Posted on June 10 2020
Article by: Amos Chin
Before the establishment of his brand in 2017, Ki Chan Lee was a fine art student that specialises in sculptures and installations. Despite leaving the art scene in the US for compulsory military service, his passion for art became amplified.
As lady luck would have had it, he found a small leather atelier that took him under their wing. Having previously explored the themes of membrane and interface in his art practice, he transitioned very smoothly into making bags with sculptural forms using leather.
We set down for a virtual chat with Ki Chan Lee about his brand, aspirations as well as what sustainability means for him.
What made you establish your brand?
After receiving guidance from my mentor at the leather atelier, I became more familiar with the language of the craft. I began to see bag-making as a medium of expression.
As an artist, I have always believed that good art is transformative. I wanted to create bags that can bring changes to the daily lives of people.
Over the years, I have come to treat my business as a natural extension of my fine art roots and have aspired towards finding a working balance between art and commodity.
Do you have a favourite artist that you look up to?
While living in Seattle, I worked as an assistant and a mentee to the legendary public artist, Buster Simpson. The profound marriage of poeticism and utility he has achieved in his work is astonishing.
His public art pieces are beyond mere aesthetic decorations to the built environment. It served poetic and practical functions that embodied a concept he termed “poetic utility.”
What are your key inspirations behind your designs?
I draw inspiration from three things - the properties of the material used for the design, books I read, and the concept of poetic utility - the idea I picked up while working for Buster Simpson.
Sustainability seems to be a huge trend in the industry these days. What are your opinions about sustainable fashion?
I believe that it is inevitable that the fashion industry is moving towards being sustainable. When we as creators of fashion, are faced with the environmental cost of our trade, the creativity in us responds to these problems with sustainable and innovative solutions.
How does KI LEE play a part in being sustainable?
As a sustainable fashion brand, we provide sustainable options without compromising style.
We support innovative and ethical material manufacturers. By showcasing the unique properties of these materials through design, we hope to shift the public's perception of sustainable consumption.
Your collection names are very conceptualised. How do you come up with the names and how does it resonate with your designs?
The names are often developed during the design process. Every step of the development influences one another. Essentially these titles are representation of the collection. I hope the titles can transport the viewers to a headspace where they can form a relationship with the pieces.
The bags are eccentric yet sophisticated. I would say that every fashion enthusiast would be more than happy to have at least one of them. Can you describe the kind of consumers that would emulate your brand best and who your target audiences are?
KI LEE’s target audiences are categorized into two groups. Those who are practicing sustainable consumption and those that are drawn to idiosyncratic designs.
I see that you do a lot of quite a bit of creative writing on your site. Would you like to share with us more about it?
I had to leave the states and serve my obligatory military service as a translator and bookbinder. Being away from the artist community and surrounding myself with old census documents gave me anxiety. Writing these creative pieces became an outlet for me to express myself. Though I don't consider myself a fantastic writer, I'm glad that I've published it. It has helped me look back at my life to that point, and gave it a narrative I can build upon.
I am also pleasantly surprised by how many people have read it though!
What are your plans and what can your fans anticipate for your upcoming collection?
In the coming weeks, KI LEE will release three new products from our latest collection, all made with vegan mulberry-bast leather. It is the first time experimenting with this material and we are extremely excited to see the response. We are also planning on making limited editions of these products using a cork fabric with an amazing print design.
Also, we would be continuing our on-going collaboration with the menswear brand “the STOLEN GARMENT”. We will release our FW20 backpacks, and present new designs for the SS21 during Seoul Fashion Week.