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Role Call | Olivia Kim, Director of Creative Projects

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Olivia Kim, Nordstrom’s director of creative projects, says the Internet has made the world more accessible that ever, but you’ve got to “get out there.” Discovering something online isn’t the same as touching fabric or seeing a collection hanging on a rail.

Olivia Kim, director of creative projects at Nordstrom | Source: Courtesy

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. In a new series that coincides with the launch of BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent, we highlight some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them.

SEATTLE, United States — In February 2013, Olivia Kim joined Nordstrom as director of creative projects, where she aims to breathe energy into the Seattle-based department store chain with a series of curated, in-store and online pop-up shops dubbed Pop-In@Nordstrom. Previously, Kim was vice president of creative at Opening Ceremony, where she was responsible for overseeing merchandising, store planning and art direction, as well as collaborative projects with Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Nike, Levi’s, Topshop, Chloe Sevigny, Yoko Ono and others. She has also played an essential role in launching emerging designers including Suno, Pamela Love and Patrik Ervell.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

OK: I am the director of creative projects for Nordstrom. I am tasked with bringing energy, creativity and disruption to both our brick-and-mortar and online stores through a unique shopping experience called Pop-In@Nordstrom. Pop-In@Nordstrom is an on-going series of themed pop-up shops, which live in eight of our flagship and high-profile stores across the country, as well as on the Web at nordstrom.com. The shops aim to introduce our customers to new designers and new-to-Nordstrom merchandise through a curated, multi-brand boutique shopping experience.

We launched Pop-In@Nordstrom in October 2013 and each shop has a unique build and design, stocks limited-edition merchandise and limited quantities of items. It lives for about four weeks and then it’s gone and we start all over again. In addition to the merchant side of our business, I also support our marketing efforts across the Nordstrom brand and help generate new ideas for how to speak to — and ultimately engage — our customers.

BoF: What attracted you to the role?

OK: I think in some instances, we are attracted to the opposite of what we already have. I had been working with Opening Ceremony for nearly ten years and I helped build the company from the ground up with friends who ultimately became family. When Carol [Lim] and Humberto [Leon] started their company, it was just the two of them. Then, it was me and them — and for a few years it was just the three of us. I grew up with the company and that was an incredibly special experience to have. However, on the other side of the country, Nordstrom offered me a completely different opportunity, one that I hadn’t ever considered until I met Pete Nordstrom.

He was very honest about their general philosophy to grow and attract new customers, how to stay relevant and how could I help them do so. I thought to myself, what an incredible opportunity! I was attracted to the challenge of working out how to navigate such an enormous company and create an entrepreneurial spirit around what we were planning to do. Could we be scrappy with a small budget, but be big on impact? I also love the heritage the brand upholds. We hear all the time about nostalgic memories that customers have of the store and those sentiments are truly endearing.

BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?

OK: Because the Pop-In@Nordstrom concept is new for our customers, it’s exciting to see the reaction from them month after month. I am especially excited about our newest shop, opening on October 17th, which is in partnership with I.T from Hong Kong. I am captivated by the modernity of what I.T does and this marks their first foray into the US market. Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities — it’s a completely frenetic and modern city and definitely one of the most stylish. There is a European influence there from its history that butts up against the trends that Asia does so well — what is young, hip and completely cool.

We are introducing four collections, which I.T designs and produces under its own range of private labels: Izzue, Chocolate, White Chocolate, Mini Cream and Aape by A Bathing Ape. Each represents what is happening right now in fast fashion. The collections are fun and affordable and haven’t been seen outside of Asia before. We have been working on this project for almost a year, so it is very exciting to see it come to life and we hope that the in-store and online experiences are reflective of what you might find in Hong Kong in the labels’ own environments.

BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?

OK: I don’t know if it is that my role is changing or more that retail itself is changing. We know that as a company we need to grow and we need more customers to do so. What makes a shopper want to leave the comforts of their home, get in a car, drive to a store, come in and try on clothes and decide to purchase something? That’s the problem I look to solve for on a daily basis.

The convenience of online has changed the way brick-and-mortar retail functions and I continually try to come up with ideas to make our stores more compelling, exciting, aspirational and inspirational. We want our customers to have a sense of discovery inside our stores and come back again looking for something new. If they also purchase something, that’s great! That’s what I think has changed with retail today — we need to be better at telling those stories to our customers so that they want to come in month after month to see what we are up to. We can’t expect that they will come in if we don’t give them a reason to. That’s what I do. I try to give them a reason to check us out IRL (in real life), not just on a phone or iPad.

BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.

OK: If a customer walks into our store with the intention to buy something, but leaves without a purchase, I take that as a fail. Was the experience engaging? Did we not have what they were looking for? Is the product offering not compelling? Were we price-sensitive? Could we have offered better customer service? We receive feedback from our sales associates and customers who are vocal about their shopping experience and I learn from this every day. An essential part of my role is to understand how we can better serve our customers, give them what they are looking for and offer an environment that inspires them to browse, learn and shop with us again.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

OK: Be curious. Ask a ton of questions. And you’ve gotta get out there. The Internet has made the world so available. But seeing or discovering something online isn’t the same as touching the fabric or seeing a collection hanging on a rail. You can’t smell the inside of a store from your computer. You just can’t.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

To explore exciting fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent.

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