Grace Yoo took her first sewing class last year right as the pandemic hit. Taking the class online wasn’t easy, but inspiration struck when she was suddenly confined to her home.
“We came home in March and then in May, I just don’t know why I didn’t put this together earlier, but I was like, ‘Oh I can start really making cool stuff,’” Yoo said.
Yoo, a sophomore criminal justice and entrepreneurship double major, started playing around with old t-shirts she thrifted and began watching TikToks on upcycling: the act of taking old clothing and recycling it into something new.
She began selling her creations online, and now she is the founder of Sunmi.co, a sustainable streetwear fashion brand. Sunmi is Yoo’s Korean middle name that means “pure beauty.” With over 59,000 followers on Instagram, what started as a passion project has grown into a business.
“I have a real vision for things,” Yoo said. “I can see something, and then I can take it apart in my brain and put it back together into something different.”
Growing up in a predominantly white community, Yoo said she struggled with finding her identity.
“I want to create a space for people to be themselves … and discover who they are in the clothing that they wear because I think what we wear is a direct representation of our identities,” Yoo said.
Her most popular items are Nike color block sweatpants, which she custom makes for each customer. She works with each buyer to determine a color pattern and layout unique to them.
In addition to flipping clothing, Yoo now teaches classes to other entrepreneurs on how to grow their own businesses.
“It’s basically a small business crash course based off of my own experience and what I’ve learned in the past two years,” Yoo said.
Margaret Janszen, a sophomore emerging technology in business and design major, is the social media manager and design specialist for Sunmi.co. Before working with Yoo, Janszen had heard about Sunmi.co through mutual friends but had never met or bought anything from Yoo.
Janszen initially applied for the job to gain experience outside the classroom, but after hearing Yoo discuss the future of the brand, Janszen realized she could learn a lot more.
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“I think being 19 years old and essentially having your life figured out at this point in the business sense is completely unreal,” Janszen said. “I’m so in awe of her, so I honestly just hope to really learn a lot from her.”
Tiffany Chen, 21, is one of Yoo’s most loyal customers. Chen found Sunmi.co through Instagram and has since purchased from Sunmi.co about seven times. Her favorite pieces are the reworked Nike hoodies.
“I have one that has a light blue Nike sweatshirt logo reworked onto a zebra print sweatshirt, and one of my more recent buys is a brownish-gray Nike sweatshirt reworked into a neutral colored sweatshirt,” Chen said.
For Chen, what sets Sunmi.co apart from other small businesses is the effort Yoo puts forth in getting to know her customers.
“The thing with Instagram is that you can be very personable and interact with the people who support you,” Chen said, “so whether it’s through Instagram lives and responding to comments, she makes an effort to get to know you.”
While oversized sweatshirts reworked into matching sets and color block sweatpants are here to stay, Yoo hopes Sunmi.co continues to grow into more than just an online clothing store. She plans to expand Sunmi.co’s classes into a weekend intensive that helps women find their own identity in entrepreneurship.
“I hope I get to a point where I can hire lots of women,” Yoo said. “I think there are so many women out there who are creatively driven and motivated that I would love to be a part of my team.”