The next billionaire fashion accessories brand – WWD
NEW YORK – “Girls [in Korea] are raised to feel like they don’t have to be smart, they can go to a decent college and marry into the best family possible – that’s all you can do. Men are much more dominant in society,” MCM’s Sung-Joo Kim said from the brand’s cheerful Fifth Avenue offices here, its US headquarters.
Confident Kim – president and visionary director of MCM – is happy to share the details of her life that led her to become one of the few female executives in fashion accessories. Kim is also a member of another rare contingent – a small population of female entrepreneurs from Korea.
Under ordinary circumstances, Kim says she would have graduated straight from school in an arranged marriage. But she had other plans in store, leading her to become the protege of Marvin Traub, pioneer of luxury accessories in Asia, and to sit on the Tom Ford selection committee at Gucci. “I decided to follow my own course in life,” she said.
Kim’s company, Sungjoo Group, sees MCM as its core business. According to industry sources, the German accessories brand had sales of around $700 million last year and is expected to raise $1 billion by 2020. Its US business, which has relaunched two years ago, now exceeds $100 million in annual sales with the brand. a best-seller at Neiman Marcus, among others. Globally, MCM is stocked in over 500 outlets in over 40 countries. It will then seek to expand its presence in Japan, through a retail partnership with Isetan Mitsukoshi. A shop-in-shop on the ground floor of Isetan’s flagship store in Shinjuku will open this year.
Before Kim’s watch, the German company – founded in 1976 – had fallen into heavy disarray. Now with bags averaging $800 to $1,200, the brand is loved by consumers for its quality, fun designs and value for money. Her spring collection — hitting stores now — is bursting with bright colors, pearl stud embellishments, and riffs on MCM’s popular backpacks and shoulder bags.
A range of versatile nylon products is also being rolled out for Spring, to be fully realized in Fall 2017 in a range of colors and shapes.
Prior to MCM, Kim spent decades honing her skills with fashion industry pioneers including Traub, Domenico De Sole and Dawn Mello, providing her with the know-how to revive a flagging accessories brand.
In 1979, Kim began her journey in an effort to avoid the Korean patriarchal system, arriving in the United States to complete her studies at Amherst College. “I knew I would arrange a marriage, so I escaped and came to America,” she said.
Amherst, where Prince Albert of Monaco was a schoolmate, was a leader in gender equality. “I was very exposed to women’s studies and feminism. I had never heard of a co-ed shower in my life, it was a culture shock but it was good for me,” she said.
After graduating from the London School of Economics, Kim sought jobs at the United Nations and Korea – before failing and deciding to move to Boston, where her older sister was studying at Harvard. Against her parents’ wishes, she married – a challenge that led to a breakdown in communication and, consequently, a loss of financial support.
The separation proved motivating for Kim. Now looking for a job, a family friend put her in touch with Traub – then CEO of Bloomingdale’s – who admitted her into the store’s intern program, while enlisting her as a project manager. for Korean imports.
Their relationship was instrumental for Kim, who became one of Traub’s proteges. “When I said I was Traub’s protege, it opened doors for me everywhere,” she said.
After a three-and-a-half-year run with the retailer, Kim returned to Korea – where she gave birth to her daughter, in 1989. The following year she became Gucci’s Korean licensee – bringing the then lapsed brand to a booming luxury market in Asia. On her first trip to Florence, she had purchased $500,000 worth of merchandise, with no outlet or store to speak of.
“The showroom was so sticky and dirty when I visited, it was a really bad scene for Gucci. That night at my hotel I remembered what I had learned from Marvin Traub. It doesn’t matter how bad the brand is, as long as you know how to market and rebrand, you have the power and the knowledge. At least the Gucci name was well known,” Kim said of the decision.
When De Sole joined Gucci a year later, Kim was part of the committee responsible for selecting Tom Ford as the brand’s new creative director. In 1998, she sold the Korean business back to Gucci, for an undisclosed sum.
Meanwhile, since 1992, Kim was also a franchisee for MCM in Korea. The label had performed well but its parent company fell into mismanagement in the late 90s and early 2000s and the brand with its instantly recognizable logo became outdated.
“I knocked on the door of the owners of MCM in Switzerland in 2004 and said, ‘I have two choices: either I create my own brand or you sell the brand to me.’ In 2005, we took over MCM 100%,” Kim said.
Over the next 11 years, Kim worked to ‘clean up’ the brand’s image – shutting down much of her retail operations until she felt the product and vision were fit for purpose. to expansion. In 2016, Deloitte ranked MCM ninth on its list of the 20 Fastest Growing Luxury Brands. The brand splits its sales between genders, with 60% of products being sold to women and the remaining 40% to men. He will be looking to expand his men’s collection and business over the coming seasons.
“For us, engineering, research and development, hardware development are very important. As a German brand, we take the German mentality, the Bauhaus mentality of form and function, very seriously – it’s a very different approach to French and other design houses,” said Kim.
“I’m more like Miuccia Prada in how I think about female beauty – we’re strong and economically viable,” she added of her view of female aspiration, compared to that of women. more flashy and famous luxury brands.
She says studying the market performance of brands such as Kate Spade has helped MCM’s strategy.
“There’s a debate between quantity growth and quality growth – I’m interested in quality growth,” Kim said. With this, MCM will seek to cap its US retail presence over the coming year, to minimize overcrowding.
Patrick Valeo, US President, said: “We have 150 outlets, with 10 of our own stores and four more coming next year, including in Canada. We’re about to close a deal on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Whatever stores he opens, the goal is to make them as entertaining as they are functional. “After seeing the [success of] the Pokemon Go game, I realized how much Millennials want to have fun,” Kim said. “They’re not as loyal as they used to be – the future of retail is no longer a retail space, it’s an entertainment hub. I told my visual merchandising team:” You’re not just visual merchandisers anymore, you’re creating interactive visuals.” It’s going to be fun, everything is revolutionizing and changing.
Kim said the brand is still stepping up to its ultimate form – which will become a tripod type business: “I have planned three different categories – in the future we will keep a lot of best sellers, in introducing and phasing them out while perfecting the engineering. A second coat will be seasonal and reflect trends. A third, which is not yet complete, is more of a retail capsule collection — it hasn’t been released yet. This means that the postponement of regular sellers is not too much, we will keep the trending merchandise very small and frequent, and for the capsules – we will determine the quantity so that it can be sold on a first come, first served basis . Ultimately, 2017 is about consolidating and preparing, full realization will begin in 2018.”
In the meantime, she will also carry out philanthropic activities. Kim, a strong supporter of women’s empowerment programs (she is the author of articles and essays on the subject) will serve on the organizing committee of the 2017 World Women’s Summit, to be held in Tokyo from 11 to 13 may.