Una Kim

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/17/art_una.jpg

caption=”Una Kim, 30, co-founded Keep Company, a cruelty-free brand of shoes.”]
I get asked a lot, “What makes young entrepreneurs different?” I think it’s the underlying consciousness that links every budding business tycoon I’ve featured: the basic desire for due diligence and care for sustainability. Una Kim is a prime example of both of those things.

In her twenties, Una started Keep Company, a skateboarding-inspired shoe brand. Every shoe is cruelty-free. But it’s still full of what Una and her little team that could believe their customers want.

“I was skateboarding a lot because I was living in New York, and I hated all the girls’ shoes on the market,” Una says of her inspiration for her company. She bought boys’ shoes in their smallest size because they weren’t those “puffy pink ugly marshmellowy things that misappropriated the color pink” but more streamlined and authentic. “It’s all about understanding the American dream,” this first-generation American says of the good company she keeps.

Update: Watch the CNN.com Live interview

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35 Responses to Una Kim

  1. Melissa, Los Angeles says:

    I’d like to know what skater can afford the $100+ hoodies? As for the shoes – not my style at all. I’d also like to know what cruelty free means in making her shoes.

  2. Jim, Mass says:

    Her implication is that every other shoe made involves cruelty of some sort. Where does she get off appropriating the ‘moral high ground’ for herself? Where are her shoes made and what makes them any different from any other shoes made in the same place? If they’re made in the Far East, for example, they’re likely made no differently than nikes are! I’m sure that she contracts out production…much like most other manufacturers (think Kathy Lee Gifford). They may well be fine shoes, and maybe no better than any other of their type, but it’s not fair to imply that all others involve cruelty.

  3. Shirl says:

    I think these shoes are ugly. Seriously, more elaboration needed as to what she meant by “cruelty free”; from looking at her website, it looked as though her shoes could be “cruelty free” to the feet.

  4. Jessica says:

    These products are way overpriced. There is no way I would spend $100 on a hoodie. I think this company is taking advantage of PETA lovers who would do anything to ensure no animals are harmed, including paying crazy prices for things they could get at old navy. (and btw, I doubt old navy is killing anything to make their hoodies)

  5. Paul(San Diego) says:

    What a pleasant surprise to see you on here. You work sooo hard, and deserve all the publicty and noteriety that comes your way. You’re doing a service for not only the fashion industry, but for humanity and the environment as well.

    For those that feel that the cost is to high….?

    Unfortunately “Cruelty Free” comes at a cost. Check consumables.

    Thank you.

  6. Al says:

    Ridiculously overpriced and ugly shoes.

  7. STUART SLINKARD says:

    DEAR UNA: WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS MARVELOUS.MARKETING COOL SHOES BUT WITH A CONSCIOUS.WAY TO GO.KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.MORE POWER TO YOU!WISHING YOU CONTINUED PROSPERITY! SINCERELY,STUART(LAS VEGAS)

  8. MARCUS SMITH says:

    All of you haters are lil’ big corporate sneaker loving snobs. It’s time to grow up and move on to something more personal and more meaningful. Keep is a company that has true soul and passion…I’ve met Una and she is amazing. Keep up the good work!

  9. Serge Lee says:

    She doesn’t imply all other shoes are cruelty-free. She doesn’t imply anything, she’s just doing her thing. Keep doesn’t use leather or animal products and US customs charges way higher tariffs for shoes not using animal products.

    Small companies charge more because it costs them more to make the goods. If you want cheap shoes, then buy from a large corporation with little to no morals.

    Haters, why do you care so much? The shoes are rad and if it’s not for you, why are you dissing? People who work hard and put themselves out there should be applauded for their efforts, even if it’s not your thing.

    Get a grip and do something better.

  10. doug says:

    capitalist at it best brought dirt cheap sell high ,greed is good wallstreet!!!

  11. th says:

    I think these shoes are fantastic, I own four pairs and wear them everyday. I bought these shoes because of the DESIGN!!!! I think they are super cute and females and males can appreciate the assortment of styles.
    So for those of you who think they are ugly, I am shocked because the designs are absolutely amazing. Also for those of you who think this is a skate brand it is not, I think the shoes can be worn to skate in but it doesn’t seem to be a skate brand. I don’t know where you guys have been shopping lately but the prices are not that high. Considering all the TLC that goes into the product I am more than happy to pay the extra amount for some well-made product. Designer bags costs 1k nowadays people wake up!

    Cute design, good concept, well done!

  12. Hels says:

    Keep shoes are super comfortable and a rad alternative to all the predictable mainstream sneakers with stripes and swooshes. I love them. Big up to Una for producing sneakers that look smart, feminine but not too girly, and a company that has soul.

  13. Digity says:

    I think Keep and the shoes they make are incredible. I too have had the chance to meet Una and think she is one of the most special people around- rooted in her past, and propelled forward by the strength of her relationships with her friends and community. What she has achieved is limited to few. And plus- the shoes ROCK.

  14. undre says:

    Will you sell these shoes all the time? Where can I get a pair?

    Ms. Britts class EMS

  15. michelle says:

    I liked your article. Well, I really think that here in U.S.A there are lots of pretty shoes but I still think that I have to go to your web site to see more pretty shoes.
    I recognized that you can achieve your dreams.
    -Student at East Middle School

  16. Jocelyn says:

    I like your article. It’s really unbelievable how you could accomplish a dream that seems to be hard! I hope you keep on succeeding. I’ll have to see some of your shoes!

