KITRI Spotlight: Haeni Kim

KITRI Spotlight: Haeni Kim


Meet our creative, intelligent and simply brilliant friends who inspire KITRI in every single way.

Photographs: Phil Taylor, for Who What Wear.

Just as Team KITRI was celebrating our third anniversary – PIVOT! The world as we know it changed and we were all thrown into the unknown. 

It’s not business as usual at KITRI HQ. With our team working from home and an uncertain immediate future ahead of us all, this month our Founder and Creative Director takes our Spotlight to discuss life as a small business owner at this strange time…

Starting a business comes with many challenges of its own – but this unforeseen scenario must be the most challenging moment of your career so far?

Definitely but I’m sure it won’t be the last. I started KITRI three years ago with my eyes wide open. My father is an entrepreneur and he has always warned me about the perils and dangers of this journey from a very young age. I think there is a certain kind of romantic notion attached to being an entrepreneur these days. We read about huge success stories and they make it seem almost effortless, as if it happens overnight. That really isn’t the case for most businesses. The last three years have been undoubtedly the most challenging and terrifying three years of my life and we still have a long journey ahead of us. Every day brings new challenges that I never thought I could overcome, or situations I never expected, but at the end of the day, it’s always been my dream to start a brand and it has equally been the most exciting and the most rewarding experience. The current global situation is the biggest challenge our team has faced so far for sure, but we’re taking each day as it comes and I’m confident that we can weather the storm together.

Photographs: Sophia Spring, for Drapers.

How has life at KITRI HQ changed in the last month?

It has changed quite dramatically over the last week as you can imagine. We have started working from home across all teams and reduced the number of people working in our warehouse so that we can exercise distance and keep everyone safe. We’ve had to adjust to the team not working in the same room and not being able to collaborate freely across all departments as we would normally do. We’re a small team and our business is essentially built on having a creative hub for our fantastic team who come together and thrive off of each other’s creativity daily; designing prints, colour palettes and new silhouettes, content building, analysing, serving our customers or problem solving. Not being able to have everyone’s input so easily has been the toughest part so far, but thankfully there are so many fantastic programs and apps that enable us to keep connected these days. We have been brought into the modern world kicking and screaming, and now making the most of Slack, Zoom, Whatsapp and everything else in between, to communicate with each other continuously. We were lucky that our wonderful Operations Director (and my husband) updated our ridiculously old server system to the cloud literally the day before we made the decision to work from home.

What is your advice to small business owners, like yourself, to ride out the current situation?

Send me your Skype and we can have a virtual drink together!! Jokes aside, stay calm, stay motivated and take each day as it comes. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst! This has been my mantra in recent months. It’s undeniably the toughest situation most of us have faced in our lifetime and it’s important to remember that we’re in this together. I know lots of people say this, but this is one of those times that is actually true. What we do as a business right now has a domino effect across all industries; from suppliers, agencies and customers, and we want to make sure that we all survive this to tell the tale at the end of it all. As a small business, we are doing everything we can to weather the storm and give security to our team; looking at every expense line, talking to suppliers on how we can collaborate, and finding new innovative ways to make things work in our new reality. For example, we are unable to shoot our upcoming new collection for the moment, how do we make sure we bring fresh styles to our customers online without photographs?? I believe that wonderful, creative things can come out of a difficult situation when you’re forced to think outside the box. It is what it is, so don’t dwell on the past and look toward the future and find solutions within your control. Also, don’t be afraid (or be too proud) to ask for help. You might be surprised at the advice and help that will be offered to you when you ask.

How are you keeping yourself and the team motivated and highly spirited?

I’m trying to keep to my normal routine as much as possible. That means I wake up and make myself a big cup of coffee, have a shower (shocking!) and get dressed (even more shocking!!). I even put some make up on every morning so that I’m camera-ready for the endless video calls! Our team has been fantastic and just getting on with it the best they can, but we’re scheduling regular breakouts in teams to make sure that we’re all working in the same direction as well as keeping each other’s spirits up with hilarious team video calls. Let’s just say that we’re now very well-acquainted with all of the team pets, they are the newest (and most loved!) members of our team. 

Photograph on right: Eva Schwank for Tada and Toy

Your husband is part of Team KITRI – so is being quarantined together like business as usual for you?! 

Haha yes, in a way! My husband, Mike, is the Operations & Logistics Director at KITRI and the unsung hero. We’ve been working together from the beginning, so it means that we’re together almost all day, every day! We’re the ones going into the warehouse when help is needed, working at weekends so that our team doesn’t necessarily have to, and generally having each other’s back. Like any relationship, it’s been very challenging at times and we had to get used to each other’s way of working, as well as each other’s management style, but we’re really lucky that we have each other to lean on. Particularly during challenging times like now, it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone and have a partner that truly understands what each other is going through. We try to make each other laugh and bring each other back down to earth when needed.

