Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? (Name, age, profession, etc.)
My name is Sandra Meynier, and I was born on July 11, 1986 in France, close to Paris. I grew up in a suburb very far from fashion (maybe the total opposite of fashion). I studied in Paris at Atelier Chardon Savard where I received my diploma in 2008. So, obviously, I’m French. Actually, my first time in Korea was eight years ago for kendo training in university. A friend invited me here, and I didn’t even know where Korea was on the map. But I came—I was brave apparently—I came and I tried and I really liked it, so I stayed and here I am! My occupation nowadays is a designer for the brand SMK.
Did you go to college for fashion? What was your college life like?
Actually when I was a kid, my parents were working a lot so they were never there. I was spending all my time drawing—I love drawing. I loved to dress up my elephants and my giraffes. My parents didn’t really understand my passion for fashion, because my mother is a pediatrician and my father was a car engineer. And my mother doesn’t like dressing up too much, so I didn’t know much about makeup, heels, or [anything]. But I loved magazines as I got older, so I would read these magazines in my room.
[My parents] said if I wanted to do design, I needed to go to a public school. But, if you want to go into design from a public school you need to be a very good student. And I wasn’t that good, so I started going to a language university. I never went to school. I was always in the streets of Paris, shopping and hanging out with friends, so I quit university very fast. A girl told me that there was a fashion design school in Paris that was very cheap, so I worked, applied, interviewed, and was accepted. I was so excited I came home and told my parents, but they said it was not a good school and instead to find the best fashion school in Paris.
I had an idea and I couldn’t get it of my head. I wouldn’t let my parents choose for me. I did good—I was a normal student and I had a lot of fun. At my school they don’t teach you to be a designer; they teach you to know who you are. They teach you to go very deep inside yourself and your creation.
What originally brought you to Korea?
I was training for kendo in France with my boyfriend at the time. We came to Korea to train together. I didn’t train that much… [Before that] we usually only traveled to close countries. I had never been out of Europe all my life. I felt so excited, because for once I couldn’t control anything and I felt so free. It gave me so much energy to discover and ask questions about everything. Later, while I worked at a leather jacket company, I told my boss that if he gave me two jackets I would sell it to a shop in Korea. I sold the jacket, luckily. My boss was surprised I had three orders from Korea, and asked what I wanted to do. I told him to give me all the jackets, and I would sell them in Korea. So, I went back a month later and I met brands… And I went totally bankrupt after four months. Luckily, a Korean company hired me and it ended up ok.
Introduce your brand and how does your style compare to your brand?
The brand was first born in 2012 as YESIMFRENCH. I was working with the Korean company that hired me, and followed a guy in Dongdaemun to learn how to buy fabric. I bought some fabric and made a sweatshirt, showing it to my good friend Hong Bum Kim (the owner of Cres E Dim). He told me, “Let’s start your brand!” I didn’t really think of the name at the time; it was just for fun. But my brand got bigger, and I realized that the name did not reflect what I wanted to show people. Why didn’t I want YesI’mFrench? Because it includes a territorial notion that is the opposite from what I think. I think that fashion does not have borders anymore among the young generation. And “French” is a heavy cultural weight on your shoulders. I wanted to be free to talk about any subject in the future. So I decided to take my initials—SMK for Sandra Meynier Kang—and if you take a look at the logo’s M it makes two ones facing each other. To me 11 is a very important number. I was born the 11th of July, so it’s my lucky number. And under this neutral name I can talk about any subject. When I started SMK, I wanted to go deeper into sustainability. [I thought about] how I can reduce chemicals and waste on my scale. I really try to be conscious of that. I also offer 5% of profits from each collection to an association related to the subject. So, I create a collection around a specific subject, I sell it, and then I give it back to the people working concretely in that same field.
[As for] style… I’m very casual and feminine. I think those are the best words I can use to describe my brand, besides sustainable. I try my best to make my style to be commercial enough to sell, but with elegant details that [make you] recognize my brand.
Where do you see SMK having the most influence?
I definitely see it touching adults and young adults. Teenagers won’t care yet about [my brand’s] concepts. (Maybe in the next 10 years their mindset could change…) As for a country, I’m not sure. I sell well in Hong Kong, but I have more demand in Europe and Canada, because they know me through my values. People contact me because they know my values, and it catches buyers’ interest. For Koreans, maybe my designs don’t meet their expectations. [SMK] is not trendy. I try to stick to the subject I’m working on, rather than be trendy. But, I’m fine with being popular internationally.
How do you feel about your F/W ’16 collection? What is your favorite piece?
The F/W ’16 collection is inspired by a book written by Pierre Rabhi, who was an Algerian man living in South France. He is the father of agro-ecology. I love his books and way of thinking. Before starting this collection, I researched the food industry in all parts of the world. I was shocked… The results are kind of depressing. So, I decided to pay homage to the farmer of the world—They feed the world. What do they wear; what do they do? The collection has a lot of navys, grays, browns, but you still have capes and an elegant fit. My favorite items are the hooded cape—I have a crush on my sky blue cape—and my shirt with a shiny pocket. It is the most expensive piece in my collection.
For you, what is the hardest part about being a designer or, your least favorite?
I am terrible at communication. Have you seen my Instagram? I’m terrible at SNS and all types of communication in general. I don’t contact press or anything; it’s what I’m really missing. Also, marketing takes a lot of time, and it takes me away from the collection. My second weakness is pattern making, since right now I only make it with my factory and sample maker.
Your husband, Ingi Kang is a well-known photographer. Do you think he has influenced your work or creative process?
He doesn’t influence my work so far. He’s very strict in the way he does things. Even when he does SMK shoots, I’ll have the ideas in my head, but it always turns out differently than I expect. I think it’s part of the magic of two different artistic minds working together. I think we don’t influence each other in our work in general—Maybe we do influence each others’ personalities, but it doesn’t transfer through our work yet.
Name three things you cannot live without.
First, I can’t live without a cappuccino—Can’t finish my day without one. Next, my intern? Just joking. My ballet class that I take three times a week. And… My ear plugs. I can’t sleep without them. Seoul is a noisy city.
Interview by IFBK