Chanel may have governance over the ever-iconic “Little Black Jacket,” but newcomer Oba sweeps the rest of the fashion sector clean with all other things outerwear. What is Oba? It’s a colloquial play on the Korean word “oh-bah-koh-te” which translates to the English word “overcoat.” It’s also a fashion line of brilliant coats, its brand proudly built on the belief that the overcoat is the soul of every woman’s ensemble. Oba avers that the coat, often overlooked for versatility, is much more than an outer shell varying from one of few options and changing only in accordance with rotation of the seasonal calendar. Signature elements of the brand include completely transformative shapes, quality workmanship, and intricate details. The Oba team is forging a new path and pushing the boundaries of women’s outerwear. Today, we’re chatting with founder and designer, Joanna Lim, to learn more, as Oba installs its newest international showroom location in Shanghai.
How do you feel that your Korean and Chinese roots have worked together to create the design aesthetic you have now. Which comes through more pervasively?
I grew up in Hong Kong and was exposed to Chinese and British culture more as a child and teenager. However, I always loved, appreciated and admired the Korean aesthetic and style, with their acute sense of color and their subtle attention to detail. I draw from both cultures equally with regards to pragmatism and functionality of design, attention to detail, and clean silhouettes.
What are you most excited for with the Shanghai showroom opening, since this is your first physical location? Why did you choose to have all the offices, workroom and showroom together?
I’m excited to finally have a place where I can create the right atmosphere for Oba coats to be displayed as I imagined and designed them to be. After all, Oba is an extension of me. I’m very proud to present our new collections in the new showroom this season.
Having been in the apparel industry for the last 10 years, quality control is of utmost importance to me. I discovered most quality problems are due to outsourcing. You are unable to be at all places at the same time to check product quality. As such, having the three-in-one location allows me to follow up closely with every piece that is produced, whether it is during the design, sampling, or production phase. In many companies, especially in China, designers and merchandisers do not necessarily see how their products are displayed or sold. With the showroom and workroom in the same building, we work much closer as a team. Every member of the Oba team can see clearly where we are coming from, and what we are trying to achieve. This is very important to me, for us all to be on the same page and work as a close knit family.
What do you think is the difference between how expats and local Chinese will feel about your coats?
For local Chinese customers, there is a strong interest for something new. To them, Oba coats are unlike any other they have ever seen before in terms of silhouettes and styles. They often like asking my opinion about ‘how’ to wear and style the outerwear. As for the expats, they are very attracted to the different colors and fabrics, and the little details of our coats, which are not typically found elsewhere.
One thing that both types of customers experience equally is the immediate sensation of wearing something beautiful once they try on an Oba coat. Because, frankly speaking, Oba coats do not display well on a hanger alone. One needs to try it, wear it, to see what makes Oba coat stand out. Part of Oba’s ethos is that an overcoat is an all-in-one centerpiece that should accentuate an outfit. Color and silhouettes both play a crucial role in this and our customers, whether expat or Chinese, understand this to some degree.
Which coat is your favorite, and why?
I’ve probably worn Freedom and Great Depression to shreds already!
Freedom in one of my favorites because it is easy to throw on top of most outfits. It is made of double wool so it’s extremely warm. There are also many ways to wear it, such as: collar up or flat open; with or without a belt; any which way changes the look completely. Sometimes people think it’s a new coat when in fact they’ve already seen it before! Great Depression is also another favorite because I love the fuchsia color, and the ‘boyfriend’ look. I’m also a big scarf fanatic, so both these coats allow me to play with my multitude of scarves. My wardrobe at home is currently 70% scarves and coats!
Where do you feel most inspired? What specific place in Shanghai?
I like to travel. Every now and again I need to get out of the work environment, catch a breath of fresh air be it the outskirts of Shanghai, or to another country. Doing so gives me perspective of beautiful things outside of my comfort zone. I try to take the time out and see new exhibits and art galleries, check out new restaurants and hotels with interesting interior designs, just to get more ideas for shapes, sizes, colors… anything visual really.
I don’t think that there is any one specific place in Shanghai where I feel most inspired, however I do love just walking around and seeing the way people dress in Shanghai; from the printed pajamas and slippers at the local supermarket, to the funky younger generation wearing asymmetric silhouettes and crazy colors. It’s so interesting, there is always something to spot and talk about. People in Shanghai generally care very much about how they dress and appear. Even when trends change quickly, you still see a mix of old and new dress styles, much like the city itself. Which is why I think it is a great hub for anyone in the industry to observe and experience, be a part of. I love Shanghai. I don’t think there’s any other place I’d prefer to be at this moment in time.
There’s no place we’d rather have Oba than here in Shanghai. We’re excited for the opening of the Shanghai showroom, discreetly located in a traditional Chinese “hutong” or alleyway. Look out for Oba, and keep an eye open too for the inspired Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, which has each coat modeled after an important and impactive woman in international history.
By Stephany Zoo, cofounder and marketing director of Bundshop.
photo credit: oba