Clara Jeon of Chapter 2 Agency, is not only an impressive entrepreneur but she’s dedicated to making sure independent designers also get a second chapter in their entrepreneurial careers. As Clara felt that she needed to make a drastic change in her career–she decided she was going to go into business for herself. As most of us would consider a bold move, looks like Clara always knew it would end up this way.
Clara Jeon and her partner, Kenneth Loo are the co-founders of Chapter 2 Agency, a public relations and brand strategy firm that’s giving a big voice to the emerging fashion world. Offering all services that these brands would need to create a fluid creative direction, strong brand voice, a showroom, and a structured marketing plan. Their team is really part of molding brands into successes and nothing can be more satisfying than that.
Clara was able to answer some of the questions I had for her about how she got started, what are the biggest challenges, and how she’s kicking some a** and taking names in the fashion industry.
When did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur? When did that light bulb spark and you woke up and said “I have to do something different?”
I think as long as I’ve known that it’s necessary to have a job as an adult, I’ve always wanted to be my own boss – even from a really early age, my parents would always tell me I was meant to run my own company one day. They weren’t surprised at all when I told them I was starting my own company and got the keys to my new office in New York City a few days after I turned 26.
How and why did you fall in love with PR work?
When I was in elementary school, I used to plan out all of my outfits and write them down in a weekly planner. I think I was like 12 when I first started reading Cathy Horyn’s runway column in the New York Times and then Style.com was just starting to take off when I was a teenager. Fashion is one of the few things I knew I was passionate about for most of my life – I couldn’t ever get enough of it. When I was old enough to start interning, I took an internship with a really well known PR agency in NYC just by sending out a ton of blind resumes. My first task was to go to this jeweler in the Upper East Side to pick up some jewelry and it was the most opulent and glamorous place I had ever been in my life. Then I had to hand-deliver the jewelry to one of the Sex and the City stars at her apartment and the next day I saw those same jewels in photos all over the internet. That’s when I first got hooked. Coming from the suburbs, it was just a crazy, surreal world that didn’t seem like everyday life and it was also the first time I had been in an office with so many smart, kick-ass women who worked their asses off from sun up to sun down. I think I really fell in love with PR work when I started working with smaller brands though. You become really close with the designers because it’s such a tight, lean team and you see the difference you work can make which is both humbling and really, really amazing.
Describe Chapter 2 as a person. What is the mission behind Chapter 2?
The vision I always had for Chapter 2 was to be like an incubator space for designers I really wanted to champion. Coming from years of working with really young emerging designers who were either getting a ton of hype but struggling on the business end, or on the flipside having a growing business but struggling to break through the noise, I wanted a place where I could support the designers I believed in with everything I got. Our mission is to just do things better – be a better version of a PR agency, be a better partner for our designers, be better bosses for our employees and be better employees for our company. Maybe change the way the fashion game is being played for the better.
A lot of entrepreneurs go at it alone, but you have Kenneth Loo, which ended up working well for you. What do you enjoy about having a partner and what are the advantages of having him as a business partner?
Ken is through and through my work husband and forever partner. I think on a fundamental level, we just get along really well. We met over lunch and bonded over our recent breakups and since then, he’s been the friend in my life I lean on and go through big experiences with. We’ve VERY different, almost polar opposites honestly, but in a weird way it works for us. He’s a digital whiz kid while I’m still pretty old school with my approach to fashion and PR. He likes spreadsheets, I really don’t. He likes colors, I like wearing all black. He doesn’t like dogs, I kind of just brought one into the office one day. But we keep each other balanced and tag team really well, which is a huge part of what makes us work as partners. We have this unspoken rule about only one of us being able to freak out at a time. I think having two separate areas we’re good at that feed into each other has been a huge benefit to what we can offer our clients and the results we can bring to the table.
What has been the most professionally satisfying moment with Chapter 2 thus far?
SO MANY! We celebrate the big and small moments here. Seeing ecom reports showing the increase in direct sales we’re bringing to our clients is huge. Seeing the conversation that the Pyer Moss shows have brought to this industry is huge. I think having Kerby be a speaker at the MoMA introducing the museum’s first ever fashion exhibit was huge. I think having Cathy Horyn come to the Pyer Moss show for the first time was a huge moment for me just because I’ve been idolizing her for so long. I think having a denim style that one of my designers was told for years was “too slutty” by a bunch of corporate men turn into the brand’s biggest seller with amazing, powerful girls like Gigi and Bella Hadid rocking it is huge. I think any day my team is able to get out of the office by 6pm to go live the rest of their lives is huge. If I didn’t find every day of this satisfying in some way, it wouldn’t be worth all the other tough parts of being in this industry and running a business.
When is your favorite season for fashion? Least favorite?
I have a love/hate relationship with Autumn/Winter shows. I love outerwear and layering and the drama of AW collections, but I hate showing them in February because it ALWAYS snows here during Fashion Week or is another form of unbearable winter weather torture that makes being out and about for the shows really hard.
What do you think is the most difficult part about working with young, independent brands?
What are the qualities or characteristics you look for in a client?
Confidence. It’s like dating. You want to believe everything they’re saying and that they’re different and the best thing you never knew you needed in your life. You want to be swept up in the vision. I think when you get that similar type of excitement and joy from meeting a new designer who’s doing something really cool that you vibe with, you want to see where it goes.
What is the biggest lesson you want emerging designers and brands to take when they are just starting their first business?
Don’t let anyone tell you anything about how you should be designing. Listen to feedback about quality and delivery, but don’t let anyone tell you how to design your collection. Anyone who does that has probably given the same advice to 20 other designers and you didn’t come into the game just to design to get into a store or for someone else’s vision. Also, no one expects you to have it all figured out and perfect on your first try.
What are some of the greatest impacts e-commerce has made to the fashion market for both the big players and the newcomers?
I think it puts a lot of power back in the hands of small designers. Sometimes retailers don’t pick up the pieces you believe in the most and having a platform to push the full collection and tell the story you really want to tell is important to the creativity of fashion. It also gives designers a level of freedom back with having a place to drop capsules or collections off the traditional calendar. And honestly, I think being able to bypass solely depending on retailers and being able to have a portion (or in some cases all) of your revenue coming in directly at full margin makes it viable for small brands to make it through to the next season.
There’s a lot of whispers about how Fashion Week needs a revamp and that “See Now, Buy Now” concept may not really save the essence of Fashion Week. What are the changes you think the Fashion Week concept needs to change and how?
I think everyone’s trying to figure out what needs to change and how. I don’t think there’s one answer or a perfect formula. Every brand operates differently and has different goals that they’re trying to reach, and it’s just about being in tune with what your customer wants and when. I will say, I don’t think it’s necessary for every brand to be showing with an expensive runway show or presentation. I think people in the industry point their fingers at each other as to why Fashion Week is such a circus now or why it’s not effective or why it needs a revamp, but at the end of the day I think the answer is as simple as we’re all going through the growing pains of a changing industry and brands need to focus on their own lanes and adapt with what’s working for them, not bend to what another brand or designer is doing.
If you were to tell your former 13 year old self you would be here today, what do you think she would say?
I knew it.
What is the single best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
No is a full sentence.
Last but not least, what is your favorite place to eat in NYC?
Such a hard question because it changes weekly with wherever my friend Adam and I are doing our weekly pizza dinner. You really can’t go wrong with pizza in NYC.
All photos provided by Chapter 2 Agency.
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