Representing the creative future

The digital future of Kanmin Kim

What is it like studying fashion in Japan during the pandemic?

Korean designer Kanmin Kim wants to show “hope through fashion” in his bid to think positive during the coronavirus pandemic. The designer has been studying at Coconogacco, the Japanese fashion school founded by Central Saint Martins alumnus Yoshikazu Yamagata, while simultaneously working for a number of Japanese companies.

Now, during the designer’s final year at university, COVID-19 has forced him to change the future he had planned. After his final presentation and runway show were cancelled, showing his work to the world has become a challenge. His solution is a ‘portfolio review project’, a collection shown online – before he returns to South Korea for his military service.

The young Korean has been inspired by his experience with wrinkled clothes while he lived in a tiny room in Seoul. The collection features black, white and grey leftover fabrics upcycled into garments. Through patterns, draping, and 3D cutting techniques, the wrinkles in his clothes acquire a new meaning – a sign of elegance rather than poverty.

We asked Kanmin about the reality of fashion students and designers in Japan, to find out more about the impact of the pandemic on his life.

What are you studying in Japan? Do you have any previous studies in fashion?

I’m working as a pattern cutter in a company while studying in Coconogacco. It is not a public school, but a private one, so I only study on the weekends. I used to study at Sugino Dressmaker Fashion College in Japan, where we basically learnt technical skills, which is why I became a pattern cutter.

Kanmin Kim Work in Progress

What led you to choose to study in Japan instead of your home country, South Korea?

I was given a great opportunity as I got a   full scholarship to go to Japan from the Japanese government. They have a programme for exchange students from all over the world. They normally don’t give it to fashion students, but they did that year. They made me do an exam and an interview, which I luckily passed.

Kanmin Kim Work in Progress

“In South Korea, people are crazy about studying hard, so we don’t have any freedom to learn in a different way. In Coconogacco there is a lot of freedom. You can do whatever you want.”

Could you walk us through the way that fashion is taught in Japan?

In Sugino Dressmaker Fashion College, they only teach you how to draw a pattern, how to sew and how to make garments. It was quite hard to think about the process of design while making clothes. There were no lectures or conversations with teachers, so I felt kind of empty. Even though I wanted to make my own designs, it is not what I truly liked doing. I didn’t know how to start, but I found Coconagacco. The founder, Yoshikazu Yamagata, graduated from Central Saint Martins and wanted to bring its spirit and atmosphere to Tokyo.

At first, I didn’t know this kind of education existed. In South Korea, people are crazy about studying hard, so we don’t have any freedom to learn in a different way. In Coconogacco there is a lot of freedom. You can do whatever you want. I was very confused at the beginning, but when I got used to it, it was really fun. I ended up bringing everything that I wanted to do to get advice from the founder.

How have the coronavirus measures affected everyday life in Japan?

It is quite a hard time now. We normally start the new term in April, but now the government has extended the quarantine for one more month, so it is delayed until June. They are thinking about starting teaching online, but we make big material structures, so showing them through our laptops is not as good as showing them to the teachers in person.

“Because of coronavirus, I couldn’t pursue any of my plans. I’ve been working hard, so I want to show people what I’ve made.”

What is it like to be a young designer in Japan?

We just try to figure it out. One of my friends owns a brand in Tokyo and was planning to have a fashion show in March and also an exhibition, but everything got cancelled. He is now trying to use Instagram and his website to sell the clothes, but it is very hard to sell anything right now.

How did you come up with your ‘portfolio review project’?

I was planning to have my own runway show because the school would support me to do so, but it had to be cancelled together with my exhibition. Because of coronavirus, I couldn’t pursue any of my plans. I’ve been working hard, so I want to show people what I’ve made. On Instagram, with only one or two images, it is hard, so I thought that maybe through a portfolio people would become more interested in my work.

“I lived there with no space to hang my clothes, which meant that all of them were wrinkled. I felt that the wrinkles were showing off my poverty, so I decided to show these wrinkles as elegantly as I could, interpreting them as a drape.”

How would you describe the collection in a few words?

Sexy. Clean. Precise. Actually, I sent direct messages to many designers to show my portfolio, and the former creative director of Calvin Klein, Italo Zucchelli, described my work that way.

What inspired your collection?

This collection starts with my own experience in my small room. When I was 20, I went to university in Seoul to study business management, but it didn’t feel the right thing for me at all. I quit without telling my parents, so there was no possibility for me to go back to my hometown. I tried to find a room in Seoul, but it’s very expensive, so I decided to live in a very small house. I lived there with no space to hang my clothes, which meant that all of them were wrinkled. I felt that the wrinkles were showing off my poverty, so I decided to show these wrinkles as elegantly as I could, interpreting them as a drape. I researched first through photography. I photographed the way garments wrinkled while models were moving and then I transformed them into drapes. I am actually good at pattern making, so I did that through patterns and also 3D cutting.

Kanmin Kim Lookbook

Sustainability is integral to your practice; how do you approach it?

Especially for this collection, I didn’t buy any fabric. I got it all from the company I work for. This is why I couldn’t make the whole collection in the same fabric – I could only get small pieces. The company uses many good-quality fabrics, so I store the ones that they don’t need once the season is over. I pick them all and stock them in my room so that I can use them for my collection, give them to my friends or even to poor people. I try to avoid waste, even with 3D cutting, which I learnt last year.

How has your working process changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

I was planning to make a full line-up and start my own brand, but after coronavirus, people won’t buy the clothes. I have decided to delay creating my own brand and focus on renting the garments to stylists. Working from home is difficult too. Communication is very important for fashion, so you normally have a professor or friends to talk about how you feel and what you think, but now there’s no one to talk. It is a hard time.

Has the pandemic influenced your mental health??

At first, I was kind of depressed. In South Korea, we had a lot of coronavirus cases, so I was worried about my family and friends, even about myself. Tokyo also tried to cover up how the situation was getting worse. I didn’t do anything for two weeks after the outbreak, but I always try to move on and think positively. At least, we have the internet to connect with people around the world, which is why I also decided to start my project and share it with everyone online.

Are you coping financially?

Luckily, it is still fine. I am still working full-time, so I get my income from there. But most of my friends with part-time jobs have gone back to their hometown, which is quite upsetting.

“I wonder if fashion is needed in this situation, but I feel it can be a dream for teenagers and it makes people laugh.”

Have your future plans changed due to the pandemic?

I have decided to start a jewellery line. I think it can be more sustainable since I am planning to use silver, which you can use multiple times. It will be new and fun. I normally think about how to make clothes and how to use fabrics, but materials like silver will make me think differently. However, I want to mix jewellery and fashion.

I wonder if fashion is needed in this situation, but I feel it can be a dream for teenagers and it makes people laugh. It can be good emotionally. I want to show hope through fashion, so I will still show my collection every season, even if it is only for rental or styling and not for sale.

Do you think the pandemic will impact the fashion industry?

Our system will totally change and become more digital. It is going to be hard to hold a fashion show, so young generations of designers have to be good with digital. Maybe we will show once a year instead of twice and it can be a great chance to be sustainable.

1 Granary

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