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UX design translates to much more than just the online experience. Companies like Pepsi, Nike, and Ford use design thinking to improve product creation, imagine new ways to interact with customers, and more. Likewise, industries like hospitality, retail, and banking have been lifted by design thinking.
We spoke with James Choi, an alumni of the UX Design Certificate Course, to learn more about how he used design and user research to build out his business, corduroi club, a retail company that offers simple high-quality apparel and accessories.
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How did you break into the fashion industry?
I launched corduroi club in 2015, the concept of the brand is to focus on excellence. My goal for the company is to create quality products in limited quantities. I grew up with many talented, creative friends, and I hope to create a collaborative platform that constantly goes back and forth between new ideas and products. Over the past few years of running corduroi club, I have been fortunate to meet many like-minded creatives, artists, photographers, and brand owners from all over the globe that I would’ve never met otherwise. It opened up many doors for me when I decided to take the risk, put out my idea, and watch it grow little by little.
How did you discover the demand for affordable, high-quality T-shirts?
Initially, I was searching for quality T-shirts for myself. After researching and talking with people, I realized there is a potential market for mid-range quality T-shirts in North America. It really started off with a passion to find something that I love, which eventually led to researching production, finding a manufacturer, and next thing I know, I am setting up a business meeting and starting a clothing brand!
What inspired your branding and aesthetic?
corduroi club’s aesthetic is really just a natural expression of my upbringing. It is a collage of all the things I’ve immersed myself in over the years: growing up in Hong Kong and Vancouver; reading Japanese magazines from early 2000s; studying jazz music in university — and placing all of those elements together into one project.
I realized a lot of my inspiration comes from my fascination for street culture and design. You look at cities like Tokyo, Vancouver, and New York for example, how each of those cities have a certain atmosphere and feeling: the way people talk, the architecture, the sounds. All of these unique cultural expressions are what inspires me when I think in terms of branding and identity. With corduroi club, I hope to use these white T-shirts as a blank canvas to unravel the personality and individuality of each person wearing these simple quality garments. It’s an idea I am always thinking about and experimenting with: to create products that users can wear in their own style and expression.
At one point, you opened a temporary storefront for your T-Shirts. Why did you think it was important to have a Pop-up store?
Yes, thankfully my friends own a design studio and storefront in Kitsilano called SORT. I think it is always important to showcase the products in a physical space and allow customers to experience the products in person. I love meeting customers and interacting with them; I think it is a good way for me to receive feedback on how customers feel about the brand and how it is received.
As a startup brand, I think it is special for me to discover who the early customers are and to be able to connect with them directly as friends. Their support is what encourages me to keep going and it has been a rewarding experience to see the brand and the customer base grow over the years.
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What made you decide to take a UX Certificate Course?
In the last year or so, I became very interested in the tech industry because a lot of my friends are programmers and designers. I realized the importance of UX design as a universal skill and how it aligns with the things that I do: designing business solutions (products) that ultimately help people solve problems and improve their daily experiences.
What are some key lessons you learned from BrainStation that helped you design your brand and product?
Some of the important skills I learned from the program are design thinking, user empathy, and understanding the importance of user-centric designs. Design thinking was a big one for me. When studying music, I was trained to practice and practice until I could play the drums better and faster, kind of like exercising and building muscles. But, it never really taught me to ask why, or how I should approach a problem when I am stuck. Starting a business can be really tough when everything begins with a trial and error process. I learned a lot from my mistakes and if I had learned about design thinking earlier on, it would’ve helped me strategize and plan ahead to create more optimal business decisions that would have saved time and money.
What do you do to stay creative in your spare time?
In my spare time, I usually read design articles on tech websites to keep up with the industry. I also love to research vintage clothing, watch skateboard videos, and read about Bauhaus designers and their approach.
The UX Course teaches students to use a User Journey Map to organize ideas and plot research. How did you adapt this method from your UX training into planning your retail products?
One of the key insights I discovered through my User Journey Map was understanding to address the moments when customers experience doubts during the shopping experience. Often, they are doubtful when they are unsure about their size, which is a common problem for online shopping. I try to alleviate those doubts by providing measurements of the shirts and reference photos on social media to show how the product fits on different body types.
Do you think you’ll expand beyond the T-shirt space in the future? If so, will you follow the same process?
Definitely, I still see corduroi club at it’s beginning stage and there are still so many projects I want to explore in the future. I am so glad and thankful for the strong support from customers all over the world. They really encourage me to move forward and continue to expand the label.
I remember one time my friend took a photo of a guy wearing a corduroi club tote bag at a concert in Tokyo, it was an incredible moment for me! I think the process is always refining and I am always learning new information about design and growing a business. I am always trying new things and I am excited to apply the things I have learned from BrainStation to grow the brand as well as my UX career in the tech industry.
Take a look at our UX Design Certificate Course.