Ji Hye Kang, fashion industry professional and assistant professor of apparel, textiles and interior, is both stylish and diverse. What sparked her interest in fashion and merchandising, though, wasn’t necessarily the fashion industry.
“Honestly, I have been interested in all kinds of visual things,” Kang said. “So, when I was younger, I wanted to become an architect. Then sometimes I wanted to be an artist or painter, and then I wanted to be a merchandiser.”
Kang’s desire to become a merchandiser came from her older sister, an alum of Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, who introduced her to the career.
“It seemed to me that a merchandiser decides on many things,” Kang said. “The pricing, quantity … and it seems to me a merchandiser can manage. It’s a funnel effect; merchandisers take an important role to filter out lots of information and to deliver them to consumers, which I thought sounded awesome.”
Fashion did, however, play a big part in her choice to pursue merchandising, because she was driven to get a job after she graduated. She knew she had strong abilities in the industry, one she knew she would be able to get a job in. In fact, her interest in fashion and her job allows her to be aware of current trends.
“Since I’m teaching merchandising courses, I think (not very actively) about what is going on in the market (and don’t seek) exposure to the current trends,” Kang said. “My style is in the middle of very innovative and behind trends; not taking a lot of risk, but a little. I keep watching trends and take the styles that many my age are afraid to try.”
Kang said she has a very small amount of wardrobe pieces, but takes tasteful risks. She puts together an outfit that makes it seem like she is wearing something new every time she comes to class. Aaron Simon, sophomore in apparel design, admires her style and wardrobe.
“(Kang) comes to class every day looking like she works for ‘Vogue,’ and the greatest part is that she is so effortless about it” he said. “It doesn’t look like she spent hours putting an ensemble together. I genuinely think her wardrobe is just so magnificently thought-out that she can pull anything from it and make it work. My favorite shirt of hers is this fuzzy red sweater she wears. I would probably steal it if I ever had the chance.”
After getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Yonsei University, Kang gained several years of experience as a fashion marketing consultant and a merchandiser. She then received her doctoral degree from Oklahoma State University in apparel merchandising with an emphasis in international apparel marketing.
“I recognized my ability wasn’t satisfying me to solve the industry’s problems, so I decided to follow further education because I wanted to learn more about broader perspectives like environmental and general perspectives,” Kang said.
Kang applied to Oklahoma State because of an alumni link who needed a teacher’s assistant. The opportunity led her to getting into Oklahoma State with a scholarship, which she said was “crucial to making her decision.”
At first, she came to the U.S. and Oklahoma State because she needed more financial support after getting married and having a son. After going back to South Korea, Kang realized that the U.S. had more job opportunities for higher education, and applied to K-State.
“I finally like Manhattan,” Kang said.
Kang initially disliked Manhattan because of problems involving maintenance and cultural issues which hindered her ability to enjoy the area. Moving her son Douglas, 15, into a new environment was also challenging. In classes, however, Kang was busy making her students laugh and smile. She said she enjoys what she does and her students love having her.
“Lots of people tell me I’m so funny,” Kang said. “I really enjoy a good sense of humor, and my friends tell me that I can pick up on jokes from current issues that are arising.”
Hattie Doolittle, sophomore in apparel marketing, is a student of Kang and said she enjoys Kang as a professor.
“I appreciate the way she incorporates humor and real-world examples within the courses, because it helps make class more entertaining and reminds me of how much I love my major,” Doolittle said.
When it comes to due dates and misunderstandings, Maggie Stuart, sophomore in apparel design, said, “Dr. Kang is really kind and forgiving.”
While she is a loved and respected teacher, mentor and friend, Kang enjoys taking a break from even that once in a while.
“I really like cooking, because it makes me concentrate on something other than teaching,” Kang said.
Kang often eats Korean food, steamed rice and soup. She said she is very open to delving into other cultures through food and in general.
“I can manage the entire process of making a meal,” Kang said. “Spending a few hours or a few minutes I can see the results. I think it’s a good process because research is really hard. It takes a lot of persistence and teaching requires interaction. Cooking is something I can manage!”
Kang has knowledge and expertise in many different areas, and her enthusiasm for cooking as well as teaching has earned her the love and admiration of her students and the K-State family.