IISE is a Seoul-based brand dedicated to manifesting modern and traditional Korean culture in clothing and accessories. Alumni of NY interviewed their founders Terrence and Kevin Kim on IISE's roots, values, and future.
“IISE” is Korean for, “second generation,” deriving from you two being second-generation Korean Americans. What does “IISE” mean to you as a brand name and as it locates you between your heritage and your present?
We chose the brand name IISE because everything the brand embodies is a reflection of our identities as Korean-Americans. We take certain cultural elements from previous generations and re-interpret them through our lens for our own generation through product and media content. IISE has allowed us to discover so much about ourselves, our family history, and also to create things that people with similar upbringings can relate to.
Originally, you had started a sneaker brand but then visited Korea and that changed your entire vision for your brand. What did it that trip feel like? Were there moments that really defined that decision?
We visited Korea for leisure and had no intentions of starting a brand. Through our experiences and interactions we had traveling around the country, the idea for the brand slowly came about. At first, we were seeking out Korean inspired streetwear for ourselves just to wear. We imagined there would be many brands inspired from Korea's heritage similar to Japan but we couldn't find any which also added to starting IISE. Witnessing the duality of modern and traditional art, architecture, design, and fabrication of Seoul was so interesting to us at the time and continues to inspire us daily.
Korean culture is not just present in the design of the garments that IISE creates, it is - sometimes literally - woven into the garments themselves from using Korean cotton to traditional natural dyeing processes to hanji paper tags. What of these processes or details are you most proud of?
With everything we create we try to incorporate certain details that are uniquely Korean. We launched the brand with a Korean natural dyed fabric made in the countryside and worked with artisans to achieve the exact texture and color tone we were looking for. Working with this older generation was an amazing process because of how much they educated us not only on the process but their personal experiences in Korea. Being able to work with these types of artisans to create products sold around the world is definitely rewarding.
IISE seems very proud of the meticulous work that goes into constructing each piece. Could you speak about Dongdaemun Market and what it means for IISE?
Dongdaemun is the backbone of the Korean fashion industry. Seoul is a special city in that all the fabrics, hardware, sample makers, and factories are all just a subway ride away. The speed of how the city operates is advantageous in so many ways and Dongdaemun is essential to every brand based here.
IISE does not want to be limited to fashion but rather seeks a broader sphere of design influence. What is next for IISE?
We started as a bag brand, grew the product offering to include other accessories, and then focused on clothing for the last 5 years. Our goal is to enter the footwear world in the near future and also apply our concept to other lifestyle goods. We have a ton of new collaborations planned for next year and also plan on spending more time in the U.S. to connect with our biggest market in a more in-depth way.