Late last year when I was in Korea, I discovered a brand that seemed almost too good to be true. Equal parts art and design, this brand creates pieces that are highly functional, super cool, and zero waste to boot. Moreover, the team is led by veteran Korean designer, Imseonoc, whose credits include working as a critic professor at Samsung Art and Design Institute, as a costume designer with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, leading the WEAR GREY collective, and being the Costume Director for the Korean performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And that isn’t even scratching the surface. Long story short, I was incredibly fortunate to encounter one of Korea’s true design powerhouses, and the kind folks at PARTsPARTs were kind enough to invite me over for tea, a chat, and a little play.
With her original design studio opening in 1995, the PARTsPARTs label launching in 2011, and their newest studio, PARTsPARTs Laboratory, having just opened in April this year, Imseonoc has been in the game for a very long time. You only have to look at the embroidered and bejewelled Imseonoc logos on their pieces to understand exactly how much of an icon she really is (Karl Lagerfeld-esque, no?). For some designers, the longer they practice their craft, the more they solidify and settle into their aesthetics, processes, and traditions. However, for Imseonoc and the PARTsPARTs team, time has not led them to become comfortable or stagnant, rather, it has allowed them space to innovate. And innovate they have.
The first thing that you’ll notice is the texture of their collections. Unlike other designers, PARTsPARTs focuses on using one main fabric, and using it well. Enter neoprene. For those of us who have grown up in Australia, neoprene is usually associated with perforated mum totes, wetsuits and those surf-branded pencil cases that we all touted with pride during high school. Therefore, when I walked into the PARTsPARTs studio, I was surprised to see neoprene being used in such a versatile way. Neoprene would have been the last material that I would have chosen to wear on dry land, but my mind was about to be changed. Imseonoc explained that although neoprene seems like a cold and difficult material, it actually creates a modern aesthetic and builds practical clothing. It can either be strong and structured, or it can be used to create a soft and tender silhouette depending on the design and manufacturing process. The other benefits of neoprene include the fact that there is no distinction between the outer and inner sides of the fabric, therefore many of PARTsPARTs’ pieces, including their bags, are reversible. Neoprene is also unaffected by weather, and is less susceptible to collecting and creating dust, which makes it easier to maintain and to clean.
Moreover, the beauty of PARTsPARTs’ innovative wizardry with neoprene and polyester is that their annual collections become a sustainable work of art from the very beginning of the design process, to the very end of the making process. That is to say, they know what they’re doing.
They describe their design process as “simple and calculated”. This is evidenced by the fact that every PARTsPARTs design fits into either a square or rectangle as to reduce waste (see image above). Any off-cuts are then used to create other items (such as muffler scarves), and the material is ordered on a limited basis. Deadstock is then used in subsequent collections, of which there is only one per year, as to avoid overproduction. Their designs are basic and universally wearable, and they are sure to check even the smallest detail to ensure a beautiful and simple silhouette.
Then comes their next stroke of genius: no sewing (unless absolutely necessary). Instead of the traditional method of assembling a garment, PARTsPARTs developed a two-sided ’hot press/melt’ technique, which fuses the parts together through pressure and heat. We probably should have guessed this from their name. ‘PART’ represents the division of each individual piece that makes up a design, and ’s’ represents the ‘sum of all parts’. Even their brand name is ‘hot pressed’ together. Essentially, this team engages in high-tech advanced fashion lego construction everyday. And don’t overlook the presence of the word ‘ART’ in their name. PARTsPARTs aims to create wearable art that exceeds our limited expectations of what fashion can be.
However, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. What makes PARTsPARTs even more impressive (as if that was even possible) is their dedication to their philosophy. Imseonoc and her team are overflowing with integrity and thoughtfulness, and this is obvious as soon as you see how passionate they are about what they do. As a company, zero waste and sustainability are at their core, and they will do whatever they need to do to make sure that this is an everyday reality for them. PARTsPARTs expressed that they’ve learned to “suppress” the desire to give into trends, and have instead steeled their determination to pioneer the sustainable attitude that they want to see become the norm. This even extends into their working environment, with the new studio evolving into a more modern and environmentally friendly space.
‘Philosophy first, money later’ is typically not the most reliable business model, however PARTsPARTs truly believe that this is the way that it should be. As previously expressed, Korea is not an easy environment to be a fashion designer, let alone an ethical one. The fast fashion industry there is strong, and the coming and going of trends always seems to be increasing in speed. However, that doesn’t discourage the PARTsPARTs team - in fact, it motivates them. According to Imseonoc, people in Korea are starting to become more interested in ethical fashion, with their main focus falling on labour, wages, and policies/politics, which is encouraging. Furthermore, now that Korea has entered a “period of stable consumption… people now value things and are becoming smarter consumers.”
PARTsPARTs have already achieved a significant amount in their time, but there is still a long way to go for Korea as a whole. So if they had to narrow it all down one hope, what would it be? “We wish that Korea will grow up in an era of honest business and social responsibility.” So do we.
Editor’s note: As of July, PARTsPARTs will be running an open studio program and zero-waste workshops! You’ll be able to experience their process firsthand and even make a little something for yourself. Be sure to take up this opportunity if you live in Korea, or put it on your list of things to do if you ever go over to visit. Keep an eye out for information on their Instagram and site.