KI LEE is an accessories brand based in Seoul that creates sculptural designs using innovative sustainable materials. As vessels embodying the link between minimalistic forms and innovative eco-friendly material, KI LEE products seek to reconnect the consumers with fantastical imaginations of the future and foster a sense of hopeful agency in shaping the world to come.
KI LEE’s mission is to provide the consumers with products that are both beautifully sculptural and sustainable.
KI LEE’s designer Ki Chan Lee began his career in design after having studied and practiced fine art as a sculptor. During Lee’s time at a residency, his fellow artist half-jokingly said, “anything could be art, in the same way that anyone could claim to be an artist. It is just that there are too many bad artists making bad art.” Based on his belief that “good” art changes its audience’s relationship with the world, Lee sought for ways he could contribute to the world outside the gallery walls. This search eventually led him to launch KI LEE.
KI LEE’s commitment to sustainable and responsible design began out of necessity as the business grew. Since the brand’s 2017 launch as an order-made handmade leather brand, intelligent use of material and waste management have always been key to the brand’s business model and philosophy.
As business and production volume grew, the brand transitioned from the handmade model to a larger production model, focusing on product development while working in partnership with local manufacturers. After one season of working in this new model, however, it became clear that the brand could no longer maintain its intelligent use of leather--a highly resource-intense material--or have a tight control over waste management.
In order to mitigate the negative environmental impacts inherent to larger-scale production and stay true to the brand’s philosophy of intelligent design, KI LEE carried out a comprehensive renewal, committing to finding and using innovative materials that could substitute leather.
Currently, KI LEE products are made using two types of plant-based materials: cork fabric and mulberry-fiber leather.
Cork is a layer of bark tissue harvested primarily from Quercus suber (the cork oak) for various uses arising from its impermeable, buoyant, elastic, and fire retardant properties. Cork production is generally considered sustainable because the cork tree is not cut down to obtain cork; only the bark is stripped to harvest the cork every nine years, while the tree continues to live and grow. Cork oak forests also prevent desertification and serve as a habitat and refuge of various endangered species.
Mulberry-fiber leather, or Hanji leather, is an eco-friendly vegan leather-alternative developed by an independent Korean textile manufacturer. Haunji draws on the historic paper-making tradition of hanji, or traditional mulberry paper, and is realized through innovative textile technology of a patented silicone-based coating, which allows the fabric to retain many of mulberry bast fiber’s material advantages. Thanks to the natural characteristic of mulberry bast fiber, Haunji is 99.9% antibacterial, durable, lightweight, breathable, water repellent, and biodegradable.
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