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Supermodel Turns Fashion Tech Entrepreneur After An MBA At MIT Sloan

Jayeon Kim became a national celebrity after winning South Korea’s Next Top Model. Over the past 10 years, she’s seen technological change revolutionize the fashion industry

Jayeon Kim was born and raised in Seoul’s Gangnam District—a downtown area of the South Korean capital immortalized by that wacky K-pop chart sensation.

She was a typical college student. She majored in economics at university. But, as her classmates went into corporate careers at the big local banks, Jayeon knew she wanted to do something different.

In 2003, she applied to the annual Korean Super Model Competition—“like Korea’s Next Top Model,” she says—with no modelling experience, and up against 2,500 finely-tuned competitors.

She won it.

“I became a celebrity in Korea” Jayeon smiles. “I got a reputation as a fashion model. I got the chance to travel to major fashion cities like New York, London, Milan and Paris, and keep up with the latest fashion and beauty trends. I made a lot of money!”

Jayeon toured the world as co-creator and show host of ‘Hot Beauty Trends Now,’ a show on South Korea’s state TV and radio network, meeting industry execs and gaining her first insights into the business side of fashion.

After three years modelling in Korea, she moved to the New York. Then, bang!—the Lehman Brothers collapsed and the global financial crisis extended its ugly claws into the fashion industry.

“Around 2008 to 2009, fashion jobs almost disappeared,” Jayeon explains. “I thought I needed to take the next step in my career. I got into a beauty company in New York as a fashion trends researcher. After five years there, I decided to start my own marketing consulting company.

“As a model, I was always the first user of clothes and outfits. That gave me a unique perspective on products and how they were viewed in the market.”

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Jayeon set up JY Branding to help emerging Korean beauty brands enter the US market. She saw how technology was disrupting the fashion industry. Determined to gain the business knowledge required to take her business forward, an MBA at MIT Sloan then seemed like the perfect fit.

“The emphasis on technology and engineering was precisely the reason why I wanted to study at MIT,” she says.

“I’d observed the industry for 10 years—from fashion model to marketer—and seen how much had changed as a result of new technologies.

“When I was a model 10 years ago, the fashion world worked on a six-month advance schedule; September shows would feature the in-season clothes for spring and summer, while January and February shows would promote the look for fall and winter. Only the Vogue editor and exclusive buyers could get into New York Fashion Week,” she continues.

“That has all changed due to social media. It started with fashion bloggers who became powerful through their reach on the Internet. Bloggers gained thousands of followers for their posts and Instagram accounts. Bloggers began to be invited to fashion shows; they sent out images of the latest styles. Their followers didn’t want to wait six months to buy. They wanted the clothes now. So, designers began to hold pre-season sales to satisfy that immediate demand.”

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Jayeon graduated with an MBA from MIT Sloan in June 2017. Now, she’s preparing to re-launch JY Branding. And, with the technology and business insights she’s gained through her time at MIT, support fashion and beauty companies’ digital marketing strategies.

On the modelling front, she’s scaled back to focus on her business. Jayeon’s modelling career brought her a world of opportunity, but she doesn’t miss the diet—salad and water—and the stress of an industry where, still today, super skinny means success.

With the rise of new technologies—like big data, blockchain, and artificial intelligence—what does Jayeon think is the future for the fashion industry?

“The biggest and potentially most disruptive change has been the rise of e-commerce and the evolution of social media platforms as digital shop fronts,” she says.

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“Big data and innovative technology-based marketing strategies further simplify the purchasing process by providing personalized offers based on individual browsing and buying histories.

“Online retailers may not be able to entirely replace traditional department stores in the near future. However, it is likely that department stores will be displaced if they fail to respond with an effective digital strategy.”

 

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