Simplicity with Mother Nature as key focus.
We would love to introduce Sandra Meynier Kang – the inspiring designer behind SMK. Catch an interview below about the Korean based brand, their values and the beauty of simplicity.
Please tell us about the universe of SMK, how did it all start?
S M K was born in 2014 after rebooting my previous brand “yesimfrench” into a more sustainable brand and in line with the values I brought into my personal life. It all started with a book in 2014, “la sobriété heureuse” by Pierre Rhabi and this book revolutionized my way of doing my job as a designer and viewing humanity in general. It gave me the power to open the door and question myself about what was wrong in the world and take responsibility for it. on my own scale. That’s when I became a vegetarian and started to take a close look at the care instructions and textile composition labels on every textile I bought.
This book raised so many questions and it got me to worry about 3 major subjects – speciesism, ethicality and the degradation of our environment.
After studying these subjects (and reading more books) I came to the resolution of creating this new brand “S M K” based on 6 strong core values that will always drive each of its steps.
1/ the brand in entirely vegan
2/ we produce locally in an ethical way
3/ we donate to an animal association
4/ we use eco-friendly and/or innovative textiles
5/ we recycle leftover textiles & papers
6/ we create a coupon system for making it more circular
I started ballet in Seoul 4 years ago and thought that maybe turning from womenswear to dancewear could suit better with my lifestyle. It’s in 2017 that I entirely changed the design and the brand style to become 100% focused on dancewear.
I definitely think that creating womenswear collections has helped a lot to define S M K dancewear’s identity as we can find a lot of its heritage in the clean lines, soft colors and athletic yet feminine looks.
How do you approach sustainability? Are you facing any challenges when it comes to sustainable fashion?
I created the 6 pillars of the brand that you can find as the first page in our lookbooks, line sheets, even in our showroom, it’s my kind of “declaration of human rights” in my company but in a very cute and tiny way.
1/ the brand S M K is entirely vegan.
We don’t use any textile that could be made from an animal: no leather, no fur, no wool, no cashmere. This might look easy but there are a lot of items I couldn’t really touch yet; for example, ballet slippers are all made with leather under the sole.
2/ we engaged in local & ethical production.
Being able to have a relationship directly with the person doing my clothes, cutting, assembling, embroidering, printing was something that became my first priority. There is none in our production process that I don’t know personally. This way, I ensure fair prices, high quality and good energy within the production chain.
My producers are all in Seoul, I visit them by taking a subway or bus or they visit me, and this proximity allows me to have a lower carbon impact when shipping the goods after production from the factory to my showroom. Honestly, I love this relationship we have built through time, it allows trust and friendship. It is true that producing our items abroad would be cheaper but this is not something that I am looking for. As there is a whole human aspect and respect, you could think my prices should be higher.
It is also a challenge to find local ateliers and factories (clean and fair ones) due to the technique you want to use (sports gear don’t require the same machinery than chiffon skirt for example) but with time, patience and persistence, we can all find local partners to work with.
3/ eco-textiles & innovation
This might be the biggest struggle as an “eco-friendly” sports-oriented designer to find a textile that is respectful of the environment, but also functional enough to match the customer’s need in terms of performance.
I think without solid textile education, it is very hard for designers to select the right textile for a specific product; I didn’t have any education on that matter and this is something I learned by myself (and I’m still learning). There are some books that are very helpful and some monthly magazines that maintain your level of knowledge on what’s going on in the sustainable textile market in terms of innovations and newly available textiles.
I have to say, this is a lot of time investing searching on the internet, social networks, blogs. But one thing I’ve learned is despite the size of a company or a trademark, never give up approaching them. We may not directly work together but they can connect to some local sellers that work with my quantities. I know how hard it is to try textile innovations that may not match the expected quality, we need to be patient and encourage the textile company by leaving feedbacks on newly tried textiles.
The more those designers will enquire about companies for more sustainable options, the more the available “green” textiles on the market will flourish with always better quality.
