Ji Oh designs clothing for the modern woman. And while her collections may be more fashion than not this doesn’t take away from their innate practicality and function. Oh attributes these characteristics to her South Korean heritage. And the androgyny reflected in her collections comes from an early admiration of her dad’s wardrobe. Oh had the unique opportunity to study at Central Saint Martins and Parsons where both schools emphasized different ideas for a successful fashion brand: a strong brand identity and how to drive sales. And since the two are not always in agreement Oh has been able to integrate both for a cohesive presentation of her designs.
Was there a specific moment in your life when you knew that you would become a designer?
There isn’t one specific moment I can put my finger on, but ever since I can remember, I was always interested in fashion. Also, my dad is very stylish and I had always paid attention to his wardrobe – perhaps my affinity for menswear is rooted in these memories.
How does the South Korean culture influence your work?
My practical and utilitarian side is very much influenced by my South Korean heritage. South Koreans never over-dress, and practicality matters to them. Being comfortable is very important to me, and it’s something I always keep in mind when designing a new collection.
Do you travel back often?
I travel to Korea once a year as my family is based in Busan.
What do you miss most about living in South Korea?
The convenience of everything there! Whether it be the amazing service, the ability to shop or get something to eat all hours of the night, or the midnight movie showings. The 24-hour deliveries are amazing and there are no limitations.
You studied in London at Central Saint Martins – what did you learn while studying there that defines your work?
While studying at Central Saint Martins, I was encouraged to have my own conceptual opinions and through this, discovered my own identity. I was trained to think big and explore all possible ideas. In America, the focus tends to be on capital success and what will drive sales, but the most important thing we were taught in London was to have a strong identity and sense of self.
Why does androgyny play such a large role in designing your collections?
I like the idea of how androgyny has no boundaries. I don’t want my collections to have any boundaries, as they are based around the idea that one can go anywhere and be anything while wearing my line. It’s more about the individual rather than the clothes or the destination.
Would you ever consider branching into menswear?
I’m open to the idea of it and yes, sometimes I think I should have started out with menswear. It’s not easy to design, but I do find menswear more fascinating. Overall, womenswear already explores a lot more than menswear does, but with the design style I currently have, exploring the same identity in menswear could be interesting.
What do you think are some of the challenges that modern women face when it comes to building a wardrobe?
These days it seems people try to out-do each other more by wearing something loud to stand out, but being loud isn’t necessarily stylish. With access to online platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, etc., people tend to think giving a big impression with a loud statement is important. The pressure of social media and the desire to be photographed might be part of the challenge women face today, but at the end of the day, it’s not really important. I’ve noticed that with the pressure that comes from social media, the focus is placed on other people’s impressions rather than whether you feel great about your own style.
Tell us about being a CFDA Fashion Fund finalist? Is it what you expected?
It’s not 100% what I expected, but becoming a finalist was a huge goal of mine, and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it and have learned so much. It was a tremendous amount of pressure that I put on myself and setting high standards was stressful, but it helped me figure out who I really am. I became even more critical of myself throughout the process, but I also really enjoyed learning along the way. If you put yourself out there, especially in such a competitive atmosphere, you’re bound to learn about yourself on a deeper level. I wasn’t exactly expecting to experience the level of stress that I did as I’m normally not a nervous or an anxious person. However, I found myself pretty nervous throughout the process preparing for presentations, etc., which ultimately helped me as a designer and businesswoman.
Do you work alongside a large team? Where does your production process take place?
We are a very small team! My production process takes place in my studio based in NYC’s Garment District, and I have a team of two which includes myself.
How would you describe your personal style in relation to that of the JI OH shopper?
I think my style is very similar to that of the JI OH shopper. It is proportion driven, with a lot of shirting and trousers. Many of my clients wear flats and have an androgynous or a minimalist aesthetic, much like myself. I do like to play with fashion and proportions, so I would say it’s minimal yet bold in its fashion choices.
How have you grown as a designer and entrepreneur since starting your brand in 2014?
As a designer, I’ve learned how to merchandise better and to create a tight edit to pull together a cohesive collection. As an entrepreneur, I do think more strategically about how and where to invest my finances. Also, I’m learning about my clients and how to interact with them on a personal level through my website and social platforms. While I’m still continuing to fine-tune these areas of development, I’m confident I have a clearer idea about things than I did when I first launched.