Sandra Meynier-Kang, Seoul’s first foreign, sustainable fashion CEO, talks brand priorities, dancewear, and Marilyn Manson
Having majored in fashion in Paris, Sandra Meynier-Kang originally came to Seoul in 2008 on a temporary trip. Unexpectedly, she “fell in love with the city”, and returned in 2010, this time to live.
Meynier-Kang’s first foray into the fashion industry in Korea was as marketing manager for local brands PLAC Jeans and Cres E. Dim. She was selected as a finalist in the popular Korean television program “Top Designer” in 2012 and went on to launch her own ready-to-wear fashion label, SMK, in 2014. She has been consolidating the sustainable and ethical forces that drive the brand ever since.
“I wanted to make the SMK brand in a way that respected the human, animal and natural world. Although we as fashion designers may not be able to do this perfectly yet, I am determined to keep experimenting; to keep trying new techniques. Everything I do comes back to this same philosophy. If I can’t stick to it, I’d rather quit.”
SMK now operates under four, distinct brand priorities: animal protection, local and ethical production, eco-friendly and innovative textiles, and charitable donations. Five percent of the brand’s profits from each season go to Korean animal charity CARE.
Meynier-Kang oversees the entire manufacturing process of each product, from design, to production, to sales. All of her items are produced in Seoul at ethically certified factories and ateliers. “The important thing is that I want to see who is making my clothes,” she says. “I want to go there, to know the people, to bring them some biscuits. I want to keep my eye on the whole process.”
Even SMK’s packaging is sustainable; Meynier-Kang and her staff sew together thick pages from past look-books to create bags for the clothes, while pouches for smaller items are made from leftover fabric.
In the past, Meynier-Kang gained inspiration for her thematic, seasonal collections from a wide range of things. The SS17 collection saw a selection of animal-print pieces under the theme “Speciesism” – a collaboration with Seoul’s pet photography studio, Thank You Studio – while SMK’s FW15–16 collection was inspired by Marilyn Manson’s album “Mechanical Animals.”
“I once made a coat for Marilyn Manson,” Meynier-Kang laughs. “He was such a big inspiration to me growing up.”
Move to dancewear
These days, Meynier-Kang has moved on from thematic collections, and instead dedicated the brand to another of her long-term passions: dancewear. Starting this year, SMK’s focus has shifted toward jumpsuits, leggings, bralettes and leotards in demure and classic tones, and all created sustainably.
“Dancewear allows me to be far more interactive with my customers,” she says. “They wear my pieces to dance or work out in, and they come back and tell me what they loved, or didn’t love.”
“I really enjoy creating dancewear. I realized this route was the perfect fit for me, when I truly found myself having fun.”
As Korea’s fashion industry continues to find its feet in a highly-competitive global market, Meynier-Kang’s eco-friendly fashion expertise is proving in high-demand. “I’m planning to branch out into eco and innovative textile consulting next year,” she says. “There are lots of European brands who wish to source their ethical materials in Korea, and lots of Korean brands in Seoul who wish to make themselves more sustainable. I hope to help them achieve that.”
Written by Rhiannon Shepherd