Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
Designer Angie Kim spends most days in her Bayview studio, creating hand-painted ombré accessories for her leather goods line AYK. One year ago, Kim launched a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed its goal of $30,000, and raised over $32,000 for her new biz. Today, the former IDEO product designer finds bliss working on her own brand and balancing the design and business sides of running AYK.
Recently, Kim launched her AYK's new spring collection featuring a new color, Mojave, a warm brown gradient that's showcased in her newest design, the generously-sized Simple Tote. Her leather line features classic, timeless styles, like the tassel Versa Clutch to the very on-trend Moon Bucket Bag. Prices range from $46 for a keychain to $695 for the bucket bag.
We had a chance to chat with Kim about her business, her meditative design process, and her favorite places to hang in the city.
What triggered you to change careers from a product designer at IDEO to starting your own leather goods line?
IDEO helped prepare me for taking on AYK and instilled the confidence in me to ride through the turbulent moments of entrepreneurship. Time there was enriching in every way. I was challenged as a designer and surrounded by really spectacular individuals who opened up my eyes and mind to ways of approaching problems. I learned what being a consultant is all about, which is to listen to your clients needs, their customer needs, and helping organizations create attainable opportunities.
In 2012, a project brought me to India for seven months. Everyday, I would walk by makers and craftsmen creating beautiful products. I admired the intimacy of their work and the direct relationship they had with their customers. Being exposed to that ignited the fire that had been simmering for years. It was the final nudge I needed to take the leap into pursuing my own line. All the fear of of losing what I currently had, all my savings, of failing, was not worth the potential of what I could make of this idea — it was begging me to be out in the world.
What do you love about designing and creating your own products? How do you decide what to make each season?
I'm a dreamer and I love to make, and as I experience the world around me, ideas for what I want to create next just naturally emerge. As I live, learn and grow, my ideas do as well. And at some point, it's like an itch I can't ignore and I feel this undying desire and excitement to see what it will become. What I find absolutely magical about that process is the transformation of an idea to something that is tangible and real.
What's the process you go through when hand-dying the leather?
With each hide I receive, I go through an internal process of "thanking it" (sounds corny, I know). The intention is to honor its previous life and the life it will continue to have with its new owner.
When I hand-dye each pattern piece, it's sort of a meditative experience. Each part of the hide reacts differently to the dye and absorbs color differently, which keeps me attentive to the process as I work on each one. I pour my soul into this step, as I feel a bit of the love and care in creating it will get transferred to its owner. The intention is for the final product to be a one-of-a-kind piece of art.
What is a typical day in the studio like for you? How do you juggle between the design side and the business side of things?
That is the toughest for me, the balance of the two. Both are extremely demanding and require full focus. Design comes with ease as it's been my formal training and background. Being a one-woman show, and learning about the business side as I build AYK is more challenging and at times frustrating. I take each day one-at-a-time, and just do my best at slotting times to focus on certain aspects, whether it be production, designing new products, operations, marketing, sales, or connecting with the community.
Your Kickstarter campaign last year raised around $32,000. What was the motivation to crowdfund AYK?
Kickstarter was a wonderful platform in many ways. It allowed me to articulate the vision and share the story of AYK directly with customers. It was also a great way to gauge interest in the products being offered, and go through the process of delivering a larger quantity of orders. I learned great lessons in logistics, vendor management, customer correspondence, communication, and problem solving through surprising mishaps and unexpected hurdles that came with production and delivery of product.
What next on the horizon for AYK?
There are exciting products in the works that involve increasing the styles offered and also products that branch into other directions, like home goods or electronics. I've also been collaborating with five other designers to create a collective we're calling Edition No.6. We just hosted our first showroom event, and plan to do more of those in the future. It's a great way for us to plan interesting events together, showcase our work, and be able to share the experience of this journey with like-minded women entrepreneurs and community.