Interview with Susan Kim, Founder and Personal Fashion Stylist of Sum Style

Susan Kim is a Seattle-based personal stylist, fashion expert and founder of Sum Style. Susan is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and holds a degree in Apparel Industry Management and is also a certified personal stylist. She recently relocated to Seattle from Los Angeles at the beginning of 2016. Prior to Sum Style, she built her styling experience at creditable showrooms in Los Angeles, as well as major department stores and brands like Bloomingdale’s and All Saints. Susan has a powerful ability to understand and transfer one’s style into a better version and vision. She holds the belief that what one wears can be a powerful statement that can dictate and guide one’s personal and professional success.

What’s Up NW was lucky enough to ask the fashion guru some questions!!

Tell us about you! Where are you from, what was life like growing up?
I was born in Chicago, Illinois but I grew up in Seoul, South Korea most of my life. I attended an English speaking international school so a lot of my classmates were children of diplomats, global business leaders, and notable political figures. Despite growing up in Seoul, because of my international school, I was accustomed to numerous cultures like Denmark, India, Egypt, Finland, South Africa, Japan, Canada, Australia, and so many more. I was really fortunate to experience and learn about all these cultures at such a young age.

Believe it or not, I was a huge tomboy while growing up because I was really close with my older brother. I used to just wear his baggy clothes and play soccer with him. I never knew I would grow an interest to fashion until one summer I spent in Vancouver, Canada with my grandmother. My grandmother who was the judge to represent South Korea for W.A.F.A. (World Association of Flower Arrangement) for almost a decade, was and still is my biggest role model. She was always under the lime light of glitz and glam and her grand walk-in closet filled with designer shoes, exotic leather goods, and Italian and French designer pieces was definitely Willy Wonka’s factory in my eyes. The way she stood in front of the full mirror with such poise and confidence in different outfits was seriously like watching a real life Disney queen in front of my eyes. She always taught me that beauty and knowledge should never be compromised and that I should always take care of myself and represent myself with dignity, poise, and respect. She also always told me that dressing well and looking good is respecting and loving myself and that I should never stop trying to improve myself.

I didn’t think much of it when I was a young girl but now that I’m older and a business owner of my personal fashion styling studio, a lot of what she used to tell me comes back into my mind. She definitely had an immense influence on how my interest for fashion started.

After attending an International Christian boarding school for high school, I moved to Seattle to attend the Art Institute of Seattle to major in Fashion Marketing. High school was definitely a time where I experimented with different styles and I grew an obsession on how certain styles of garments or shoes with different fabrication, fit, and style would make my body look different. I wanted to learn more about the technicality of why my legs looked so much leaner and why my butt looked perkier in open toe wedges. I loved how different garments worked as a tool to boost my confidence by helping me minimize the look of body parts that I wasn’t very confident in and helped me accentuate my more confident body parts. As soon as I started learning about fashion, I knew I wanted to dig deeper and learn more so I packed my bag, purchased a one-way ticket to Los Angeles and flew there with no plan but to learn more about fashion in a city lived and breathed fashion.

After the first week of arriving to Los Angeles with no plan but to learn more about fashion, I drove my rental car to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising with my portfolio and went to meet an admission counselor. I realized that I needed to learn fashion from one of the best fashion schools in the United States if I wanted to make it, so with my go-getter attitude and many visits and after interviews and interviews, I got accepted to the F.I.D.M. with a major in Apparel Industry Management.

Being a student at F.I.D.M. and learning from respectable professors that are still active in the Fashion industry, definitely opened a lot of doors for me and I had the fortune to work with G Stage, Luii Mo & J, Bloomingdales, All Saints, and Caro Marketing.

(Photo Credit: Susan Kim)

How does the Pacific Northwest lifestyle inspire you?
I love how PNW lifestyle is so authentic and sustainable. I’m inspired every day by the nature here and how locals here aren’t influenced so strongly from other neighboring larger cities. I love how Seattle locals and natives are true to what they love and how they make the best of every season and weather condition here.

What made you decide to create Sum Style? What is behind the name?
I wanted to create a safe, fun, and inspiring space so fashion and style can be accessible to anyone. I realized especially in Seattle, fashion and style may be categorized as intimidating, not functional, and limited and/or catered to celebrities and models. I wanted to share the fact that fashion is literally everywhere and that fashion can work as an amazing tool.

My life honestly changed after I became obsessed with fashion. Fashion allowed me to have a voice, it built my character and my personality, and it is an easy way to change someone’s look without any dramatic procedures or extreme weight loss/gain. I ultimately wanted Sum Style to be a place where people can find their style, discover themselves, and grow confidence through clothes. I hid in my brother’s baggy FUBU denim and oversized hoodies when there was a true fashionista hiding behind all these masculine clothes. If I didn’t spend that summer with my grandmother, who knows if I would still be in baggy clothes today just admiring, imagining, and looking at flirty peplum tops and Stuart Weitzman thigh-high boots? I want to be that tool to my client’s so I can help them find their true style that can represent their personality rather than hiding in what they are used to or comfortable in. I want to be a kind of “fairy god mother” from Cinderella to all my clients!

