I was born in Seoul, South Korea and spent my childhood moving between there and Washington DC according to my father’s placements as a diplomat.
I love people and working out what makes each person tick, and this contributed to starting my own business. Before Astrid & Miyu (A&M) I worked in investment banking in Hong Kong in a very fast-paced lifestyle before going to London School of Business and setting out to create a challenger jewellery brand.
As CEO and founder of A&M, I create the vision and oversee the running of the business. This varies from signing off on new product lines, to ensuring all departments are running smoothly and managing our innovation and expansion programme.
Creating A&M for me was always more than just starting a business. My personal driver is a sense of purpose and not simply selling jewellery but doing something different, disrupting the market and leading the way.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
When I worked in banking, I developed an interest in the tech start-ups I worked with and saw how they approached business and the language that was used. I became interested in running my own business and had always been interested in the fashion and beauty space. I saw a gap in the market for affordable, higher-end fashion jewellery and set up A&M from my kitchen table eight years ago.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
There have been plenty! I went through corporate funding while pregnant twice and faced some challenges in perception along the way – but did succeed in securing investment. Many of the potential investors were more tech-focused at the time and the space was very male-dominant so it was challenging to be taken seriously as a young female entrepreneur launching a fashion and lifestyle-focused business.
One of the biggest challenges was the feeling of being alone in starting the business. I have a network of support now and A&M employs around 80 people, but it felt isolating at first.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I think that, as a result of my father’s job, starting new schools with different curriculums, languages and cultures and making new friends every couple of years made me self-reliant in a way that is less likely learned with a stable upbringing. Being thrown into new situations and feeling like an outsider much of the time increased my natural empathy, which has been a useful characteristic in building a dedicated team.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I feel passionately about mentoring and giving back and have initiated two Business Accelerator programmes as well as a graduate programme. In the first, I took on three young retail entrepreneurs and helped them establish and scale their businesses through bespoke one-to-one Zoom calls across three months.
The second was for six young black entrepreneurs across another three-month workshop. I also gave them a £3k grant with funds raised through a personal salary sacrifice so that they had available funds to implement the ideas raised in our discussions and scale their businesses.
We foster a very supportive culture at Astrid & Miyu and work hard to make sure everyone feels mentored, heard and progressed.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The future holds physical expansion within the UK to towns including Leeds, Brighton, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh as well as internationally. We have built up a loyal fanbase stateside and ran a series of pop ups in New York last year. We’ve also been gaining popularity in continental Europe, France and Germany in particular, over the years.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Looking at my peers in their 30s and 40s, one single thing that gets in the way is childcare. It is simply too expensive for an average worker to work full time and raise a child unless there is family help. So I see many mums or friends giving up their careers during critical years.
I would say government support towards fully paid extended maternity leave, fully paid mandatory paternity leave, as well as more funding towards childcare would be key to gender equality in the workplace.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t worry too much about what your parents or society expects you to be. You are the only person that knows yourself best, so learn to follow your instincts, be more confident and back yourself.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Growing Astrid & Miyu to where it is now in definitely the biggest achievement.
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