After her father left the family of six in a multi-million dollar debt, Kim Su Kyung dropped out of middle school to start her own business. She opened Victoria Garconne, an online shopping mall that caters to young women. The shop reached $100,000 in revenue in just five months. What's the secret to her success?
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Photos Victoria Garconne, Edits Kim Chua
Hi! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Su Kyung: Hello. I am Kim Sukyung. I am 19 years old and the Founder and CEO of Victoria Garconne, a Korean online shopping mall for teen girls. I have also guested a few times on popular variety show Ulljjang Sidae!
It's great to meet you! I'm wondering, how did you first become interested in fashion?
Su Kyung: My interest in fashion grew while I was in elementary school. I would collect Japanese and other international fashion magazines and make scrapbooks of my favorite styles. I would also go to cafes near my home in Daegu and people-watch. I would observe what people would wear and spot trends that way.
Why did you decide to open Victoria Garconne at 15 years old?
Su Kyung: Because of my interest in fashion, early on I dreamt of going to college to study fashion design and then opening my own brand. However, due to my family's sudden financial crisis, I ended up doing things a little earlier. Prior to opening Victoria Garconne, I had a part-time job working for another online shop, so I was familiar with how to manage an online shop. In order to start up, my mother's side of the family lent me a bit of money. I already had the essential equipment, which was a camera and a computer.
So have you always managed everything yourself from the very beginning?
Su Kyung: Yes, even now most of the work is done by me. Since the beginning I have personally selected the items from Dongdaemun, styled the models and have taken and edited the photos. The models are usually my friends, so they grant me favors which keeps costs to a minimum. I ship out the orders and monitor customer service requests. It is very challenging and I had to drop out of middle school in order to focus solely on running my business. I missed out on many things by bypassing school, however I've gained a lot of experience.
There's intense competition in the Korean shopping mall landscape.
How were you able to come out on top?
Su Kyung: Well first of all, my customers are the same age group as me so I can empathize with their interests and needs. Since I am targeting teenagers, the prices must be kept low while not sacrificing too much on quality. At first I would choose clothes solely based on my personal tastes and even tried designing original garments since I thought it's what my customers would also be into. But I soon realized that it was much more effective when I communicated with my customers directly and figured out what they really wanted. I always ask for feedback and I monitor the discussions in popular fashion communities and blogs. Chances to interact with my customers are very valuable and I like to host fun events such as liquidation flea-market parties, where I sell off products at discounted prices and chat with my customers in person.
Korean online shops rely heavily on model imagery, why is that?
Su Kyung: I was surprised when I saw that many U.S. online shops do not have models wearing the clothes. For Victoria Garconne, models wear the clothes as a fit guide. I cast girls with ordinary measurements and place them in realistic settings. I want the customer to imagine themselves as the model, wearing those clothes. The photos convey what wearing the clothes looks and feels like!
What's an example of a hit product?
Su Kyung: The biggest hit is slimming stockings. I noticed that this type of stocking, which has a stronger constricting power than the usual had been discussed in some online forums. They were being sold in China and Japan but not yet in Korea. I realized that this was a real need and found a way to stock them on Victoria Garconne!
Are you considering on opening a brick-and-mortar shop?
Su Kyung: Since I am targeting teenagers, the prices must be kept low while not sacrificing too much on quality. It'd be difficult to keep prices low and make enough revenue to manage a physical shop, so I don't have plans right now for opening any physical stores.
How about expanding into international markets by providing international shipping?
Su Kyung: I would like to tap into international markets. I'm currently working with a Chinese website in order to fulfill orders overseas. The challenge with shipping overseas is that there should be no issues with orders so that there are no returns or complaints about service. I am extra careful when dealing with Chinese orders. So far we've been able to satisfy all of our Chinese customers! I'd love to keep expanding since now I realize that the world is really big! We Koreans tend to underestimate our own abilities. I know that there is more effort required in order to transcend the boundaries of the Korean market but I'd love to try.
Sukyung, you're very young still and achieved so much! What's your dream?
Su Kyung: I'm very happy with Victoria Garconne, I'd like to go to college if I get the chance in the future. I think it's important that no matter what your dream is, that before trying to pursue you dream, that you love and believe in yourself. If you don't have confidence and high self esteem, you'll have a very hard time. I started very young and that's what I have learned so far.
You are wise beyond your years! Thank you so much and good luck on your ventures!