  17. Carley says:

    I think making cruelty-free shoes are a fantastic idea; especially because we are so environmentally conscious these days. But, shoes shouldn’t be so expensive. Paying so much for a pair of cruelty-free shoes might be a waste of money if the shoes aren’t good quality.

    An East Middle Student

  18. todd says:

    One day I want to be an entrepreneur and start my own business

  19. Allison says:

    I think designing cruelty-free shoes is such a good idea. I mean, its OK to wear shoes like that when your 5, but once you get to a certain age its time to ditch them. I would also like to learn how to skateboard. Even though I don’t have good balance, I could probably do it.

    -East Middle School Student

  20. Tiffany says:

    I think that Una is awsome because I to have the same problem with finding skating shoes in girls because it seems like everything in girls is pink and im not a big fan of the color pink. So I really dont want to walk on it. I personally have never seen or heard of these shoes but I do want to check them out some time.

    – Middle School Student

  21. carsdon says:

    How good is this brand compared to others? I wish I could have a chance to make a good living just like you. If a lot of people have a chance to succeed like you I think they will. I would like
    ary this product. I think she came a very long from a regular kid.

    student from Miss Britt’s classroom

  22. nicolelapin says:

    Thanks for the questions from Ms. Britt’s Class! Keep rocking!

  23. Melissa, Los Angeles says:

    LOL the posters that know Una are offended because those that don’t know her are asking the real questions – what exactly is cruelty free? If that means not using leather – well there are plenty of people that eat cows so might as well use up everything. Also how can Una justify selling hoodies for $100+? Is she marketing towards the rich?

  24. Anna says:

    Melissa these are valid questions. However leather isn’t a by-product of cows killed for meat. This is a common misconception, so thinking that “the animal is dead anyway, let’s use it all” is not actually applicable.

    The issues around the cattle industry can be explained in more depth here: http://www.peta.org/about/faq-skins.asp.

    Generally the problems associated with cattle farming include:
    1) Factory farming of cows, including the use of steroids and keeping animals in inhumane conditions.
    2) The large amount of rain forest deforestation that occurs due to cattle farming which affects our environment.
    3) Cattle methane and waste is one of the largest sources of pollution to our environment.
    4) The chemicals that are used in the tanning of leather are both dangerous to the humans exposed to them and to the greater environment.

    Your question is a good one, but it’s one that easily answered. It’s not just the death of one cow, it’s the negative chain reaction that surrounds the cattle industry.

    As for expensive hoodies, Keep’s prices seem to be in line with other boutique brands. I have a clothing line myself and can testify that when you are a small company your quantities are way smaller and your costs are way higher than if you are a mass brand.

    When you are bigger people get paid a lot less per item — bulk discount. When you are a small boutique brand it costs a lot more. Since the sweatshirts are custom and not a “blank” from American Apparel for example that just gets screenprinted, Keep probably pays for the material, the cutting, the sewing, the shipping, the tariffs and customs, any finishing (like quilting and hand carved buttons), etc. The cost for making a unique product really adds up.

    I’m not Keep so I don’t know specifics, but from my experience in the apparel industry, these prices are not uncommon for quality, boutique goods. Just my two cents!

  25. Madison says:

    I personally think making a cruelty-free shoe is the best idea ever. I do agree that I would rather have boy shoes than these other pink shoes that everybody else wants. There is no way that i would pay 100 dollars for just a hoodie.

    East Middle School Student

  26. Weber's 5th Hour says:

    Ona, We are a 7th grade Current Events class in Kansas and have a few questions for you:

    1-Where do you get your design ideas?

    2-Where did you get your company’s name?

    3-How much do you make off of your shoes in a month?

    Thank you!

  27. Melissa, Los Angeles says:

    Hi Anna, thanks for the response. I found PETA’s site contradictory so I did some other investigating and came up with very similar arguments as PETA. The following website (http://www.idausa.org/facts/leatherfacts.html) states that if the cattle industry only sold meat alone they would not survive without the sale of leather. Then in another paragraph it says “Most leather comes from cattle who are slaughtered for meat, worn-out dairy cows who no longer produce enough milk to be profitable, and veal calves whose soft skin is particularly valuable.” Well if most leather comes from cattle who are slaughtered for meat and worn out dairy cows then how can leather not be a by product of meat? It seems like the consumption of beef is the problem if we want to be cruelty free.

    Ah the word boutique means it’s way out of my league! I would love to support shops like yours and Una’s but I don’t have that type of money to spend. Best of luck to you and your store!

  28. Mackinya says:

    I think making cruelty-free shoes is a fantastic idea! I feel the same way about the shoes. They always have the pink shoe for girls that I don’t like, and most of the time I would buy boys shoes in a small size as well.

  29. justice says:

    I agree with her because all the girl shoes that are pink are ugly and fluffy and boy shoes are cool.

  30. Cindi says:

    i think that the idea of selling shoes is a good idea. But where do you get the designs from? Who’s idea was it?

  31. Todd says:

    Thanks for picking my post to put on your interview Mrs.Lapin and thank you so much Una for the awesome advice

  32. Hilario says:

    KEEP ON ROCKING!!. That is cool that your doing that. Hope you get rich and send us some money. Haha just kiding but good luck.

  33. ventura says:

    I would like to ask you some questions

    What were you thinking when you started the company?

    If you could choose another job what would you be? And why?

  34. seth says:

    I think it is great for people to go for their dream. Keep rocking!

    Ms. Britt’s student.

  35. Keontre from Ms. Britt's Class says:

    1.That’s good Una Kim but how did you get to be a entrepreneur ?

    2.What inspired you to be a entrepreneur like what helped you to become a entrepreneur.

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