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Ai Toronto Seoul founders turn fashion interest into a family business - Crunchy Livin Mama Style
 

Ai Toronto Seoul founders turn fashion interest into a family business

Breadcrumb Trail Links Style & Beauty Shopping Essentials Life Fashion & Beauty For the founders of the Canadian accessories brand Ai Toronto Seoul, fashion is a family affair. From left, Hannah Kim, Joanna Lee, Hun Young Lee and Rebekah Ma of Ai Toronto Seoul. Photo by Jacob Park Photography Reviews and […]

For the founders of the Canadian accessories brand Ai Toronto Seoul, fashion is a family affair.

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For the founders of the Canadian accessories brand Ai Toronto Seoul, fashion is a family affair.

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“During our childhood I remember every month, my mother would always have the latest imported fashion magazines from Korea but also the latest Vogue and Chatelaine,” co-founder Hannah Kim, says. “One of my fondest memories from my childhood was every weekend when my grandmother, mother, second sister and I sat around the television for our weekly episode of Fashion Television with Jeanne Beker.”

That initial interest Kim, her sisters Joanna Lee and Rebekah Ma, and their mother Hun Young Lee has expanded to create vegan-leather handbags and accessories for their line. We caught up with Kim to learn more.

Q.  What makes Ai Toronto Seoul unique?

A. We are a female-founded and family-run business. And fashion has always been a great influence in our lives. Our parents immigrated to Canada from Seoul in the late ’70s. Particularly for our mother, I believe that fashion was a way for her to connect her expertise and studies of fine art in Seoul as a way to adapt to Canadian culture.

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Q. Who is the target customer?

A. Our mom taught us that fashion alludes to the way in which things are made and although fashion can be defined as the style prevailing of dress or behaviour at any given time, it also doesn’t have to be. Our overall style would be described as a mix between modern and classic. We love seeing the various trends, however we create pieces that are timeless and practical but are also fun to style. All four of us represents a different generation. Our mom is in her 60s, I’m in my 40s, Rebekah is in her 30s and Jo is in her 20s. It is important that all of us love the bag and can style it, no matter our age.

Q. What can you share about where the accessories are designed and made?

A. The idea always begins with us. From a conversation with my sisters to a discussion with our mom. Our mother will sketch — she studied Fine Art — and we will email it to my sister in Seoul, South Korea. My sister in Seoul will work with our designer and my sister will then source the materials for a sample. Once a sample is made, she will test and send it to Toronto for us to test. If there are components that need to be adjusted, they will be made and my sister will test the final sample. We then produce a small batch and within a few months, if we see there is a demand we will produce more. If not, we retire it. We also take feedback from our clients and listen to what they want to see.

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Ai Toronto Seoul Mini Croc handbag is made from vegan leather, which doesn’t require the toxic tanning process, and is PETA approved. It sells for $165.
Ai Toronto Seoul Mini Croc handbag is made from vegan leather, which doesn’t require the toxic tanning process, and is PETA approved. It sells for $165. Photo by Ai Toronto Seoul /PNG

Q. And what more can you share about the sustainability piece of the brand’s story?

A. Growing up in Canada we were always taught about sustainability and being environmentally conscious. Especially growing up with sisters, we always wore each other’s hand-me-downs and our mom loved shopping vintage. Creating a vegan brand was a natural decision for us as being environmentally conscious and friendly has always been an important part of our lives.

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Especially considering that Korea was one of the first places to create vegan leather before it became a growing trend. Ai is about creating sustainable luxury. All of our products are PETA approved and our PU (polyurethane) vegan leather is cruelty free and does not harm animals. It also doesn’t need to be tanned, which is great because the tanning of real leather creates pollution from the chemicals used to create it.

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Q. Is there a ‘hero’ design in the collection? If so, which one and what makes it so popular?

A. The Park was definitely our hero design when we first launched. But as the pandemic hit, peoples needs changed. People needed to be hands free. The new normal demands bags be more accommodating to fit the essentials but with comfort. At Ai, we wanted to revolutionize the hands-free bag to a more fashion piece. So our hero piece shifted to the ESSE and Mini Croc.

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Q. What is the price range for your creations?

A. From $55 to $225.

Q. Where can people check them out?

A. Online at ai-co.ca but we are also available on Indigo.ca, Hudson Bay online and the Shopping Channel! You can also find us in person at our favourite store, Permission, in Toronto.

[email protected]

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