Jin Kim of Common Thread Studio

May 21, 2009

jinkim1The other day I was walking down Mission Street and stumbled upon a new shop: Common Thread Studio. It had opened only  the week before, and it’s like no other boutique in South Pasadena — the front retail space sells journals, sewing kits, jewelry and whimsical fabric-based gifts, and the airy, open studio space in back is filled with sewing machines, work tables, silkscreening and printmaking equipment, and even a play area (to keep little kids happy while Mom sews), all overseen by an adorable little white dog named Luca.
     The owner, Jin Kim, is a fashion designer, seamstress, potter, teacher and all-around artist — in short, the perfect subject for a Creative Types interview. So we talked.

Can you tell us a little about your background?
My dream began in my best friend’s backyard on a fall afternoon when I was in 5th grade. She was playing tetherball and I was sketching when I yelled, “Gina, I want to be a fashion designer one day.”
      Since that day, I focused on making that dream a reality. My parents agreed with my career choice, but because we didn’t have the money for me to attend a fancy art school, I got my education in a trade school with a great fashion program. No fluff, just the skills I needed to master to make it in the industry. Thank you, L.A. Trade Tech!
      After thirteen years of being in the industry as a designer, having worked for small to big corporations, I decided it was time for me to do something for myself.

What compelled you to open Common Thread Studio?
Early in my career I wanted to make some samples for myself but I didn’t have access to the machines I needed. I remember asking a friend, “Why isn’t there a Kinko’s for sewing machines?” Eventually I thought, “Why don’t I start a business doing just that?” The idea took ten years to develop, but here I am.
      In our culture there aren’t many places for people to find community. That was another one of my reasons for opening Common Thread — to create a place for creativity, community, networking and having fun.

Any particular reason you opened in South Pas?
I’ve lived here for the past four years and I love it. It’s a town with great balance. It’s small and quaint but still relevant, with culture, community and art. And it’s one of the most beautiful towns in L.A.  Plus I get to walk to work every day! The people here are amazing — they believe in supporting the locals and helping out the mom and pop stores.

Why is it important for people to know how to sew?
It’s going back to the basics, and you’ll always be able to use what you learn. There’s something very satisfying about making something from scratch. It’s fun and therapeutic, and it’s for all ages.

What is your favorite medium?
Actually my first love is ceramics… same idea as sewing, but using clay. I used to dream about being a hippie in Hawaii, making ceramic goodies and selling them by the beach. My ceramics teacher in high school wanted me to seriously consider a career in pottery, but obviously I didn’t heed his advice. But you never know….

Recently there has been such a crafting and do-it-yourself renaissance, as you well know. Why do you think this is happening? People being thrifty? People being environmentally friendly? People wanting community?
Hmm… I’m not sure, but maybe it’s all of those reasons. I believe people always crave community — it’s one of our instinctual desires. 

Is this an exciting or terrifying time to open a business?
It’s an exciting time. When I started this process, a lot of people gave me the “logical” advice on why I shouldn’t start a business now. Of course, I knew it was risky because of the economy, but I also know there are no formulas to ensure success, even when things are good.
      I’m having fun, trying to live my life without regrets. I guess if you start at the bottom, you have a lot to look forward to in the future.

Finally, Buster’s or Kaldi?
That’s a hard one. Both are great. But maybe Buster’s — because of the yummy ice cream!

Common Thread Studio
1011A Mission St., South Pasadena
Workshops, sewing classes and children’s summer sewing programs

— Skylar Sutton



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