Born in Seoul and raised in New York, siblings Dae and Cindy Lim are behind the fashion label influenced with Korean culture but mixed with western styles. What’s more is that the fashion line is not just streetwear, but in actual fact smokewear. Sundae School is a stand-up to some of the conservative laws of South Korea, and in particular it’s very strict laws on marijuana. What’s more, the Lookbook of their latest line, 'Chapter 2: When Tigers Used To Smoke', works with another taboo in Korean culture, tattoos, all whilst modelling variations of traditional Korean dress and patterns. Sundae School could be described as punk with chic, anarchy with sophistication. I had a chat with Cindy about their latest line to find out more.
What are the stark differences between culture in South Korea and the USA and how has that influenced the creation of Sundae School?
When people think of Korea there’s a certain culture that people can relate to right away, and that’s because it’s homogeneous as a population. There’s a mainstream culture going on, there are different shades of the culture going on but it’s definitely less variety, and the range is less wide than America. I think fundamentally that’s what’s different about the culture between Korea and the USA. You can’t really define what the American culture is because there are so many different elements going on, and also because it’s a bigger country, there’s a lot more people.
Sundae School is like Dae’s and my baby, because it’s a reflection of what we saw growing up. Our first collection was called 'Chapter 1: Genesis' and our name is Sundae School, pun intended, because Dae and I grew up in a very religious household where we were really encouraged to go to Sunday school. My parents would go out and we weren’t able to be left alone so we had to follow them to church and Sunday school. Our parents were super in to education, my mom isn’t the so called ‘tiger mom’ (a Korean phrase for a very strict mother), my parents are super nice but they have a high emphasis on education so our t-shirts say ‘honor rollers’ and ‘high rollers’. So it was growing up under our parent’s roof that influenced the creation of Sundae School, and to put it under a broad, generic and stereotypical way, that is the Korean culture because my parents are more Korean than American.
Which one of you got in to fashion first? Do each of you have a specific role to play or is it very much a collaborative thing?
Dae was the one who got in to fashion first, he is the creative behind everything and designs it. We hang out all the time, so I give him influence, he asks me whether this is better or this is better, but he does all the creative directing and I do the business development; I do all the operations like the business, the finance and marketing.
Talk us through some of the aspects of your designs that you are most proud of.
I really like our second collection, our first collection was a great inaugural collection and brought a lot of attention because it was controversial. But I am more of a fan of our second collection because the art is a lot more interesting. We went a little higher with this second collection, we have collection items and merch items. Within the second collection, in merch I’m most proud of our shirt called danchung, basically it’s a traditional Korean pattern that you can find in Korean buildings, we took that pattern and replicated that but added a little tweak to it which is on the sleeve of our shirt; it’s a chic twist of the Korean aesthetic. In our fashion line our pin striped suit, it’s called Pinbok, we reinterpreted the traditional Korean Hanbok (tradition Korean dress) by having elements of Hanbok design in it but adding western textiles, and as we are an Asian-American brand we added denim and pin stripes. The fit is amazing too, it makes you look stylish without effort.
What is the meaning behind "When Tigers Used To Smoke?”
You can compare it to the parable of ‘Once upon a time’ and old folklores. So when Koreans would tell stories they would say ‘When tigers used to smoke’ instead of ‘Once upon a time’. So that was the opening phrase, so that’s taking in to account the traditional Korean history, but then we gave it a twist and took the literal definition of tigers smoking.
How do you believe South Korea can become less conservative on issues like smoking and even within the tattoo industry?
When we were doing our look book photoshoot I became friends with all of the models that we were working with, and one guy couldn’t even go on TV even though he is such a character, because Korean media doesn’t like tattoos and he had way too many, as well as on his face. But then again, I guess it took time for the USA to become this liberal too, so I think it will happen. There is a forerunner of this in Korea with the legalise Marijuana movement for medical purposes. But I think we need to change the outlook of people, because the law is becoming more strict especially under the current president. We need to change people’s outlook from marijuana as devil’s lettuce, just from the sheer fact that they have never tried it because people fear what they’ve never tried. It’s like people always tend to believe in what they had believed from the beginning of their birth, which is that drugs are super bad and marijuana is a drug and it’s forbidden. I just think if the notion of that slowly changes then we will see hope.