Interview: Korean-American fashion designer Ahyoung Stobar (includes interview)

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Image of Young Kim Stobar

Stobar created this versatile line of children’s clothing that is described as “no frills, really cool and locally made in California”. To this day, Stobar actively leads the expansion of Joah Love into a contemporary lifestyle brand in its own right. Young Kim Stobar’s latest product, for the coronavirus era, is the Infinity Mask.

She reveals how she got started, the main challenges she has faced and how she plans to grow her business.

Digital Journal: How did you get started in the design industry?

Ahyoung Kim Stobar: Since I was little, my dream was to become a fashion designer. My mom always wore sophisticated and chic clothes, so that’s where my first inspiration came from. Throughout my youth, I led my friends, styled their outfits for school. Some of my first designs were actually my high school cheerleader uniforms… Go Eagles! Although I had dreams of becoming a successful clothing designer, my Korean-American parents had other career paths in mind for me.

My parents gave me the opportunity to become a doctor or a lawyer, so I opted for the latter option. Ready to attend the University of Washington to pursue a career in law, I discovered the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles and I knew deep down that it was for me. After spending weeks convincing my parents to let me attend, they finally gave in. Give me $ 1,000 and a “good luck you’re lonely!” I went to FIDM where I then obtained a diploma in fashion design. After I graduated, I worked as a designer for various brands, even working in the costume design space in TV and film.

Eventually, I started working with Wayans Bros as VP of Product Development for five years. After my stint with the Wayans, I launched my own clothing brand, Joah Love, in 2008.

DJ: How would you describe your art?

Stobar: I would describe my art (designs) as timeless rather than trendy. I like the idea of ​​being comfortable and practical without compromising on the fashion aspect of the clothes. I also love to create non-sexist pieces that can be worn by boys, girls, men and women. My designs are truly for everyone and this is reflected in the Joah Love collections.

DJ: Did you encounter any major obstacles as a Korean-American woman?

Stobar:In Los Angeles there are a lot of Korean Americans in the fashion industry so I didn’t feel like that was a big hurdle for me compared to others. Of course, that’s not to say that I avoided dealing with the occasional rude, macho treatment from people when working as a chief designer at an early age. Some salespeople spoke to me in a certain way, assuming I was a typical, submissive Asian girl. But they would quickly learn that I’m not your typical submissive girl when I answer and put them in their place. It was the only way to gain respect, especially from men in industry.

DJ: Did you face any challenges early in your life?

Stobar:When I was at FIDM, I found myself in an abusive relationship with a guy 10 years older than me. He slapped me, pulled my hair and ended up breaking my ankle. I had never even been spanked by my own parents growing up, so it was really shocking to find myself in this situation, but I couldn’t leave. All I remember thinking was “I have to go to graduate school, I can’t let that distract me from my course.” Shortly after graduating from FIDM, I started working in the field and was able to leave.

DJ: What makes your job different from others?

Stobar:For starters, Joah Love is made entirely in Los Angeles, which is rare for clothing brands these days. As I mentioned above, Joah Love’s aesthetic is timeless rather than trendy and this idea is fully implemented in all of our collections. In the majority of our pieces, we aim for a simple design, avoiding hardware, buttons and zippers. As a bonus, Joah Love favors inclusive clothing options.

This is so important as our world continues to evolve and progress beyond gender attribution to fashion clothing. Joah Love also sets itself apart from the rest by when we decided to sell fashionable protective masks. We launched our sheet masks very early on, before the face covering craze really caught on. Being from South Korea, wearing sheet masks is usual and done as a courtesy to others. Here in the United States, it was still a very foreign concept that raised eyebrows and critical looks.

Additionally, then and especially now, many Asian Americans faced hateful verbal and physical racist attacks, because they were blamed for the Covid-19 pandemic. I strongly felt that in order to get the general public to come on board with protective masks here, I had to do it in fashion. So I decided to create a new category of fashion accessories that would surpass the pandemic. Joah Love will continue to sell masks in the future.

DJ: Do you use digital technology for your creations?

Stobar:Absoutely! Although I am an excellent hand illustrator and grew up drawing, I now use my iPad to do most of my dishes and illustrations. I also use Photoshop and Illustrator and use an app called Sketch and Procreate on the iPad.

DJ: How do you market your work?

Stobar:We have been selling in the wholesale market for 13 years to stores like Nordstroms, Saks Fifth Avenue and over 300 high-end boutiques in the United States and Canada. Since last year’s pandemic, we have reoriented our business to focus more on direct-to-consumer sales. We use Shopify as an online platform and use email campaigns as well as paid advertisements on Facebook, Google and Snapchat.

DJ: Which design or innovation are you most proud of?

Stobar:At the immediate start of the pandemic, we launched our sheet masks, which led to the creation of the #maskupchallenge. Through this challenge, we have set up a return model by donating to essential workers and organizations for every mask sold. We’re so proud of this movement, it has truly been the most meaningful year in terms of giving back and seeing this campaign take off. March 15th was our official first anniversary of the launch of our face masks, can’t believe it’s been a full year already!


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