A Conversation with Sung Choi
One of the founding fathers of CLAE, Seoul-born and NYC-raised entrepreneur, Sung Choi has come a long way in his career as a footwear designer. From PNB Nation and DC Shoes to Lakai Limited Footwear to founding CLAE, Choi has proven himself more than just a visionary sneakerhead; he is a mainstay within the footwear design industry. His flair for design has been visibly complemented by daring enterprise and a persistent humility in the face of resounding success. The unpretentious, innovative designer shares a little bit about his journey with us here for the latest A Conversation with.
The idea for CLAE began… in 2001 with the desire to bridge the gap between sneakers and shoes. At the time, you had to choose between the comfort of traditional sneakers or premium materials and quality construction of casual/dress shoes. With CLAE we wanted to offer the best of both worlds, creating stylish, comfortable footwear that could seamlessly transition with you from one moment to the next.
Learning when to move on… is something you learn over the years. Weighing out all the options at hand and making the most logical and progressive choice is ideal.
Being “your own boss”… is something I share with my two partners. For me personally, it means working hard to realize your vision and having the freedom to make certain decisions, which also brings accountability and responsibilities for those decisions. You are faced with many challenges which you must find solutions to, be it design, sales, marketing, or daily operations. It can be stressful but you don’t complain about sweeping the floors or working 70 hour weeks because you’ve chosen to be your own boss.
The sneaker industry used to be… limited to a few giants who ran the market. More independent brands are being introduced to the market now, allowing men to have a wider array of footwear options.
Designing footwear is something that… became a reality through my evolution in design. I originally started with industrial design in high school but somehow found my path through graphic and apparel design, which eventually lead me to footwear design in 1997. Footwear is much different from graphic or apparel design in that it is much more sculptural, with an emphasis on shape and function at its core. It is deeply rooted in pleasing lines, functional materials and interesting color play that can often evoke an emotional response.
I always hoped… to be the starting point guard for the New York Knicks.
Nothing can take the place of… my family, friends and the all the things that I have experienced throughout my life.
Experience is something that… can’t be replaced. Knowing is not enough, you must act on it and experience it for yourself. Your past experiences should guide you through your future decisions given that you learn from those experiences whether they be successes or failures.
To me, my parents are… responsible for who I am today. From immigrating to New York when I was 11, to having me work at a menswear shop when I was 12, to sending me to Brooklyn Tech High School. They allowed me the space to explore and grow. They had the best intentions, even with a heavy language and cultural barrier. Thank you, mom and dad!
Starting work at a young age has… taught me the value of hard work, time and money.
The OFS is… short for Our Favorite Shop which is a retail extension of CLAE where we showcase our footwear collection as well as music, books and array of goods from independent creatives with a certain charm and interest. We offer ROSTARR prints, Sal Barbier, US Alteration and Baron Von Fancy to name a few. OFS is a retail experience, a space for creative exchange and community events.