A Passion for Fashion Design

Photograph by Shanene Lau.

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[I]t’s often said that those who take chances and leap for what they want, regardless of what others think, are the ones who succeed. This cannot be more true for Rani Kim, a second-year student in Ryerson’s Fashion Design program. Kim was born in Korea, but took a risk and decided to move to Canada when she was in grade 9. She lived in Vancouver, and soon after moved to Toronto, leaving her parents home in Korea. After moving to Toronto, she attended the Cawthra School of Arts in Mississauga, but that wasn’t where her passion for art and fashion began.

“Since grade five I’ve been buying and collecting magazines, circling clothing I liked,” she says, smiling widely.

Her passion for design and a future career in the field is evident, but it’s something that her parents weren’t initially too keen on her pursuing. Despite the fact that her parents are artists, they knew first-hand how hard being in an artistic field such as fashion would be, so they said no. But as soon as they saw how much love she had for fashion design, they immediately began to support her. Kim understands, but says that even though it was hard, a career in fashion was all she ever wanted to do.

“They’re very supportive now,” Kim explains, “but in Korea, which is such a small country, you have to be good at everything!” So when her brother was doing really well in sciences in school, and she was getting A’s in things like art, her parents tried to steer her towards doing more like her brother. “I was so jealous of him!” she says, laughing. “My mother even suggested that I at least try for a career in plastic surgery, since it’s science and art!”

Now, of course, her mom asks her to make clothing for her all the time.

The story of coming to Canada to make your fortune without knowing any English is common in such a diverse country. But it’s rare to find someone as enthusiastic about a field in the art world as Kim who has made the transition.

When Kim moved to Canada, she barely knew any English, but it was her brother, who moved to Toronto before her, that made sure she started to understand. He even went so far as to not allow her to have any Korean friends, only those who could speak English, to fully immerse her in the language and culture. And, sure enough, she slowly began to understand certain words and started to make her own friends.

I ask her if she enjoys living in Toronto, and she nods and smiles.

“I’ve loved learning and experiencing the culture of Canada. When I first moved to Toronto, it was a bit of a culture shock, but I soon saw how open Toronto is about so many things. I can be myself. It’s so multicultural.”

Toronto also led her to her dream internship, one with rising Canadian fashion star Jeremy Laing. Kim’s penchant for taking risks for what she loves paid off when she applied for the internship and got it, even though it said it wouldn’t take first years. Although she says that her biggest accomplishment is every garment she gets to create, she says that getting the internship was a goal she had wanted to reach. She loved it so much that Kim can’t even pinpoint what she loved most about it.

“I learned so much!” she exclaims. “I didn’t have very much experience in sewing, so I made a lot of mistakes, and he wants everything to be perfect; but he always took the time to correct me. I learned so many good work habits from him.” She also says that it cemented her belief in being a fashion designer. “It was evident how much he loved his clothing. His passion really made me realize how much love you have to have for something to be a success.”

When I inquire about where her inspiration comes from, she cites the brand Comme des Garçons and nature as big ones, as well as her travels, especially those to New York City, California, and other parts of the United States. In fact, the coat she is wearing during our interview is one she designed after a visit to the Grand Canyon with her family, its many-layered lapel echoing the rocky shelves that lead your eye down into the Canyon’s river depths.

“New York City was amazing, heart-pounding,” she says, also mentioning that she had originally intended to go to school in the U.S. after she got into Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) but that it was too expensive. But, in the end, “Canada always inspires me, especially the nature and flowers in Vancouver. The combination of colours on a flower can be so beautiful; even the sky on a bad day is beautiful.”

That is basically a metaphor for her own vision for life: even if things seem cloudy and grey, there is always beauty and inspiration in everything. I think everyone should try and take a leaf out of Kim’s fashionable book.

Hayley Chato, Fashion Design ’15