Kim, the South-Korean designer and founder of KITRI,
beguiles us with her brightly patterned, feminine garments pitched
at affordable prices. Born in Seoul,
and raised in the small town of Uiwang, Haeni Kim is a
businesswoman on a fashion mission. Unable to find chic, quality
clothing at an accessible price point, Haeni’s exacerbation exposed
a gap in the market.
Straddling the space between high street and high-end, KITRI
pieces are on-trend yet timeless, hitting both a sartorial and
monetary sweet spot in one punchily-printed garment. Catering to
the luxury-loving woman who hasn’t got time to rifle through the
sale racks in designer shops or battle with tourists at Bicester
Village, KITRI’s tuxedo jumpsuits and silk wrap dresses are closet
Here, Haeni lets us in on the perils and rewards of running her
own business, the best place for Korean BBQ in London and why Bianca Jagger is a
permanent feature on the KITRI mood board.
Brown Thomas, Harvey Nichols
Where in Korea are you from?
I was born in Seoul but grew up in Uiwang.
What’s your first memory of fashion?
My aunt worked at a fashion atelier and her and my mum always
made me try on endless outfits when we visited her at work. I hated
it. We didn’t have much money growing up but my mum always made
sure that I was well-presented. My favourite outfit was this long,
camel-coloured corduroy skirt paired with stompy black lace-up
What aspects of your childhood in Korea have impacted your
My childhood was dominated by training to be a ballerina. Ballet
has shaped who I am and there are lots of elements from dance that
I’ve held onto through my style. I love fluid and feminine
silhouettes that accentuate the body, but also functionality that
allows for easy movement.
What was your first foray in business?
When I was working my first job in fashion, I craved a creative
outlet and came up with the idea of selling affordable antiques
online with two of my best friends. We’d go antique hunting at
markets and auctions, sifting treasure from junk before selling a
“highly curated” selection of pieces. Our side hustle became large
enough that we had to make the decision whether to quit our jobs to
pursue it full-time or put the antiques business aside. In the end,
we decided to pursue our individual dreams. The experience taught
me about the importance of branding and photography as well as how
to run a website that’s both beautiful and user-friendly on a
KITRI has been credited with filling the gap between high
street and high-end. Was this a conscious decision?
The idea for KITRI came from a personal frustration – I couldn’t
find anything that looked and felt great without breaking the bank.
Combining my experiences in high-end, high street and
direct-to-consumer e-commerce, I set out to create a brand that
speaks to a new generation of women who are looking for interesting
and affordable alternatives to high street and designer labels.
What does the name KITRI mean to you?
The name comes from a passionate, independent and free-spirited
character from the classical ballet Don Quixote. As an aspiring
ballet dancer, I always wanted to dance Kitri’s solo. When I moved
on to fashion I loved the idea of trying to capture her spirit for
the women who will wear the brand. Plus, I heard somewhere that
businesses with a strong ‘K’ sound are more memorable, so that’s a
Who is the KITRI woman?
She’s smart, fun and creative. She’s a busy professional,
working in the creative industries and living in a city. In the
summer, she enjoys travelling to beautiful and inspiring cities for
culture and sunshine – provided she can find time away from
What informs your designs? Where do you find your
We do look to current trends on catwalks but we’re more
interested in engaging with what’s happening around us. Our
approach is item-driven so while we’ll have a seasonal mood, each
style is distinct. If it’s something we love, it doesn’t
necessarily have to fit into our mood board.
You’ve lived in many different cities, which is your
London, without a doubt. Maybe it’s because I came of age here
but I just love the different mix of people and cultures in this
The best place in London for Korean food?
Soju & Co. in Soho for Korean barbecue and soju or
Hamgipak on Fulham Road.
Where should we visit on our next trip to Seoul?
Garosu-gil (for shopping and Gangnam style), Myeongdong,
Dongdaemun, Itaewon and any big department stores around the city.
Common Ground is pretty cool too. For some culture, visit Leeum
Samsung Museum of Art and Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Definitely visit
the night markets while you’re in Seoul and sample spicy pancakes,
Korean blood sausages and Korean-fried chicken while you’re
Where in the world do you feel most inspired?
At night, in bed, or in my studio. I do my best work when I’m
bouncing around ideas and collaborating.
KITRI runs on a limited stock run policy. Is sustainability
important to you and the brand ethos?
The policy was actually first born from the idea of not wanting
to bump into someone wearing the same outfit as you, but it also
means we can manage our inventory better. High-end and high-street
retail produce thousands and thousands of garments without knowing
what customers will respond to. We work in small quantities to see
what our customers like and only when we know do we produce more of
What’s it like working with your husband?
It’s the best. Strangely enough, I’ve always wanted to work with
my husband; starting a business is hard and is going to take over
your life in one way or another. The long hours and stressful
situations are infinitely more manageable when we have each other
to lean on – we can make each other laugh through anything.
What have you learnt about yourself as KITRI has grown?
To not be afraid and to trust my instincts. It’s easy to get
swept up in other people’s opinions and let them confuse you. Focus
on what made your vision special from the beginning and have the
courage to push forward as intended. It took me a while to realise
the value of failure; the important thing is to keep innovating and
learning from your mistakes.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
My father. When I first stopped ballet and decided to work in
fashion, he was really against it, but since then he’s been my
biggest supporter and has given me invaluable advice on how to
start and run a business. We don’t always see eye-to-eye but we’re
family and I know he will always have my back.
How do you see KITRI evolving as a brand?
I would love KITRI to become the go-to brand for all creative
passionate, hard-working women. We’ve opened seven pop-up stores in
London, Manchester and Dublin so far, with plans to open up a
flagship store in the near future. Until then, we’re fully
committed to making our customers happy from our online store and
continuing to expand our reach.