From a peddler to CEO of a 20 Year Old Boutique in California
Twenty years ago, daughter of a third generation draper booked a ticket to America without a single plan. This peddler with a bundle of fabrics today in 2010 became an owner of the largest hanbok shop in America. Hanbok, a traditional Korean costume, is a highly cultural product. If a Korean female with the limited language skill succeeded to market the traditional fabrics and dresses in America two decades ago, all Korea's strong IT products have to do in 2010 is to gear up with aspiration and resolution to challenge the global market.
Coming to America
As a daughter of a third generation draper, Leehwa (Laura Park) grew up with the rolls and sheets of different fabrics. "I was always either on or under the sheets of fabrics as I grew up. I felt and played with different textures growing up. Then I began to wonder the world outside of the fabrics. I spent my early twenties in Japan, and then one day I thought I shall go to a bigger country, America, to challenge my own fate," recalled Leehwa. This was a period of time where studying or living abroad was not common in Korea. After a long time of begging and pleading, Laura's mother handed her a bundle of fabric pieces and said, "If you sell all this in America and return safely, I will support you to start a new life there with all my fabrics." So Ms. Park flew off with a bundle and went from store to store in Los Angeles, attempting to sell her bundle of fabrics. A miracle happened on the tenth street, when the shop owner felt pity for Leehwa, who was holding a baby in the back to sell some pieces of fabrics. The shop owner introduced a designer to her, and there, the designer purchased every single piece of fabric from hers. This was the first marketing ever of Korean traditional fabrics in LA, California.
To continue or not continue, that was a problem
Leehwa envisioned her hanboks to be worn by multiples of customers despite their race or cultural difference. "In the beginning, the numbers mattered to me. My ambition was to make many people to be aware of Korea's traditional costume, hanbok, and wear them for special occasions. I studied, dress patterns of the west and applied the style to hanbok to create a fusion dress," Leehwa said.
In the midst of an ambition filled years, her Achilles' heel was stricken by tragic news. Her eldest son was diagnosed as hearing impaired. Family and friends started to urge her to close down the shop immediately and take care of her ailing son. "I thought about it differently. I felt a large obligation to work hard, so that I could afford to buy the best hearing aids ever available in the world. The best digital hearing aids cost up to 10,000 dollars in the States, which is what I wanted to buy for my little baby. I also wanted to be strong for my son. I was a handicap in America, who spoke limited English and came from a very different background. However, I wanted to teach my children by showing example so that they would be proud to see their mother overcoming all the difficulties to live up to her dream," Leehwa said.
Straight to the Top
Surprisingly, her original shop in the back alley was mostly crowded with daily visitors with high interests. Then there were days of pleasant surprises. "My son one day during the elementary school year took my business cards without letting me know and handed them out to his classmates without a word. One of the mothers showed up to my shop with a business card and became my client. My son still does marketing for me at his college," Leehwa (Laura Park) recalled.
In 1999, an African-American Model Association asked her to design show garments for their Christmas event. "The colorful Hanbok looked just too great on their skin, and they all loved it and felt it on the stage. My daughter and son were also put up on the stage with the hanbok. I've never felt so proud of what I do and what I represent," Leehwa said. After that fashion show, more and more customers asked her to design hanboks for weddings, events, and shows. In addition, they were not just Koreans, but customers from different races and heritages. Just about the time when Leehwa's dream of showing the beauty of hanbok to the world was becoming true, Leehwa's destiny reshapes. "I began to question the purpose of my coming and hidden meanings to every blessing I have been receiving. My goal to excel at what I do hasn't changed, but I began to have interests in disabilities and started to question what I could do to every-day-growing Korean community in California," Ms. Park stated.
Leehwa (Laura Park) has recently launched a hanbok Research Base in Korea. "My great role model is Yumi Katsura. She is a great inspiration to my future roadmap and life," Leehwa said.
Yumi Katsura is a pioneer in the field of wedding gowns and has come to be known as the "Missionary of Bridal." Her brand has annual gross sales of 13 billion yen, and she has more than 70 franchises. More than 30,000 brides wear dresses designed by Yumi Katsura yearly. Yumi Katsura also designed the special vestment for Pope John Paul II.
"But that is not all to my future dream. I want to use my talents and story to reach out to the community and encourage the disabilities. I've been involved in numerous fundraising activities and event coordination. I recently coordinated an event for elders of Korea town in LA to dedicate a special memory for them. As for a Valentine's Day event, we will throw a banquet where they can share surprise gifts and love for each other," said the CEO.
Ingenuity in a Field that Rarely Sees It
Yumi Katsura herself has thrown up a recent fashion show with the robots as her models. The fashion shows are now thirsty for innovation. Leehwa, or Laura Park, also shared her great vision to showcase things that were never shown before in the fashion industry through convergence. CEO Leewha added, "I believe the key is convergence. Why not practice convergence in art and fashion or even IT and fashion I recently learned about a trendy item in IT industry and made some contacts with Korean engineers who can help me to bring my vision into reality."
The New Year is perhaps already filming many other vanguards' stories somewhere in the world. The Korea IT Times hopes to ferret out all the other miracles the New Year's may bring to entrepreneurs around the world and give inspiration to all those who are in search of the courage to develop new ideas of ever changing market.