Jene Park is a veteran of the fashion industry with over two decades of work put into a variety of fashion brands. Her name may not be on the label like Chanel, Versace, or Armani, but Park’s dedication has gone into everything behind the scenes at a variety of famous design houses.
In April 2018, Park was appointed Creative Director at Recycled Karma Brands after years of success at BCBG Max Azria Group, Thomas Wylde, and other global clothing brands. Since taking the reins at Recycled Karma Brands, Park was promoted to the company’s CEO position and is on a mission to take its product lines further than ever before. In addition, Park is working diligently with her team to expand the company’s offerings and to make them completely sustainable.
It has been a long road for Park but she continues to work every day just as the ones they came before it.
Jene, can explain how Recycled Karma Brands was founded and how you got involved with the company?
Headquartered in Los Angeles, Recycled Karma Brands is a privately held, full-service, premium apparel company known for vintage inspired looks, quality garments and elevated fashion designs.
The company has partnered with the world’s biggest brands through licensing, branding, manufacturing and private label partnerships selling at the nation’s top boutiques, department stores and retailers.
In early 2018, with an ownership change at the company, I was hired as a creative director to launch a new brand identity along with a new line of products.
Recycled Karma designs and develops great looking shirts but obviously, the company is so much more than that. What exactly is the company’s goal in the fashion world?
Our long term goal is to conquer the world with the best t-shirts in the fashion industry, with a focus on vintage inspired, impeccable quality, the coolest design and most stylish looks, at unbeatable prices. Currently, we offer our products only in the US, but starting next year, we are going to open up to the international market and are targeting 35 to 40 countries by 2025.
We are also going to expand the product line beyond t-shirts to ready to wear, including accessories. We will also offer our great products to men and kids, and eventually open our own flagship stores in major cities in the US and around the globe.
Who are some of the big named brands and fashion retailers the company works with?
We service industry giants such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Amazon to specialty chain stores as well as top boutiques.
Nostalgia is one of the most powerful feelings that individuals can get. It is that nostalgia that drives the desire to purchase and wear “vintage looks” from brands such as Recycled Karma Brands. But it is more than just the look that draws people to vintage clothing. According to Park, it is the craftsmanship and feel of the product that help to attract customers to the company’s clothing.
“Vintage looks” are the company’s chief designs. Why are “vintage looks” so popular to wear?
To me, vintage is the nostalgic feeling of going back to a time when clothes were made by hand. That is why most of our product have so much labor intensive hand-work like hand-grinding to multiple vintage washes that truly gives it a worn and soft touch. It is like one of your favorite clothing items that you never want to throw away.
I have always been fascinated by vintage. The fashion industry has been swallowed up by mass fast fashion. We consume fashion like coffee. I am deeply against this damaging fast fashion, and want to offer something timeless and a quality product. That is why classic vintage looks are important to me.
Not long ago, you were appointed as CEO of the company. How was the position different to your previous experiences and how has the last year-plus been as CEO of Recycled Karma Brands?
In April 2018, I was actually appointed as the Creative Director of the company, then recently I became CEO and Creative Director of RKB.
I have a deep understanding of all my teams in every department, what they are going through, and what challenges are they facing. I am a hands-on executive and I enjoy very much leading the team doing projects together as a team and meeting our company’s objectives and goals.
I think running a small or a medium sized fashion company is all the same. Running a fashion company requires lots of stamina and physical strength to manage the extensive travel schedules and constant fittings. I started my fashion career from the bottom doing everything from design, product development, production, sales, marketing, accounting and logistics. With that knowledge, I have a deep appreciation for every step in the process and understand how to make a truly unique product.
What goes into the creation and designs you come up with for the company?
The best formula in designing, for me, is creating a well-made, high-quality product. For a designer, it is all about the product. My blood, sweat and tears that have gone into each product I design and produce. I think about the fabric, the washes, the details, the fit — everything. So when you wear Recycled Karma, you may not be entirely sure why it feels so special and luxurious, but that is because I spend a lot of time thinking about every single detail to make a unique product. By the time the product gets into the end customer’s hands, it has already gone through many different stages of testing, fitting and perfecting.
