Amomento on Forever Value
Founder and Creative Director of South Korean label and multi-brand boutique Amomento, MK Lee, talks to London-based Womenswear Buyer, Sungjin Ahn. Launched in 2016, Amomento has grown from an intimate atelier in Seoul to an online store and a space representing forward-thinking international design brands. MK mixes sophistication with humbleness capturing the attention of both Asian and Western customers who resonate with her appreciation for value-led creativity.
MK and Sungjin discuss the gentle equilibrium between perseverance and change in managing an independent fashion label.
Sungjin Ahn: Please tell us about Amomento, what Amomento is and what you do.
MK Lee: Above all, Amomento is a womenswear brand. Having said that we have recently started menswear which will be launching for FW21. It is a brand and a space that started with my childhood dream. Amomento is where my dream has come true.
Sungjin: Then did you dream of working in fashion when you were young?
MK: My dad used to be a fashion designer so I grew up looking at things like flat drawings and I think I was influenced by it. I didn’t necessarily think I wanted to be a fashion designer too but I was always interested. I went to an art school and only had a vague notion of becoming a designer, I was especially interested in fashion and spatial design. I studied spatial design but ended up working in fashion after all.
Sungjin: Can you tell us about your career before Amomento?
MK: I started working in fashion as a visual merchandiser. What I really loved was fashion and space and I was looking for somewhere I could enjoy them both, which eventually led me to start Amomento.
“I want people to remember the moments they wear my clothes.”
Sungjin: How did the idea evolve?
MK: It started from the idea that I wanted to do my own thing, and the concept of ‘mine’ made me think of a space where I could put together the things I love and the things I find beautiful, and also the clothes I designed in one corner. So, it started as an atelier. There were only about six styles in the beginning and the number grew season after season, and naturally, Amomento became a brand.
Sungjin: Why did you name the brand Amomento? What does it mean?
MK: It is a word I made up. Momento means moment in Spanish and I added ‘a’ to give the meaning of the split second. I believe fleeting moments are more precious in life so I named it after that. I am a little embarrassed thinking that maybe I tried too hard. But I want people to remember the moments they wear my clothes and only hope those moments would last as long as their good memories.
Sungjin: I have been told about Amomento a few times in the last couple of years, it seems to have grown a lot.
MK: It is refreshing to hear that from someone who lives abroad. I may have thought that in the past when I went on business trips and saw our products in shops abroad but I haven’t thought that way at all recently since I couldn’t travel due to the pandemic. We didn’t really have a set plan to grow. We started at a tiny atelier which was about 33 square meters, with clothes displayed on one side and working on new designs on the other side. Now we’ve grown, we have a bigger shop selling not only our brand but also other brands, and we’ve separated the teams. We have about 18 employees and 8 departments including buying, retail, design, production and marketing teams.
“We continue to pursue with what we think is new and always attempt to change.”
Sungjin: Are you doing everything in Korea? Design, production and wholesale too?
MK: Mostly, yes. In the beginning, we did everything by ourselves, including wholesale. We participated in a trade show in the States for SS19, so that’s where it all began. We had buyers coming to see us and they expected [to see] a new collection from us the following season which is how we started wholesale. For the first two years, we showed at trade shows such as Man/Woman in Paris with some help from our friends. We met [the agency] Hands and Legs when we started buying other brands for our shop and they proposed to take care of Amomento’s wholesale. And then the pandemic started… Even if there’s an agency looking after wholesale for us, it hasn’t been easy as we cannot show new collections in person. Basically, no direct interaction. Now, Hands and Legs look after the North-Western European market and we have a new wholesale agency based in Korea who look after the majority of other accounts.
“I’m starting to think that our direction and attempts are being accepted and validated.”
Sungjin: Were there any other big changes in running your business due to the pandemic?
MK: Sales-wise it has been stable in the Korean market. We’ve never had a full-on lockdown and the situation has been more or less under control. And Korean people are very interested in fashion so there was no dip in sales, rather it has been constantly growing. For the overseas market, there was more risk as we couldn’t travel and we were devastated not to show the collections in person in a physical showroom. There is definitely a limit to only presenting collections virtually.
Sungjin: Amomento started in 2016. What were your milestones from the last five years?
MK: One of the happiest moments for me was when we received our first order from a buyer, I got goosebumps. And when we received orders from shops that I admire around the world – which I make sure to visit whenever I go abroad – even if their orders were small, it made me so happy for Amomento to be sold in these stores.
Sungjin: How did you grow an audience in a competitive market like Seoul? What do you think made Amomento stand out from other local/locally produced brands out there and connect with customers?
MK: Korean people are super interested in fashion really, and if there is a new trend everyone seems to follow that trend. But we try to stick to the direction we pursue regardless of the characteristics or tendencies of the Korean fashion market. And perhaps that worked.
“Once the brand label is put on a garment its value lasts forever. And I have to work hard to maintain that position.”
Sungjin: You mean the Amomento style?
MK: Yes, Amomento’s ideas and Amomento’s attempts. It’s actually really hard to stick to what we think is right for us but we persevere. We continue to pursue with what we think is new and always attempt to change, which could feel unfamiliar to the Korean audience and therefore may not work in our market but I’m starting to think that our direction and attempts are being accepted and validated. In the past, if we designed 30 new styles only 3 of them worked and the rest didn’t perform at all, I could see that very clearly. What I aspired to do didn’t necessarily result in good sales but that has changed and I’ve started seeing that what I try, after much deliberation, now sells well and receives great feedback from our clients. What makes me think, ‘Should I do this or not?’, or what I think may not sell seems to work now. It makes me think that we are being accepted and customers started understanding us. They may even think that they cannot find the things they find at Amomento somewhere else. Let’s say irreplaceable? That is what I personally pursue, and I think that is why we’ve become what we are now.
Sungjin: Who do you think is the Amomento woman? Who are your main clients?
MK: That was very clear to me from the beginning because I designed the clothes, made them and served the clients myself to know who our customers are, what they wear and what they do. I found out that many clients work in design or they have a great interest in the arts. Now I don’t get to have direct interaction as much, so I learn to evaluate them in an objective way and I’ve realised that our clientele has expanded. I feel we’ve become a little bit more popular and we’ve reached a wider range of customers. The Amomento women I dream of are progressive, ahead of time and independent like Charlotte Perriand who stood out in a male-dominated profession back in the days. Women who have a very clear direction to pursue and who have firm values. I hope those women would enjoy and understand Amomento.
“The Amomento women I dream of are progressive…like Charlotte Perriand who stood out in a male-dominated profession.”
Sungjin: What are you planning now? Can you imagine where you would like Amomento to be in 5 years?
MK: I’m thinking a lot about that these days. I’ve been running the brand for 5 years and 5 years is quite a long time for a brand in Korea. I’ve worked so hard always trying something new, and I wonder if I could have that much passion in the next five years as well. It is so competitive in the fashion industry. What I’ve realised is that I should stick to what I’ve been doing, not rely on results or popularity. I want Amomento to be Amomento and aim to stay that way as long as we can. I once interviewed someone for a position in the company and asked how she got to know about Amomento. She said she was living and studying in Japan and found a great pair of pants in a shop, loved them so much and checked the brand label which said Amomento, and said she was still enjoying the trousers very much. That made me think that once the brand label is put on a garment its value lasts forever. And I have to work hard to maintain that position because even if the brand disappears, people would still remember what Amomento was. I find it very fascinating to not be able to define a brand with one word. There is something about Amomento and I want it to stay that way.
Special thanks to Sungjin Ahn for hosting this conversation and translating it with great care from Korean to English for readers of Advance Copy.