It always takes time and experience to create a textile with satisfying quality, especially when we experiment with new natural fibers, and they are so numerous under experiment today. Indeed, there are a lot of items in dancewear I still cannot touch because I didn’t find the right textile, for example, chiffon skirts ~ I didn’t find any recycled polyester mesh available in Korea for that product, and I won’t use any chiffon polyester if it isn’t a recycled one.
I decided that if the brand wanted to be deeply engaged in an animal cause, then it should in some way support animal protection associations that are working hard to raise awareness on the cruelty other species are facing.
That’s how I thought about a donation system such as 1.000w (0.84$) on every item purchased could be donated to a Korean animal protection association (I chose KARA to be our beneficiary) every 6 months.
Let’s be honest, I am far from being rich and my brand isn’t financially stable. But I do believe by participating somehow to a cause that really matters, it encourages collaborations and community synergies. This statement actually became essential to the brand and was settled for a few years already but it is very possible that in the future I engage myself in animal protection cause in a very different way. The amount given is not important, but the resolution to take action makes the difference.
5/ recycling process
To give a second life to all those textile parts, rolls, buttons, zippers, ribbons and else I have seen in the trash of my sample maker, factory and even trash I created myself by testing new patterns on some textiles, I decided to keep them all and look at them in a very singular way.
Trashes are “raw materials” and can be considered as very valuable. That’s how I started to create our customer’s packaging out of those “trashes”. Customer’s packaging always includes plastic, paper and all things that need to be produced for the only aim to be thrown out after they served their unique mission. All the remaining textiles parts, whatever their sizes, can be upcycled in new charming packaging for the clients.
The key challenge I have about this commitment is the time.
Every item needs to be handmade, there is not a single pattern that can be applied to all the textiles leftovers since their sizes and shapes are all different. I admit that I spend maybe 50% of my working time recycling/upcycling textiles, clothes & papers for creating plastic-free customer’s packaging and other goodies.
I usually go every Saturday to my office to spend my day cutting, sewing, well making recycles packaging….
How do you view and approach the contradictory meaning of selling sustainable clothing but in the end also contributing to increased consumption? Is there a way to righteous this as a designer and brand when it comes to circular fashion?
That’s a question I often ask myself: even though we are trying to make it more “sustainable” it is still something we produce taking the responsibility of increasing objects on earth and pushing people for consuming new goods.
I’ve thought about this over and over, and I believe that we just can’t stop humans from creating. But we need to keep creating with more responsible quantities and get aware of all the consequences and all the elements involved in the process.
Dancewear and sports gears are also a bit special since they have a real and shorter lifetime, not because we don t want to wear them anymore but because they get so used, holed, tears, stained and stinky by time. Nevertheless, we can call our creativity and try to approach a “closed-loop” system. That’s how I came out with this idea (my 6th pillar of the brand):
The customers who buy SMK dancewear items are allowed to bring back the old piece they don t want to wear anymore or that are just too wear to a dance class anymore (the kind of item they would have thrown out if they don’t bring it back). In exchange of the cloth, a DC coupon is offered if they want to purchase a new item. The old customer’s item has 2 possibilities of re-birth.
- If the item is still good, it can be turned into a very singular way and sold back as a unique piece (usually it will become more like an upcycled second-hand item)
- If the item is really old and we can’t really do much about it, then it will be dismantled and turned into the packaging!
Your fave SMK pieces and why?
Our signature piece is the reversible leotard made of creora®, a very functional item with great comfort and good support.
I personally love the latest Lenzing modal jumpsuits that are completely wearable in daily life, this item is so soft and feels like being in pajamas with the capacity of running a sudden marathon with elegance.
What’s next on the agenda for SMK?
We have a lot to come for this end of the year 2019.
I will be speaking at SB Seoul (sustainable brand Seoul) conference on the 18th of October about my adventure on building a sustainable fashion brand in Korea and its many challenges.
We may have a new collaboration coming with a famous dancewear brand but shhhh , it’s still secret. And in February 2020 we will be exhibiting in Firenze at the famous dance fair “Danza y fiera”.
Do yourself a favor and check out S M K and their beautiful creations.