WORKING OVERTIME: Joann Kim’s decision to launch Updownacross sportswear is rooted in bolstering her family’s 30-year-old factory in Midtown Manhattan.
Having spent the past three years running the apparel manufacturer Johnny’s Fashion Studio, Kim knows all too well the uphill struggle that factory owners face. With increasingly expensive rents and competitive labor costs overseas looming, Kim said domestic production can be “very frustrating,” despite being “always busy and always working overtime.” “I thought, ‘I’m never going to be able to make money to invest back in the factory,'” she said.
With Wednesday’s debut of the direct-to-consumer label Updownacross, Kim aims to generate some income to expand technology, research and design, staff and the actual footprint of the West 35th Street space. A graduate of Hunter College where she studied art history, Kim worked in the art world and in public relations and marketing before joining the family business. By having her own factory, she knew that she could count on a certain level of quality and could offer attainable prices with her own label.
When Harley Viera-Newton DJs at Wednesday’s launch party at the American Two Shot boutique, she will be doing more than a friendly favor. Viera-Newton is also a client of Kim’s, and produces her own signature HVN dress collection at Johnny’s Fashion Studio. Timo Weiland is another client and supporter of Kim’s. “She is the most amazing, big-hearted professional person,” Kim said. “We go through some tough times here at the factory. We have customers who can be pretty demanding but she is one of the sweetest and most humble.”
A $153 jumpsuit, a $156 off-the-shoulder slipdress, a $160 black crepe shirtdress and a $170 zip-front bomber jacket are styles in Updownacross’ first collection. Kim plans to introduce five to eight styles each month. Her business plan for the next six months is to sell at least 100 units of each item in order to break even, and 250 units of each style by the end of the year. “With the see-now-buy-now attitude of consumers and price resistance due to heavy retail markups and production costs, Updownacross aims to stabilize the fashion calendar for both brands and consumers alike.
Kim said she and her friends, many of whom work as designers, producers, directors, mothers and entrepreneurs, admire Céline and Marni but don’t want to pay such steep prices. If Updownacross leads to further investment in her own factory, Kim hopes to share that success by enabling other like-minded companies to do the same. “My ultimate goal is to alter the fashion industry to be more accessible to U.S. manufacturers and U.S. designers, particularly those emerging in the ready-to-wear and contemporary markets,” she said.