by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” This mantra certainly fits with the story of Jinny Kim, the women’s shoe designer from Korea who is making an international name for herself.
Since launching her eponymous shoe line in 2006, Kim, 36, has garnered rave reviews from both the fashion industry and fashion media for her romantic, sophisticated designs. Touted for their vivid colors, intricate construction and elegant silhouettes, Kim’s vintage-inspired shoes have been spotted on Hollywood actresses, K-pop stars and global fashionistas alike, including Paris Hilton, Blake Lively, Shin Min-a and the members of Girls’ Generation. Her shoes have also played a starring role on the latest season of America’s Next Top Model.
While her Seoul-based brand is inspired by old Hollywood glamour, Kim took a decidedly more old-fashioned route to shoe designer stardom. A fashion design major in college, she worked as an assistant fashion editor at Vogue Korea and as a publicist for Ferragamo and Calvin Klein in Seoul before returning to her first love—design—at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
After graduating from FIT, Kim returned to Korea, where she found work as a junior designer at a small shoe factory, where she had a hand in everything from design to fabric sourcing to menial tasks such as cleaning and making coffee. By then, Kim knew she had found her calling: Despite the grueling workload, she never found it difficult as she was “happy to learn what she loves to do,” she wrote in her 2013 autobiography, The Jinny Kim Story.
Kim broke through to the U.S. market by making samples of her own shoe designs and knocking on the doors of high-end boutiques in Los Angeles. Soon, her shoes were appearing in paparazzi photos of Hollywood celebrities, and the Jinny Kim brand, where flirty pumps retail anywhere from $200 to $700, quickly became a red carpet favorite.
Kim took a break from creating new designs at her home studio in Seoul to talk with KoreAm via email. The interview has been edited for length, grammar and clarity.
Jinny Kim’s flagship store
What inspired you to pursue shoe design?
I really wanted to find a job I could love and pursue for my whole life before I reached my 30s. I felt like there was still a career out there I could truly love and enjoy, so I moved to New York to study fashion merchandising. One day, my roommate, who was majoring in accessory design at FIT, showed me the shoes she made at school. Shoe design became fascinating to me. I wanted to learn how to make shoes. I enrolled in a shoe-making class at FIT and fell in love with it.
How would you describe your brand?
Very colorful, glamorous, elegant and feminine.
Where do you find inspirations for your shoe designs?
My designs are inspired by the stars of Hollywood’s Golden era. I make my shoes with Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe in mind. I watch their movies and research vintage Vogue magazines and vintage stores. I then mix my research with new trends, such as a new color, leather and other details.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a new designer?
When I started my line, it was hard to find a good factory in Korea that would make my shoe samples. Many factories already had big clients, and they didn’t care about new, small brands. I eventually found a factory to work with my company, but they would deliver shipments late, and it was hard to control the shoe quality. Now we own a shoe factory, so there’s no such problems. But I think the challenge most young brands [in Korea] face is working with a factory.
When was the first time you realized you made it as a shoe designer?
When I was walking down the street and saw people wearing my shoes. I saw strangers wearing my shoes in Seoul, Busan and even in L.A. Also, I surfed the web one day and found pictures of Paris Hilton wearing my shoes on the red carpet. Those are notable moments.
Which of your shoe designs is your favorite?
There is a satin ribbon sandal with a gold plate heel named “Mariposa.” I think the Mariposa is the signature style of Jinny Kim. I love that design, so I have it in various colors—pink, red, green, black, gold and silver.
Mariposa, red and gold label.
You have studios in both Seoul and Hollywood. What differences have you noticed between the South Korean and U.S. shoe markets?
When I launched Jinny Kim in 2006, Korean customers were still pretty conservative compared with U.S. customers. Koreans preferred elegant pumps to go with office attire. Now, Korea is very trendy and loves casual designs, which is the trend in the U.S. I originally made two different collections for Korea and America, but Jinny Kim now has the same collection for both markets. We do, however, produce a special red carpet line for Hollywood stars that’s very sexy and uses dyeable fabric to match the stars’ red carpet outfits.
What was it like having your shoes featured on America’s Next Top Model and working with Tyra Banks?
ANTM was my all-time favorite show since I studied fashion in New York, so it was an amazing experience to be a part of it. Before the episode was taped, the production team had a brainstorm session, and I told them that I would like to introduce their audience to a traditional Korean palace. We then decided on the photo shoot’s concept: high-fashion honeymooners visiting Gyungbokgung Palace.
It was beautiful shoot that featured colorful dresses and glamorous Jinny Kim sandals. Tyra was there on the shoot the whole day. She was very passionate and had lots of ideas.
Not only are you a designer, you’re also an author. What led you to write an autobiography at such a young age?
I was a normal girl who struggled to find her dream job. I got rejected in job interviews all the time. I didn’t have money and I was afraid of the future, but I was passionate about finding my dream and making it happen. I used to be disappointed in myself, in that I had jumped too many jobs before becoming a shoe designer, but now I realize that all my past experiences are what connected the dots and made the Jinny Kim brand successful. By sharing my story, I wanted to give inspiration to people who are still searching for their dreams.
What’s next for the Jinny Kim brand?
I want to extend the shoe line to clothing and home fashion and introduce a glamorous lifestyle collection that customers can enjoy. I am planning to open boutiques in Beverly Hills to allow U.S. customers to experience the Jinny Kim concept.
Images courtesy of Jinny Kim