How are you keeping your spirits lifted while working from home and self-isolating? 

Laughter. It’s quite tricky, as we don’t want to make light of the very serious situation around the globe at the moment, but keeping our sense of humour at times like this is so important. I’m trying to keep in contact with all my family and friends more often than usual too - sending each other little jokes and memes is helping us to keep our spirits up. Internet really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? Every day is different, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like it will ever get better, but all we can do is keep positive and look toward the sunny days ahead. 

What are your go-to styles for your work-from-home wardrobe?

I’m really enjoying putting on a dress every morning. I’m spending most of my time sat down in front of my laptop so anything constricting is a no-go for me. Plus, I need the extra room for snacks! I’ve been wearing our Natalia dress in every print and the Molly dress is perfect and forgiving too. A little colour and print goes a long way in keeping your spirits up and making you look like you’ve made an effort.

Photograph: Phil Taylor, for Who What Wear.

KITRI celebrate its three year anniversary this month. What has been your favourite KITRI moment over the last three years?

There has been so many amazing moments so far it’s hard to pinpoint to just one so I’ll list them in chronological order! 

  1. The day we officially launched the website will forever be the moment I remember. After months of preparing for the launch tirelessly, we started with a bang with a full-page article written by the wonderful Lisa Armstrong in the Telegraph newspaper. It was so surreal to wake up and see our brand (and my face!) on a national newspaper for the first time. 
  1. The opening of our first pop up shop in Marylebone (London) was a real labour of love and the one that I’m so proud of. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing at the time in all honesty! As challenging as that time was, it was the first opportunity for us to meet our customers in real life and we got to grow so much as a team as a result.
  1. The Gabriella green floral pleated dress amassing 2,000-strong waiting list upon release! We could have never predicted that one and when we restocked, it was sold out in under 30 minutes! The most fun we’ve ever had with one product and a real pinch-me moment.
  1. A double page spread in Harper’s Bazaar UK, in which our Ondine Black Slip Dress was worn by none other than the goddess that is Ashley Graham.
  1. Our 2nd anniversary Team KITRI party, which involved a lot of tequila and karaoke, and has since become a team tradition.
  1. The fantastic article in The Times, written by Harriet Walker, which came out on our 2nd anniversary. It promptly took our business to the next level.
  1. And last but not least, the moment I saw our Tatiana faux-leather skirt gracing the pages of UK Vogue this year. What a dream!! 
  1. All these amazing moments aside, I’m just really proud of our team who makes KITRI what it is today. I could never do this without our brilliant team, period.
Photograph: Phil Taylor, for Who What Wear.

What’s your all-time favourite KITRI style and why?

It has to be the Gabriella Dress. We all fell in love with the style as soon as the first sample came in and knew that it was special, but we could have never predicted the furore it caused when it came out. We had 2,000-strong waiting list as soon as we uploaded the image onto the website, and it sold out within half an hour upon release. When it was replenished upon request, it sold out again in 30 mins, we just couldn’t believe it! It was the dress that put KITRI on the map and for that, it will always be my favourite style hands down. 

We eagerly await a light at the end of this tunnel. Looking forwards, what are your hopes for the future? Where do you hope KITRI will be in 5 years?

We have achieved so much in the last three years and I’m so proud of our team for getting this far, in all honesty. I’m quite bad at taking a step back and taking stock of our achievements, like all founders I know, but I have to remind myself that most businesses don’t get to celebrate their third anniversaries! My goal for the business has been, and always will remain the same; bringing beautiful, unique, high-quality fashion to our customers at accessible price point and make them feel good! We want to make sure that we keep true to this in everything we do and hopefully grow and flourish to take the brand across the globe. In the next 5 years, I would like to have a beautiful HQ in London where our community can get together with our team to help bring the best collection month after month, and perhaps have outposts in South Korea (where I’m originally from), NY, LA and Paris, where we continue to grow our communities. I would love to see our range grow to include products that encompass other aspects of our customers’ lives and become a full lifestyle brand with integrity and sustainability at the heart of everything we do. Above all, I want us to build a brand that we’re all proud to be part of. So, in short, not much to achieve in the next 5 years!

Photograph: Luke Fullalove, for Marguerite

Finally, do you have a message for the KITRI community?

A huge thank you! Really from the bottom of my heart and from all of us here at KITRI. We’re so lucky to be able to do what we love every day and we’re so thankful, much more than we can ever express in an email, blog or on an Instagram post! I never imagined in a million years that we would have so many wonderful #KITRIgirls in our community who love and support what we do. It really means so much to us all and we hope to never disappoint you! Also, keep safe and be kind to each other. It’s a difficult and confusing time right now but we will get through this together. 

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