‘VOV SOX’, premium socks for beauty supplies
Kihwan Oh, CEO of VOV Trading
Socks are part of the fashion accessories. In recent years, fashion accessories have become increasingly important in beauty supplies, but socks still account for a small portion. However, despite the small share, price competition has been fierce and only the cheapest products have survived. The prevailing perception is that socks should be cheap, and that poor quality and design is acceptable. Here’s a guy who has declared that he would bring premium socks to beauty supplies.
On a cold, windy day, we met with the surprisingly stylish Kihwan Oh, CEO of VOV Trading. The secret to Oh’s style is that he majored in design, related to fashion, and he is also personally into fashion. He has been supplying sunglasses to beauty supply stores across the country for eight years, and his trendy designs are consistently popular with retailers. So why did he suddenly get into the socks business? What are the characteristics of the “premiumsocks” that VOV is envisioning? Here’s what Oh has to say about his curiosity-generating story.
It was a sunglasses business that brought Oh into the beauty supply industry eight years ago. “Inspired by the high fashion across the globe, we started curating a selection of sunglasses that were similar in style but tailored to our beauty supply customer base. It sold very well. It had been about six years of business when the pandemic suddenly hit. At the time, beauty supply stores were in short of supply and wanted more, but the manufacturing partners in China struggled to keep up with the demand. What’s more, shipping and delivery time that used to take a month started to exceed three months. It was a very upsetting moment. I was more worried about not having enough supply than anything. We weren’t prepared for this kind of crisis. If we had fulfilled all the orders that came in at that time, the company would be three or four times larger today.”
Improvisation of VOV Sox
They say about crises being opportunities for the prepared, but Instead of preparation, Mr. Oh took an improvised action.
“We thought the problem was that we were producing 100% of our products in China. So I started looking around other regions. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of people expanding into Southeast Asia, but they had their own problems. While I was thinking about it, I ended up traveling to South Korea for an unrelated business, and I saw socks for sale everywhere. It seemed to sell really well. When I returned to the U.S., I couldn’t get Korean socks out of my head because of their superior quality and design. So that’s what I chose. Next item for VOV will be socks, with a production line in South Korea.”
Hurdles in development
After making the next item socks, Oh spent more than a year researching the market. In South Korea, he traveled around the country to find factories and went from Dongdaemun Market to department stores in Apgujeong to find quality products.
“In South Korea, there were a lot of factories going for quality over quantity. I was really impressed. When I saw the factory workers who didn’t want to compromise on design and quality when making a single piece, I knew this was it. After carefully selecting a factory, I returned to the U.S. with a sample of a design that was selling well in South Korea. While on a delivery run for sunglasses, I gathered a group of black employees from a beauty supply store and asked them to review my socks. The results were disastrous. I was told “not a design I want”, “too expensive”, and “it wouldn’t sell.”
So what did Oh do facing the negative feedback? It’s certainly not giving up, but he chose to “start over”.
Beauty supplies need premium socks
“Socks have a more important role in our daily lives than we realize. You wear them for comfort or to protect your feet from excessive moisture or drying up. This is why we must wear good quality socks. It’s also an important piece of clothing to complete your look. It doesn’t matter how well you dress. If your socks don’t match up, your entire outfit will be unbalanced. It’s also important to choose the right type and quality depending on what you’re wearing that day. For such an important item that touches your body for so long, why would you settle for an inferior product just because it’s cheaper? Consumers are getting smarter and smarter these days. You don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. It’s time for beauty supply to stock quality socks for the savvy consumer.”
4 reasons to choose VOV Sox
After a relatively long process of preparation and repeated field tests, they finally started distributing socks to beauty supply stores this year. Mr. Oh cited four reasons why consumers would choose their socks over others.
1. Creativity in color and joy – conceptual design socks
“Value of Visual Socks. We put a lot of thought into the design of each one of our products. The pattern and color arrangement of the sock is important. We communicate with the manufacturing partner in South Korea on creative designs and develop them in-house. It’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, but we’ll continue to use our owndesign for products. “
2. Unrivaled quality – Made in Korea
“Our socks are of very good quality. The cotton content is more than 85% thanks to the manufacturing technology in South Korea recognized for its global excellence. In addition, our weaving process, which uses state-of-the-art technology, produces a softer, stronger product.”
3. Personalize your style – trendy socks
“There are trends in socks too. The days are gone for picking a color and size only. Socks are part of fashion, and we’re seeing more design-conscious customers. We’re targeting a very design-minded and sensitive audience, regardless of ethnicity. Just like sunglasses, I try to read the trend in socks by looking at what’s happening in New York, Paris, and the UK. We will fulfill consumers’ desire to express themselves by mixing and matching socks in different styles.”
4. Soft, durable, functional materials – comfort fit
“The innovation of the manufacturing process, which goes into details never seen before, has made up for the shortcomings of the socks we are used to. The stretch, sagging, and shrinkage after drying are complemented by the quality of the finest yarns to maximize comfort.”
Is it because of the excellent quality? VOV Sox has only just launched, but they are already seeing repeat orders. One retailer reported that a customer who bought two pairs of socks came back for seven pairs the next day, saying they are gifts.
Designer + Designer = ?
There’s another secret that makes VOV’s winning streak possible. It’s Mr. Oh’s wife, Team Leader Jeon Hye-sook, who stayed by his side throughout the interview. Team leader Jeon is in charge of design and has a very polished style.
“I was a team leader at an advertising company, creating a fashion catalog. I later ran a design firm. I also designed album covers for some of the most popular singers of the time, including the Cultwo Trio and Pinocchio. My wife worked at a magazine for 15 years, and she was a good enough designer to become an editor-in-chief.”
With 24 years of combined design experience, it’s easy to see why VOV’s product design stands out.
“After the IMF, my design business wasn’t going well. While my wife continued to work in design, I became a salesman to make ends meet. My wife played a huge role in helping me through all of the things I mentioned about what happened in the U.S.”
When asked if working together all the time would lead to disagreements for the couple, Oh responded with a gentle smile.
“We tend to have very few arguments. I’m the one who’s out in the field doing the work related to products, and my wife is the one who does the overall design and in charge of the logo, packaging, display design, etc. We’re respectful and supportive of each other in our respective roles, so there’s little room for conflict. Of course, we want to be on the same page for a new product. We study together and share ideas together. We are a great fit and a great partner.” Wouldn’t the answer to the equation, Designer + Designer, a perfect product?
“Fashion trend comes and goes so quickly. That means many products give ways to new trend and disappear. I try harder than anyone else to keep up with the fashion trend. Rather than producing a large quantity of a product, I’d rather have a variety of products to keep my customers happy, even if it means less revenue. Therefore, we will be aiming for the company with the highest number of trendy new products released in a year. When your product goes out of fashion, your company can too. Also I don’t like cliché designs.
We also believe in engaging with our customers as much as studying trends. This is because trends driven by famous designers often don’t move in tandem with trends in beauty supplies. Going forward, I plan to travel around and listen to customers myself rather than hiring employees. Understanding the needs of our customers is the best way to create better products. In the future, we plan to bring a series of new products that will be also of high quality and design. Please stay tuned.”
Words can’t express how much we appreciate it. – Special Thanks!
“I have so many people to thank who helped me since I have started out in the beauty supply industry. I wish I could write down every single person’s name, but that would be too much, right? We’d like to thank our customers and retailer partners for trusting and supporting VOV for eight years.”