San Kim Uses Supersized Silhouettes to Create Social-Distancing Fashion

Words by Shammi Popat

Socially distanced, Shammi exchanged emails with San Kim during the end of Spring 2021.
All the images accompanying this interview have been provided by San.

With facemasks becoming a part of everyday life, a wave of new designs is feeding into the style for social-distancing fashion.

San Kim uses his supersized silhouettes as a distancing tool, and these garments have found a new relevance in the age of the pandemic.

The Westminster graduate achieved this by crafting pandemic-proof inflatable garments. The inflatable designs included Tesco supermarket bags blown-up into hazmat suits, Lidl bags transformed into plague inflated bubble suits, and Sainsbury’s bags morphed into swollen-up jackets that swallow the wearer. San Kim used these plastic bags that prevent respiratory viruses, yet ironically cause suffocation instantaneously. 

San was inspired by the unconventional materials (e.g., plastic bags) people would use to combat the virus, as a result of the shortage of face masks. The pandemic forced the designer to use these same novel materials to reflect the unpredictable fear of the virus.

San Kim’s astronaut-looking garments signal to the 60’s space age that reflected the fear of the unknown, and the acceptance of the future. Similarly, to that of the pandemic there’s a hope to regain positive energy after this difficult time.

San Kim’s collection for Selfridges, up-cycling clothes belonging to fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell

Creating these exaggerated living figures by pumping air into different materials and letting them breathe has become San Kim’s signature design. In his most recent collection, San Kim swapped plastic bags for Prada and Vetements, working closely with fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell exclusively for Selfridges’ ‘Project Earth’ collection.  The recharged collection saw Yasmin Sewell partner with the Westminster MA graduate to transform pieces from her wardrobe into new, up-cycled creations. The collection was inspired by the theme of “energetic healing”, giving a new lease of love to unworn pieces. San Kim transformed Yasmin’s Prada dress into an inflatable cotton-blend top and bag. Old Vetements jeans into recharged wide-leg low-rise jeans. Barely worn Pringle of Scotland sleeveless tops up-cycled into high-rise wool-blend trousers. This recent collection by San Kim helped share the feeling of the pandemic providing a welcome reflection for the fashion industry, acknowledging the realisation that we are living with more things than we need.

Here, I spoke to San Kim about his inventive approach to inflatable garments, his most recent up-cycled collection for Selfridges, and how the public reacted to his inflatable supermarket looks.

Shammi Popat
San Kim

For our readers that do not know who San Kim is, could you tell us a bit about your background – where you were brought up and how you came to be a designer?

I was born in Seoul, Republic of Korea. I don’t know how, but it was like “I just became a designer one day.”  

Your graduate collection was hugely inspired by the COVID-19 virus, could you speak to us more about your inspiration for this concept?

​During the Coronavirus pandemic, shortage of face masks prompted people to come up with novel ways to combat the virus. This collection particularly highlights the masks made out of supermarket plastic bags.

Practicing social distancing with an inflatable garment made of Sainsbury’s iconic orange bag

In the collection you use a whole variety of different supermarket bags and other D.I.Y materials what are your reasons behind this?

That was the only thing I could collect. During the pandemic I couldn’t get any material from shops.

Can you speak us through your manufacturing process of actually constructing these inflatable plastic garments?

At that time, I also couldn’t access the studio at my uni. So, I simply taped all those plastic bags with tape!

I remember seeing a picture of you on the London Underground and in supermarkets in your inflatable garments. How did the general public react to you during the pandemic?

Inflatable cotton-blend bag for PROJECT EARTH RESELLFRIDGES
RECHARGE X7 BY YASMIN SEWELL made from a Prada bag

Luckily, most people liked what I was doing. Some people took pictures of it, some people wanted to have a conversation with me. I hope this brought a little bit of happiness for them during such a hard time.

The trend for inflatable garments is certainly rising, how do you think your inflatable garments impact people when they see you?

It is like an interaction. Certainly, there are designers who have developed inflatable garments decades ago, such as Michiko Koshino – I have learned and developed from that. When people see my work, there are probably many interactions between me and them, the same way I first experienced them. 

You recently created an up-cycled collection exclusively for Selfridges, recharging previous pieces from big houses such as Prada/Isa Arfen/Pringle – can you speak to us about Project earth reselfridges? 

​It was such a great opportunity for me to work with Yasmin Sewell. She let me join this project and let me use her clothes, which she wouldn’t wear anymore. And those pieces were made from such big fashion brands, as you have mentioned. It is a really beautiful concept: giving those precious pieces new lives, and new energies. 

Could you breakdown your design process for upcycling these pieces for Selfridges?

Reuse and repeat with this full body inflatable garment made from Tesco bags

First of all, I tried to find which pieces could be applied to my cutting process. And then, I drew some lines on the piece, cut it and then made it in my own signature style.

What does up-cycling mean to you, and do you think this design process could provide a resolution to the devastating waste issue in the luxury market?

​Well, I really hope so. For me up-cycling means that we understand we already have more than we need. And giving new value to those extra clothes.  

The bag shown in the pictures above turns into an inflatable garment, showcasing the designer’s signature silhouette

Could you talk us through the sourcing of your materials and how you implement sustainability in your design process?

​When I was making my collection, it was such a hard time in every single aspect. I couldn’t access the studio at my uni or couldn’t get any fabric from shops. But when I changed my mind and tried to see what I already got (supermarket plastic bags in my kitchen), I realised that I already had more than what I needed.  So, I actually learned sustainability from the process, rather than implementing sustainability.

So, what’s next for San Kim in the distant future?

I am currently working as a Creative Director for a Korean brand called TONYWACK. And I also want to try more bigger scale version of my personal artwork.  

Shammi Popat (@shammipopat) is a London-based fashion writer and stylist. He is interested in rethinking modern day style with an eye for detail and child-like curiosity for the future of fashion. Read all of Shammi’s pieces here.