A Conversation with TIPTOE&'s Luke Hong Gi Baek, Hyun Kyoo Choi and JinHyung Moon

Interviewers: Mike Sosa and Hayan Lee

Interviewees: Luke Hong Gi Baek, Hyun Kyoo Choi, JinHyung Moon

Hayan : Our first question is what is Tiptoe& what is your desire to create the company?

Luke: Tiptoe& is a social fashion enterprise which transforms the traditional fundraising T-shirts into a streetwear for a cause. We have a team of 50 members currently consisting of designers, alumni, and students. Last month we launched a crowdfunding project to support the victims of school violence in South Korea in which we raised up to $2,000. 30 percent of the profits will be donated to our partner NGO combating school violence which specializes in providing counseling and school supplies to the victims. To raise awareness, we are trying to further our partnership with 1 Million Dance, YouTube content generators, and Hip-Hop label in Korea. Tiptoe& started with 2 questions: why are fundraising T-shirts poorly designed and why is streetwear always associated with social resistance. These questions made me wonder how can we create synergies and add values by combining these two conflicting perceptions. By combining street wear’s provocative design with fundraising’s good cause, we aim to redefine the culture of donation, and we believe fundraising can be fashionable. We want to prove that a good cause doesn't necessarily have to precede desirable consumption. We want to empower millennials to realize that donation is not just for successful rich people, but it could be also for anyone who consumes fashion


Mike: By school violence, Do you mean bullying?

Luke: All kinds of violence are happening in South Korea, and school violence has been the most significant issue in South Korea.


Hayan: How did you come up with the name “Tiptoe&”?

Hyun Kyoo: We were thinking and questioning why is fundraising supposed to be done by rich people and why fundraising T-shirts cannot be fashionable. So we wanted to symbolize this lesson that even the smallest thing can change our perspective. We came up with an idea of a man standing on his tiptoe. It doesn't take much effort to just stand on one’s tiptoe, but it can allow him to see new perspectives. So we decided on Tiptoe& we’ve added And next to Tiptoe. It was to help us brand our name when we do some collaborations with NGO.


Mike: Why did you choose School violence for your first project?

Hyun Kyoo: We want to handle something that we have experienced and we can really sympathize on. We have like 15 members in Tiptoe& right now, and, except 1 or 2, we're mostly in college right now, so it's not been so long since we graduated high school. So we decided to touch on school violence since we can really work on it to give solution to the school violence in Korea. As Luke says, school violence has been a very severe issue in the past few decades in Korea.


Hayan: Is there a particular reason that you chose Korea as a first location to launch your company? Can you expand on more, what kind of school violence are happening in Korea?

Hyun Kyoo: This again comes from the question we had for our brand. We asked ourselves why fundraising is not as active in Korea as in U.S., because T-shirt fundraising events is very active in the United States but not in Korea. In Korea, donations and charity are considered something that rich people or adults can do but not students. We want to show the millennials that by consuming their fashion products and buying what they want, they can donate to the social cause that they sympathize with. So we wanted to implement a culture in Korea, and school violence has always been severe in Korea. In the past few weeks, the most viral news in Korea media was this middle-school girl that was bullied so severely that her wounded picture shocked many people.

And to add on, the age of the bullies is decreasing year by year. So the age group with the most offenders are in the elementary school right now. Now 5th and 6th grades kids do a lot of things related to school violence. I think we need to start and educate them from starting school violence since they're so young, which can eventually prevent and block adult violence and future crimes.


Hayan: As a startup company, it must have been challenging to increase awareness of your brand name. How did you raise your presence in the consumer and retail market?

JinHyung: As you mentioned, the initial target customers are Korean millennials. In Korea, the fashion trends of young people are massively influenced by K-pop, K-drama, or any kind of art exposed in Korea. Knowing this, we decided to approach many influential celebrities so they can wear our product and introduce our brand. Some of them have already posted pictures wearing our product to enhance our social awareness of social violence. That's the first marketing strategy that we did, and we have some Facebook posts related to fashion or social responsibility. Additionally, have a business related Facebook page. We created a social media buzz, which is such a vital strategy and was really successful. These are the two main strategies we conducted for raising the presence of our brand.


Mike: What struggles did you guys face when you were first crowd funding?

JinHyung: We actually encountered two struggles. The first one was that a lot of customers using cloud-funding platforms are interested in technological products rather than fashion-related products. So we had to induce the inflow of customers outside of the cloud funding platform. So as I mentioned, using the main two strategies we conducted, we were able to induce those customers so that we can drive sales not only just from customers currently using the platform but also from those outside of it. So that was the first struggle that we faced. The second struggle was vendor management because we actually installed the supply chains in Korea, but we are all in the States. And because of the limited budget and the time, many factories didn’t want to produce only a few products because they can’t really make a lot of profit out of those limited numbers. But we assiduously contracted many factories in Korea. So we were able to deliver our volume with them. They know that we are nonprofit, and we are trying to do something good for the betterment of society. So we were able to establish a supply chain in Korea.


Hayan: I know that Tiptoe& has a really huge focus on social awareness, so are you guys planning on addressing other social issues for future products or any other partnerships for future products?

Luke: Our business model is that every project deals with a different social issue, and we’ve been tackling just school violence because we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean NGO combatting school violence. We are planning on a collaboration event in December that a few sculpture artists from EY University, one of the most prestigious Korean colleges, that have contacted us for collaboration. They are planning to host an exhibition with the theme of preventing school violence, and, by collaborating with them, we will dress their sculptures with our products and sell our products at offline stores. By maintaining a good relationship with 1 million YouTube content generators, the huge pop label that we have worked with, we want to expand our partnerships with them for our marketing purpose.


Hayan: Are you planning on expanding your market outside of Korea, possibly in the U.S.?

Luke: Yes, so in fact we want to start a club at Cornell to establish a local presence. By providing our resources, we want our club members to design clothing with a local issue and raise awareness. After we get a taste of the U.S. market, we want to expand it as a business. Also, as a business we have been in contact with three Cornell students from Hong Kong who are interested in our business model. So, if they execute their plan, then we are ready to provide our resources and start a similar business in Hong Kong.


Mike: I know you mentioned that elementary school kids are a proponent of school violence. Are there are reasons that you think people believe this is the case? Why does school violence start so young?

Hyun Kyoo: I think the main reason is that kids today mature really fast compared to the previous decades because of the media and social networking system. It’s not just the kids that are the problem; I think it’s the unconscious culture in itself. Like in Korea, the rank really matters. Rank consists of age or social position and your power socially. I think that very conservative culture in Korea evokes even the kids in primary school to get more violent and eventually bully their peers. It’s a very sad thing to see.