “it's me; I’m the brand,” I wanted a brand that has its own personality and identity. I wanted to make this brand as people’s serendipity - something they find unexpectedly. They didn’t look for it because it's a small brand, and the pieces they definitely didn’t look for because they don't exist! But they just find it and think, “that’s really cool.”
So do you already have plans for your next collection?
I do have pieces that are in the process of sampling, so I’m hoping to finalise the next collection by the end of January. I'm not going in as a traditional fashion brand and launching with the season: each piece I’m dropping needs attention instead of offering so many different pieces that it distracts people from looking at specific ones. It's in progress!
And finally, what advice would you give anybody who is aspiring to be a fashion designer or run their own fashion business?
I think I’m not in a position to give advice!
But to start off, I don't think people should hesitate, that was the biggest part. When I started, I wasn’t sure if this would be a good idea because I wasn’t from the fashion industry: I don't have any background, and I don't have any connections. But I think if you’re confident about what you want to do and what you want for yourself when you’re starting a brand, then I think you should believe in yourself.
This is also telling myself - be patient; it's not going to happen overnight. Just be patient and do what you do, and it will come no matter what!