Hanna Kang Aspires to Take Dog Fashion to the Next Level With laēlap
When it comes to searching for cute clothes for our beloved pups, we often find that the majority of the options out there are basic, poorly made or just plain corny. Entrepreneur Hanna Kang realized this, too, so she set out to do something about it.
Inspired by a growing culture of dressing up pets as an extension of the owners' personal sense of style in her birthplace of South Korea, Hanna was inspired to create her own dog fashion line, and thus, laēlap was born. Each piece is made to be modern, chic and expressive, while also being made sustainably, with recycled fabrics crafted into pieces that are made to last. It didn't take long for us to fall in love with her adorable pieces–especially being modeled on smiling puppies—and we had the pleasure of chatting with Hanna to learn all about the brand and why laēlap is so important to her.
Name: Hanna Kang
IG Handle: @laelap_official
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
1. The idea behind laēlap begins with the fact that, in Hanna's native South Korea, it's extremely common for pets to be dressed up like little people.
"If you want to truly understand the story of why dressing up pets is so common in Korea, there is one important metric to be aware of: the country's fertility rate. The reasons are too complicated to summarize here, but what to know is that South Korea has consistently had the lowest fertility rate of all countries in the world. Instead of having children, the population has been turning to pet ownership instead. As a result, these pets are literally their owners' babies, and it's only natural that people want to spoil their babies with cute clothes.
As a Korean American, I've been traveling to-and-from Korea my entire life, and I was able to witness the trend of dressing up pets ingrain itself into the culture over the years. However, it was never really something that stood out to me until recently. You see, dogs get cold, and dog clothes have always been a thing. It's not surprising to me to see a dog dressed up. It wasn't until people started to really experiment and dress their dogs up for fashion, instead of function, that it caught my attention. It's a very new phenomenon where you can be walking through the streets of Seoul, and consistently pass by different dogs dressed up in the same aesthetic as their owners. (And to clarify, I'm not talking about directly matching where your dog is wearing the exact same pattern or outfit as you. I'm talking about your dog exuding the same aesthetic energy as you. Totally different.)
As someone with a deep interest in the arts and fashion, I've always had a strong desire to self-express through different creative means. So, only naturally, when I saw how the lines between petwear and fashion were blurring, I took it as another opportunity to self-express (but this time through the clothes I put on my dog). When I returned to the United States that year, I immediately began my search for dog clothes that aligned with my personal aesthetic. After an exhaustive online and in-person search, not only was I not able to find anything for my dog that fit my style, I was extremely disappointed with the options I did have. So—it was up to me to design the perfect dog clothes myself. And that's how laēlap was born."
(Image courtesy of Hanna Kang)
2. laēlap is a multi-layered brand name.
"The outer layer is its more obvious meaning, which is a play on the words 'lay' and 'lap,' an acknowledgment of the way my dog Ollie lovingly likes to lay on my lap as I work. The inner layer, and less obvious meaning, is that 'laēlap' is inspired by the legendary Greek dog, Laelaps. According to the lore, Laelaps was a dog that never failed to catch what it was hunting, and that level of determination is exactly the type of energy I need in life.
On some of our pieces, you may notice two blue lines stitched next to the laēlap logo. That's actually a hidden third layer of meaning, with the two lines metaphorically representing an owner and their dog walking side by side. I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate the unwavering loyalty that dogs give us!"
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3. Hanna aspires for a future in which dog fashion is taken as seriously as fashion for humans.
"In that lens, laēlap's long-term goal is to elevate and legitimize dog fashion within modern American culture. As mentioned before, we're already starting to see inklings of this shift in other parts of the world, notably in South Korea, as dogs are increasingly being dressed up for aesthetics rather than function. However, I think it's hard for us in the United States right now to take dog fashion seriously because it's hard to take seriously what's on the market for dogs today: mass-produced, low-quality clothes in tacky patterns and designs. I'm talking about those thin shirts with 'mom's little angel' screen-printed on the back, or those poorly-knit sweaters from questionable labor sources that fall apart after a wash. Such clothes we would not be caught dead wearing ourselves, yet it's the only option we have to dress our dogs in. We have such high standards for the clothes we personally wear, and I believe the only way dog fashion will be legitimized is by holding petwear brands accountable to those same high standards as well. That's where I'm positioning laēlap to stand out. We hope to lead by example by being the first brand to bring human standards to dog clothes. That means made-to-last, thoughtfully-designed pieces created from sustainability-sourced materials. All the things that make us love our own clothes, we should be able to love in our dog's clothes as well!"
4. laēlap takes sustainability seriously in terms of both materials and labor.
"First, regarding our materials: we have partnered with leading fashion manufacturers in Korea to purchase their fabric scraps leftover from the production of human clothes. Usually, these scraps are sent directly to landfills as they are too small to make additional human clothes from. However, they are just the perfect size for dog clothes. We recognized this opportunity early on and have since saved tons of scraps from piling up in landfills by upcycling them into dog clothes. In partnering with these fashion manufacturers, not only have we found a source of high-quality fabric that does not require the use of additional water and energy, but we are also bringing the notoriously wasteful fashion industry one step closer to a zero-waste future.
Second, regarding our labor: I have personally screened each and every one of our seamstresses for their superior attention to detail and ability in hand-making clothes. As compensation for their amazing talent, we pay them twice the industry average. We're transparent about our labor practices because we are proud to support sustainable labor. If a brand isn't open about their labor practices, you really have to wonder—are they hiding something?"
5. Hanna's favorite pieces from the laēlap collection are their personalized sweaters—in particular, the noma essential crewneck.
"When you have your dog's name stitched on, there's only one such sweater in the entire world, and I love that aspect of uniqueness. Secondly, I think there's something so sentimental about having a name on something. When I was born, my mom had my name stitched onto a blanket, and that blanket is still something that I have today. Looking at it brings me so much joy. It is my hope that I can capture that feeling and share it with owners and dogs everywhere."
6. The best advice she ever got came from her mother, the most important guiding figure in her life.
"Something she told me that really stuck with me is to 'do what feels right, even if it's not easy.' During some of the most challenging moments building laēlap, remembering those words gave me just enough strength to push ahead. In the beginning, there was almost a possibility that laēlap wouldn't exist as there were seemingly an insurmountable number of obstacles in the way of starting a sustainable and ethical fashion brand. I can't count the number of manufacturers that turned me away after asking to purchase their fabric scraps because they didn't believe that I was going to make dog clothes, and thought that I was going to steal their designs and recreate their products instead. I could've saved myself so many sleepless nights and anxious days by turning a blind eye and sourcing the cheapest fabrics and outsourcing production to the lowest bidder. But, remembering my mom's words, I stuck by the values that felt right to me and in the end, it was all worth it because I have so much more to be proud of."
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7. One of the most helpful habits that Hanna picked up when she was young is to truly listen.
"Not just listening to what people have to say, but listening to what's happening around the world. Be it arts, culture, or politics, I make an active effort every day to catch up with current events. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and in this line of creative work, you never know where the next idea will come from."
8. Hanna says the most rewarding thing about her work is hearing kind words from fans of the brand.
"Even more so when they share with me a photo of their dog in laēlap pieces. Like, wow—this used to be just a crazy idea I had, and now, there are real dogs out there in the world wearing laēlap. It's hard for me to believe."
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9. Of all of her senses, Hanna's strongest is her sense of smell.
"I may very well have been a dog in a past life…"
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