So for me, the true formula behind my design is a season-less, timeless and well-made product.
How long does it take to go from an idea for a design to it actually being sold to customers in stores?
From concept to in customers’ hands in stores, I would say 6 to 8 months.
Park began her career in fashion in the mid- to late-1990s. Unlike some of her contemporaries, it wasn’t a career path she went down early on. Despite discovering the industry later in life, Park has thrived and used her knowledge and training to become a highly sought-after person in the fashion world.
You have been working in fashion since the mid- to late-1990s. How did you get involved with fashion in the first place and where did you work prior to joining Recycled Karma Brands?
I started my fashion career much later than other people might have, but once I discovered my passion for fashion I was unstoppable. I graduated from FIDM in Los Angeles and had an opportunity to study the famous Parisian embroidery atelier Maison Lesage.
After completing my studies, I began working with Max Azria, founder of BCBG, where I played a key role in the development of BCBG’s $700 million global brand for 10 years. After that, I joined LA-based luxury brand Thomas Wylde, where I was for more than a decade as the COO then eventually Creative Director. When I choose to work for a company, I plan to be there at least 10 years, so I think I can safely say that RKB will be my home for the next 10 years.
How do Thomas Wylde and Recycled Karma and your roles compare?
In terms of what I do on a daily basis for the company, it is pretty much the same, but the markets, the brands, and service are completely different. Thomas Wylde is a luxury brand where the average product costs $1,000 retail and the audience is pretty limited, where RKB is servicing a mass market at an average retail price of $50.00. To me, the fundamentals of the integrity of the product, the brand philosophy and the visions are the same.
The brand has been in business for 10 years. What is next for Recycled Karma Brands and where do you want to take the company in the future?
The RKB house future plan is to develop multiple product lines including a full range of sustainable ready-to-wear and accessories. Since joining Recycled Karma, my priority has been to create a fashion collection with function and purpose, and to help the environment
at the same time, giving consumers fashionable but sustainable choices.
The RKB green label t-shirt is literally made from five recycled water bottles and post-industrial cotton, all of which are sourced domestically here in
The company’s vision is to be the first American lifestyle brand producing a full range of sustainable and green product lines.
Jene, what is a day in your life like?
The first thing I do when I wake up is to read all my email, texts and messages that came in during the night from all over the world. I reply to the ones that require immediate attention for about an hour, then I workout for about 30 minutes at home usually watching fashion related videos or shows.
I always eat a Korean style breakfast before I go to work, and I get to work around 10:00 a.m. Then it’s hands-on work with my team from design, marketing, sales, production, logistics, accounting and even legal. I usually work through the lunch hour, attending endless meetings and answering my team’s needs.
I usually finish my office work around 6:00 p.m. to 7 p.m. When I don’t have business obligations, I have dinner with my family and spend some quality time with them. The last thing I do before I go to bed is read the rest of my email, flip through fashion related magazines and engage with social media.
I can’t imagine not connecting to the people I do business with even for one day. This is my way of life and normal for me to be connected and engaged with the people I do business with all the time.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
That I have beautiful twin daughters Giselle and Amelia. They just turned 17-years old.
Nothing prepared me for motherhood. No other job is ever as important as being a mother. Becoming a mother truly taught me the lesson that what I make is not just for one season but for a lifetime to enjoy and cherish. Your children are truly the product that you make them.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with us?
“The crying baby gets the milk.”
“When you point a finger at someone, the remaining three fingers are pointing back at you.”
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
Recycle everything including Karma.
Jene, is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it with all my heart.
Park aims to take Recycled Karma Brands to all new heights. Her work ethic speaks for itself and it has enabled Park to be an important part of the company’s growth. With more individuals seeking nostalgia and vintage clothing, Recycled Karma Brands is on the cusp of something big. Expansion to foreign markets and a wider range of products are upcoming and Park could achieve her greatest fashion feat leading Recycled Karma Brand into the next decade.
For more information on Jene Park and Recycled Karma Brands visit https://recycledkarmabrands.com
Slider: Image credit Alfredo Salazar
Journalist and author. Contributor