With over 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, Soonjoo Uh has designed for several major brand name retailers such as Stitch Fix, Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, and Dillards, along with multiple high-end boutiques. Currently, she owns and operates an upcycle clothing website where she shares creative ways to transform old clothes into fashionable and trendy clothing.
From fast fashion to sustainable materials and DIY clothing, she strongly believes that there will be a huge shift coming to the fashion industry.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Soonjoo to discuss her journey in the fashion industry and here’s what went down:
1. How did you get into the fashion industry?
I always wanted to be a fashion designer. My grandmother taught me hand sewing and knitting, which sparked my interest starting at 7 or 8 years old. And gratefully, I have a degree in Fashion Design from Otis College that helped me smoothly transition into the fashion industry. The art and design school helped me to connect with industry professionals like Isabel Toledo, Monique Lhuillier, and Trina Turk when I was first getting started.
2. What do you like most about being a designer?
There are three aspects that I like the most about being a designer.
First of all, I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and reward when I see people look beautiful and enjoy wearing garments I designed.
Secondly, I love how fashion is circulating and changing based on art, music, and lifestyle. And I love changes, it helps me keep learning from mistakes and failures while continuing to try new designs.
Lastly, I enjoy interpreting and sharing art. As a fashion designer, you get to study runway, textiles, and upcoming color palettes. This is where you get to explore your creativity and interpret your own taste into each design.
3.The downside to being a fashion designer?
Being in the fashion industry for 15 years, I have been exposed to the damaging effects of environmental pollution and the significant inequality of laborers. It’s heartbreaking to be a part of this problem. However, I consciously make an effort to become a sustainable and eco-friendly fashion designer when it comes to choosing sewing practices, fabrication choices, and garment dye methods.
4. What has been the most memorable experience of being in the fashion industry so far?
The most memorable experience of being in the fashion industry so far for me is to get to travel and work with so many cool professionals worldwide. From Bali to the U.K, I’m blessed to get the opportunity to work with talented designers and textile developers around the world.
5. Who have been the most interesting people you’ve met so far?
In general, you work as an apprentice for your first few design jobs in the fashion industry. I’m so blessed to meet Jasmine, who is a creative, and talented fashion designer that strived to break away from the norm. She shared natural beauty and an individual unique style of fashion, instead of uniform copycats with a one style fits all mentality.
6. What has been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while in the fashion industry. This can be about the industry or about yourself.
While in the fashion industry, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to have a strong tightly knit team. Each member is like a bone that cannot be replaced.
From pattern maker to seamstress, you need highly skilled professionals all around you. However, designers must also be mindful and clear communicative members so that everyone can work together towards accomplishing the shared goals.
7. Is your family supportive of you being a fashion designer?
I’m so lucky that my family has been supportive of me being a fashion designer from the get-go. Compared to the typical Asian culture, my parents let me become who I wanted to be. They were also very encouraging and supportive of me both mentally and financially. As a result, I was able to get a foothold in a highly competitive industry.
8. If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
If I could go back in a time machine, I would develop industry experience in other categories, such as outdoor apparel and sportswear.
As an avid hiker, I love the brand Patagonia and the concept that they are working on “ Worn Wear.” It is a recycle and repair program that the company has been working on to reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints in the manufacturing of outdoor garments.
9. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
The fashion industry is tough, fast, and competitive. You may not become a designer overnight. So, my advice to anyone who wants to become a fashion designer, you have to love it and live it.
10. What are your future plans? Inside your career or out of it.
I’m super excited about my future and upcoming plans. I’m currently running the website Upcycle Clothing Designer. My goal is to help people transform old clothes into brand new clothing by using thrifted clothes, vintage clothing, and remnant fabric scraps.
I use detailed descriptions, step-by-step pictures, and video tutorials to teach how to make trendy clothing and fashionable pieces. I have upcycle tutorials that show how to turn old jeans into an Alexa Chung-inspired denim mini dress, how to make a wrap dress without a pattern, and how to create a peplum blouse from a men’s dress shirt.
You don’t need to always spend money on new clothes. I strongly believe a huge change is coming to the fashion industry as people become more aware of helping the environment and people.
The ‘LIGHTNING FAST’ Round:
1. The last good movie I’ve seen: I enjoy old movies and my all-time favorite is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I love the classic style movie where the iconic famous “little black dress” came from. I also admire Givenchy, who designed the black dress for Audrey Hepburn.
2. What do you consider beautiful and why? I consider nature as beautiful. The sun setting, changing colours of the seasons, and sounds of water flowing. Mother earth is full of inspiration for designers to pull from.
3. What haven’t you done yet that you wish you could? My husband and I are working towards building a custom van to take extended road trips. The eventual goal is to drive in different countries around the world. I look forward to van life!
4. Complete this sentence: “If I had no fear, I’d” go skydiving. I’m afraid of heights, which I always face when we hike above 10,000 feet elevation. However I do accept the challenge, so maybe in the near future, I would overcome the fear of heights and try skydiving!
5. What is the one “flaw” you wouldn’t change about yourself? I’m an introvert and sometimes it can be both positive and negative. If I wasn’t an introvert, I might be too busy socializing and not be able to get work done, right?