In 2017, sisters Ash and Lynn Kim founded their eponymous fashion label, The Ashlynn, a brand designed by and for strong women who dream big and crush goals. Their international background — spanning Los Angeles, Saipan, Osaka, Como, Shanghai and Hong Kong — has fostered their appreciation for new adventures and seeking beauty in every place they go. Inspired to share their feel-good vibes, big sister Ash set aside her career in fashion brand marketing to take on the challenge of spreading empowerment and confidence to women around the world, while little sister Lynn took on the role of marketing their collections, values and positive messages. We spoke to the two young entrepreneurs responsible for shaping the Korean fashion scene about what it’s like to build a business from scratch.
Names: Ash Kim and Lynn Kim
Profession: Co-founders of THE ASHLYNN
Industry: Fashion Retail
Startup since: March 2017
Company size: 3
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
Ash Kim (AK): I started a fashion brand called The Ashlynn with my sister Lynn in 2017. I design womenswear — dresses, jackets, skirts — and we also started a second label called Self-love by The Ashlynn last year.
Lynn Kim (LK): I do the branding side for the company: photo shoots and lookbooks, the logo and packaging.
Tell us about your best and worst day at work?
AK: My best day is when I’m full of new design ideas and have no distractions so I can focus on my creative process. It’s the most fun part of the work! My least favourite day would be when I have to deal with all the admin and logistics side of things — I’m not an Excel person!
LK: Since I’m a full-time architect, I don’t have daily duties at The Ashlynn like Ash does. I work on big projects such as seasonal photo shoots — it’s always fun to prep for them with moodboards and props. My least favourite moment was when I didn’t have extra battery with me for my film camera!
What do you do when you’re not at work?
AK: Since most of my work days are very fast-paced and action-driven, I like to lounge and chill with my boyfriend, friends or sister when I’m not working. A vital part of that includes having a good meal and drinks.
LK: Working out is my number one way to destress. I also like learning new things.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
AK: Nothing! I was far from perfect or even fully prepped but I just dove in head first and was learning throughout the journey. I made mistakes but also achieved things beyond expectations. I would still do the same if I were to start this business again and better yet, I would try to remember how I was fearless and adventurous in the early days.
LK: I don’t regret anything! But if I had watched more YouTube tutorials on photo shoots, it would have helped ease my mind at our very first shoot.
What is a normal work day like?
AK: I check the online orders in the morning, then I go through all the emails including PR loan requests, run fabric market errands, check shipments, meet with the agency, vendors and retailers, and of course update our social media — I pretty much touch on all aspects of the business on a daily basis.
LK: I am always on the go. I have meetings in different parts of the city and I’m constantly working on my laptop.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
AK: Trust your gut but also do a lot of research. Benchmarking is really a powerful tool to start with, but always remember why you really wanted to start this business in the first place and why the audience needs it. And make sure you’re also having fun along the way.
LK: If you have passion for something, follow and pursue it. It’s extremely rewarding to be a part of The Ashlynn and to watch my sister come closer and closer to fulfilling her dreams throughout the years.
What would you be dong if you weren’t doing what you do now?
AK: I’d probably still be somewhere in the fashion industry. I was in brand marketing when I worked in Hong Kong a few years back and I really enjoyed it. But I have always been intrigued by working at cool lifestyle startups too.
LK: I am still pursuing architecture as my full-time career and being part of The Ashlynn brand on the side. I’d probably devote more time into architecture if it weren’t for The Ashlynn.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
AK: A lawyer (I did attend law school for a year), a news anchor, a diplomat — more intellectual endeavours. I have always loved fashion but thought it would just be a hobby of mine, not my future profession.
LK: An artist, computer programmer, doctor and architect.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
AK: As with most other startups, financing is challenging in the early stages. And starting a business on small savings was definitely not easy.
LK: That my time is limited with a full-time job so I always feel like I don’t have enough time to do everything that I want to do or achieve.
How did you overcome it?
AK: Limited resources led us to become more self-sufficient and efficient, such as shooting lookbooks ourselves. We took on the role of the photographer, makeup artist and stylist, and even built the website ourselves.
LK: I have improved in my time management skills and learned how to make decisions quickly and efficiently.
Why South Korea?
AK: Lynn and I lived in Hong Kong for four years. I started my career in fashion in Hong Kong but later moved back to Korea for family reasons. I knew that this was the time to venture out to do my own thing. Seoul is a great city to start a new business, especially in fashion as the fashion industry is so developed here.
Why is the Hong Kong market important for the brand?
AK: Hong Kong is such an international hub and despite its physical size, it has huge presence in the fashion world. That is why all the major brands have flagship stores in Hong Kong. We also did a small popup in Hong Kong and it was great experience to learn what works for the international audience! I would love for The Ashlynn to be more present in Hong Kong soon.
LK: Hong Kong has such a range of customers all in one place: Hong Kong locals, mainland Chinese, expats, tourists from all over the world. That alone is a huge plus for a brand to gauge its relevance in the market!
If you were to invest in another startup, which would it be?
AK: I would invest in more lifestyle products and services that enhance our lives. We all need to work on ‘choosing’ happiness and it’s great to have products and services that help with these choices.
LK: Somewhere in sustainable architecture.
What are your goals for 2019? And in the near future?
AK: My goal for 2019 is to actually have more fun doing business as this is my third year since The Ashlynn launched and I’ve noticed that I get too attached to numbers and results. I want to refocus on why I started the business and how I want to live my life — to have fun and be happy.
LK: My goal is to live more healthily and to have a balanced life. I also want to help Ash bring the brand to a more global market.
How hands-on are you?
AK: I am 100% hands-on as we are a small team. My sister has a full-time job as an architect. So, I am my brand.
LK: I play the part of a special projects team. I come in when the new season starts and assist with creative needs.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself being successful?
AK: I am very successful in the sense that I am doing what I love and that is a huge blessing. And the business is also growing so I am super grateful.
LK: I am a perfectionist by nature so I’m good at pushing myself for more. But looking at where I am now — with a good job and also being a part of a fashion brand with Ash — I would say I am succeeding too.