In just five years, a young and vibrant fashion brand has become a staple for young South Korean women.
Im Ji-hyun, Imvely’s spokesperson and creative director, said it all started with a genuine interest in what to wear and how to put on makeup.
“Like most other women, I have always been fascinated with clothes and cosmetics. But since I could not afford a variety of them, I often liked to play around with what I had and mix and match,” Im told The Korea Herald at her office in the Gasan-dong area of Seoul.
Im Ji-hyun, creative director at Imvely, poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in her office in Gasan-dong, Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Imvely is considered one of the most successful first-generation online fashion shopping malls. The shopping mall has opened 16 offline branches since its 2015 launch, including a shop at the Lotte Department Store Young Plaza in Jung-gu, Seoul.
According to Bugun FNC, Imvely’s mother company, sales of Imvely are rising steadily, having recorded 75 billion won ($66 million) in revenue last year. The company expects this year’s sales to surpass 150 billion won.
An important engine behind the brand is social media, and Im is the star. She promotes the products mainly on her Instagram page, which has around 830,000 followers.
But unlike the fashionable, luxurious life her followers see, a typical day for Im is filled with less glamorous tasks such as checking consumer feedback and attending endless business meetings.
“I know that my Instagram played a role in Imvely’s popularity. But this also means that I’m exposed to consumer feedback 24/7,” said Im.
“But I believe communication with our customers through various different channels, including my Instagram, became a source of Imvely’s popularity and success because we (directly) hear from them and learn what they want,” Im added.
As creative director, she is in charge of making decisions for all Imvely products, from choosing fabrics to confirming designs and product packaging -- even handling logistics issues.
“Due to my assertive nature, I’m involved in almost all work processes here. I can, and want to, confidently say that I know all about our brand and can explain anything to customers,” Im said.
Imvely is a women’s clothing brand under Bugun FNC, a company established and operated by Im’s husband, Park Jun-sung. Bugun FNC currently operates three other brands, including one of the most successful men’s online retailers, Mutnam.
The couple’s shopping mall business began before they got married, and Im modeled women’s outfits at the launch of Imvely.
Since then, as CEO of Bugun FNC, Park is responsible for the overall business of Imvely while Im deals with practical matters such as design and promotional activities.
This year, Imvely has even ventured into offline sales overseas.
Imvely opened its first US store in January in Buena Park Mall near Los Angeles. In September, it opened an offline store in the Lumine 2 mall in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. It also conducts online sales through Tmall, a business-to-customer online mall that spun off from China’s Alibaba Group.
“We do plan on expanding our brand to new markets in different regions like Southeast Asia, but not now. We want to focus and establish a solid foundation in the markets that we have entered so far. I think we want to make a deliberate choice (in terms of opening new stores overseas) so that the brand can enjoy a long run,” Im said.
Many consider Imvely to be the next Style Nanda, the major online shopping mall purchased by L’Oreal in June.
But Im said Imvely would not be moving in that direction.
“(Stylenanda and Imvely) are different kinds of businesses with different business goals. Considering that we make a brand that is customer-centered, Imvely and Vely Vely are brands that need customers’ help to grow and become better,” Im said.
Vely Vely is a cosmetics brand that Im launched in 2015.
Im pointed to Vely Vely’s Artemisia Balance Essence as a product that represents the company’s business philosophy.
Vely Vely’s Artemisia Balance Essence (Imvely)
Despite its not-so-cheap price -- 43,000 won for a 150-milliliter bottle -- over 130,000 bottles were sold within a month after its launch, although the company never did any advertising.
Soon after launching, Vely Vely’s essence was chosen as the most purchased item at duty-free stores in Korea.
“It was solely word of mouth that led to those record-breaking sales in such a short period. From the early stage of developing a product, we referred to ideas from our customers who wanted us to create skin-care products. That’s why we still modify our products based on their feedback,” said Im, adding that this is also how Vely Vely decided to launch a 300-milliliter version of the product.
When asked about Imvely’s rivals, Im said she’d had no rivals from the beginning, nor had she had any role models.
“Starting my business, I decided not to have a role model or rival. Because I wanted to make a brand that has never existed before. I do look at other brands’ products for reference, but I mostly try to hear what our customers want and create a product based on that because they are the ones who love and purchase our products,” Im said.
“I think I was born with a highly competitive spirit. That’s why I love to work and want to grow my brand. I want to always excel at everything. I push myself to do better,” she said, adding that she feels a grave sense of responsibility, as her business is named after her and is based on her image.
“But most importantly, I want to become a proud mom. Spending time with my 6-month-old son after work is the happiest part of my day, to be honest,” Im said.
(Video shot and edited by Choi Ji-won/The Korea Herald)
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