I got the name SUM STYLE by taking the first 2 letters of my first name (Susan) and taking the last letter of my last name (Kim). I also love the definition of the word SUM (the result of) and I wanted to give a total result of a full outfit to my clients. I’ve also used the name SUM for all my F.I.D.M. projects and my portfolios so it’s really surreal to have a college dream come to life and to become an actual business! Anything is truly possible!

Sum Style Launch Party (Photo Credit: Susan Kim)

Walk us through how you would help a client from the moment they first contact you to finish.
We start the styling process with a complimentary phone consultation. This really gives my team and I a chance to hear what our prospective client wants from our styling services. We ask simple but specific questions such as what inspired them to contact us, what they want to accomplish by working with us, and what their current fashion challenges are.

After we come to an agreement that our prospective client would be a good fit and after they choose to hire us, we follow up with an in-person consultation at our office located in downtown Seattle. We then dig deep into paving a style discovery and road map to personalize our client’s style. We also look through inspiration boards curated for our clients and also take measurements and go through a color and fabrication to discover new colors and fabrications that our client would want to add to their new wardrobe.

My team and I then go out and shop full outfits (top, bottom, shoes, accessories) catered and personalized for our clients. We usually end up with about 5-8 full outfits while our busy clients are taking care of more important obligations than shopping and styling outfits. We then meet for a fitting at our office or their place and our client tries on a personalized rack full of clothes in their perfect size. Our client that purchases whatever pieces from the rack that he/she is obsessed with.

It’s a really functional, easy, fast, and catered service that our client’s enjoy. They save their time on returning clothes, chasing sales reps at the mall for different sizes, parking, and even saving money by actually purchasing pieces that they will end up wearing rather than purchasing something that will end up just sitting in the closet. We all make “bad-purchases” where a piece or outfit looks amazing when we try it on at the store but looks horrible when we try it on back at home. We omit that stressful and time consuming process and make shopping and styling easier for our clients.

(Photo Credit; Sum Style)

What makes Sum Style different from companies that provide similar services?
There are various online subscription services and even technological tools like Amazon Look debuting to help people with styling needs. How Sum Style differs from any other local in-person styling services, subscriptions, and tech tools is that we really dive deep in our in-person consultations. My team and I have heard so many inspiring and heart-warming stories of the real motif behind wanting to change their style from change of sexual orientation, social anxiety, divorce, weight loss/gain, promotion, and even transitioning from professional wear to retiring.

We don’t want to be a styling service that pressures and throws on what’s trending on the runway or magazine to our clients. Rather, we really dig deep into finding their true style, and along this journey of doing this, we were lucky enough to hear so many cool stories from various walks in life.

What are some of your go-to pieces in your closet?
With Fall already greeting us, I’m currently obsessed with my All Saints Papin Leather Biker Jacket. Since leather is a natural fiber, the color, texture, and even fit changes over time to fit the wearer’s body better. I love how leather jackets become a custom, personalized piece over time.

I’m pretty short at 5’3 so I’m obsessed with heels and my current faves are my Mui Mui Seude Platform Block-Heel Sandals because it elongates and slims my legs and is such a versatile transition piece from a day full of meetings to a night out with my team members. I’m also all about accessorize to add a splash of my personality and to stand out and my current go-to piece is my pastel pink felt beret with metallic leather trim from Yestadt Millinery at Bergdorf Goodman.

(Photo Credit: Sum Style)

What advice do you have about trendy fashion versus classic pieces?
I personally am obsessed with mixing and matching my trendy pieces with my classic pieces. Trends are always changing and with the power of social media, influencers, and fast fashion, trendy pieces are so accessible. I feel like it’s really important for everyone to not be so bombarded with trendy pieces but to find pieces that works for their individual style.

The beauty of fashion is that fashion is always rotating so what is trending this year like sporty chic outfits with the return of tear-aways, Fila, and Champion, is a classic to a 90’s baby like me.

In addition to fashion, do you make hair and makeup recommendations as well? If so, what type of suggestions do you make for your clients?
That’s so crazy how you asked about hair and make up! We are currently in the works of expanding our business to a “Total fashion service” and having hair, make-up, and even shaving (for men) incorporated in our packages so our client’s can enjoy a full “make over” experience.

Where do you see Sum Style in the future?
We have been in business for a year now and we have already grown so much. We are very fortunate to have had such a great client base and we just want to keep expanding and growing to better serve our clients. Like I mentioned above, I definitely see Sum Style become a “One stop Total Fashion” studio where our client’s can come in and get a full makeover treatment with their revamped style, hair, and make up (plus shaving for men). We also want to add an online styling feature where we can style not only client’s in the NW but globally as well!

http://sumstyle.co/

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