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article imageInterview: Korean-American fashion designer Ahyoung Stobar Special

By Tim Sandle     Mar 29, 2021 in Business
For young women looking for role model, then Korean-American designer, mother, and entrepreneur Ahyoung Kim Stobar, of Joah Love, provides an ideal candidate. Digital Journal talks with Sobar.
Stobar has created this versatile line of children’s clothing that is described as “fuss-free, seriously cool and made locally in California”. To date, Stobar is actively spearheading the expansion of Joah Love into a full contemporary lifestyle brand. Ahyoung Kim Stobar's latest product, for the coronavirus era, is the infinity mask.
She reveals how she got started, the main challenges she faced, and how she plans to expand her business.
Digital Journal: How did you get started in the design industry?
Ahyoung Kim Stobar: Ever since I was a little girl, my dream was to become a fashion designer. My mother always dressed in sophisticated, chic clothing so this is where my earliest inspiration stemmed from. All throughout my youth, I would boss my friends around, styling their outfits for school. Some of my first designs were actually my high school’s cheerleading uniforms… Go Eagles! Although I longed to become a successful clothing designer, my Korean-American parents had other career paths in mind for me.
My parents gave me the option of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, so I opted for the latter. All set to attend University of Washington to pursue a career in law, I discovered the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles and knew in my bones that this was meant for me. After spending weeks convincing my parents to let me attend, they finally caved. Giving me $1,000 and a “good luck, you’re on your own!” I headed to FIDM where I later graduated with a degree in Fashion Design. After graduating, I worked as a designer for a variety of brands, even working across the costume design space in TV and film.
Eventually I began working with the Wayans Bros as VP of Product Development for five years. After my time with the Wayans, I started my own clothing brand, Joah Love, in 2008.
DJ: How would you describe your art?
Stobar: I would describe my art (designs) as timeless over trendy. I love the idea of being comfortable and practical without compromising on the fashion aspect of the clothing. I also love creating gender-neutral pieces that can be worn by boys, girls, men and women. My designs truly are for everyone and that is reflected throughout the Joah Love collections.
DJ: Did you face any major barriers being a Korean-American woman?
Stobar:In Los Angeles, there are many Korean Americans in the fashion industry so I do not feel like it was a large barrier for me compared to other people. Of course, this does not mean that I avoided facing the occasional rude and male chauvinist treatment from people when I was working as a head designer at an early age. Some vendors would speak down to me in a certain way, assuming I was a docile, typical Asian girl. But they would quickly learn that I am not your typical submissive girl when I would snap back and put them in their place. It was the only way to earn respect, especially from the men in the industry.
DJ: Did you face any early life challenges?
Stobar:When I was attending FIDM, I ended up in an abusive relationship with a guy 10 years older than me. He would slap me, pull my hair and eventually break my ankle. I had never even been spanked by my own parents growing up so it was really shocking to find myself in this predicament, yet I could not leave. All I remember thinking was “I have to graduate school, I cannot let this veer me off my course.” Shortly after I graduated from FIDM, I started working in the field and was able to leave.
DJ: What makes your work different to others?
Stobar:To start, Joah Love is made completely in Los Angeles, which is rare for clothing brands these days. As I mentioned above, Joah Love’s aesthetic is timeless over trendy and this idea is fully implemented throughout our collections. In the majority of our pieces, we aim for a no-fuss design, avoiding hardware, buttons, and zippers. As an added bonus, Joah Love prioritizes inclusive clothing options.
This is so important as our world continues to evolve and progress past assigning gender to fashion garments. Also setting Joah Love apart from the rest is the timing of our decision to sell fashionable protective face masks. We launched our cloth face masks very early on, before the face covering craze really caught on. Being from South Korea, wearing cloth face masks is customary and done out of courtesy to others. Here in the US, it was still a very foreign concept that would raise some eyebrows and judgmental looks.
Plus, at the time and especially now, many Asian Americans were facing hateful verbal and physical racist attacks, as a result of being blamed for the Covid-19 Pandemic. I strongly felt that in order to get the general public on board with protective face masks here, I had to make it fashion. So, I set out to create a new fashion accessory category that would surpass the pandemic. Joah Love will continue to sell masks moving forward.
DJ: Do you utilize digital technology for your designs?
Stobar:Absolutely! Although I am a great hand illustrator and grew up sketching, I use my iPad to do most of my flats and illustrations now. 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 the past 13 years to stores like Nordstroms, Saks Fifth Avenue, and 300+ premium boutiques in the US and Canada. Since the pandemic last year, we have pivoted our business to focus more on Direct to Consumer. We use Shopify as our online platform and use email campaigns as well as paid advertising 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 cloth masks, which lead to us originating the #maskupchallenge. Through this challenge, we implemented a give back model by donating to essential workers and organizations for each mask sold. We are so proud of this movement, it truly has been the most meaningful year in terms of giving back and watching this campaign take off. March 15th was our official one year anniversary of launching our face masks, I cannot believe it has already been a full year!
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