Drawing from traditional Korean hanbok fashion and contemporary design, Mia and Dae Sundae created Sundae School, an inspired brand with a unique collection of smokewear. When the sister-brother team came to America for school and discovered cannabis, still prohibited in Korea, they tried it out for themselves and felt an immediate connection. Today, Mia (22 years old), currently studying at Wharton, and Dae (25 years old), a Harvard graduate, use their collective ingenuity to operate their one-of-a-kind brand featuring comfortable clothing for the affluent and intellectual cannabis enthusiast. High-quality hats with a side spliff holder, monk coats with stash pockets and pleated baji pants are only a few of their exquisitely made pieces. With three charmed smokewear lines thus far, Sundae School teaches us their own lessons about the “uniform for the high-minded.” PRØHBTD sat down with Dae to learn more about the art and business of smokewear.
Before you moved to the U.S., were you curious about cannabis?
No, no. Actually, wow, that's such a good question. No one has ever asked me that before. I actually thought it was "the devil's lettuce," literally. My mom was telling me it was so… she said the word literally means devil’s lettuce. All the celebrities who were getting caught with weed I thought were bad people. I was like, "This guy sucks. Send them to jail."
Literally, that was how I was brought up. Korea has modernized so much culturally in the past months. It's very, very heavily demonized in Korea.
How did you finally try it out?
We came to America when I was 13. I was at boarding school a year after, so I just lived alone. For me, a lot of boarding school was just about getting into college, getting that dream of higher education that my mother sent me to the United States for. I studied really hard, I did all my SAT shit in time. When I really got to college was when those little experimentations of beyond the straight, golden Korean boy path, a.k.a. become a doctor, happened.
At Harvard there are a lot of educated, smart people who are stoners, and it's crazy. There's a group that has a poll on it, like what percent of the student population smoked weed. I think it's like a one, two, three bar chart. I forget the numbers, but it was much more than expected. It was crazy.
When you picked up on it finally, you were studying Applied Math at Harvard. How did cannabis change you and how did that translate into "Let's design some smokewear"?
Basically, I would say the real kind of epiphany... it was actually just gradual assimilation that took over time. I tried it for the first time in high school. Then during college, my roommate smoked, so I tried it here and there, but I wasn't smoking every day or it wasn't even a lifestyle. It was such a small part of my life. Then I started smoking more and having amazing experiences where I would share a lot about myself to others that I've met. That sort of environment. We stay united, you know?
Cannabis is very social. You found the social element.
Yeah. I loved the social aspect of it. I loved clearly how it feels throughout your body and how it relaxes you. Honestly, that for me was the main driver where I started experimenting more and kind of doing it more as lifestyle. That's later college years, right?
After that, I worked at a management consulting company, McKinsey & Company. During that time, it was such a high-stress, high-strung environment. For me, one of the ways in which I was expressing and spending my free time was through cannabis and through the amazing social interactions. And the side projects, such as Sundae School, that are born while you're smoking weed.
Yeah, while you're talking about things and you’re like, "Why doesn't my jacket have somewhere to hold my joint properly?"
Yeah, exactly. Honestly, we are punny. We like to think we're punny. The best puns are high puns.
Hence, the origin of your brand name, Sundae School?
Yes, people are like, "What, the day? Like D-A-Y?" "No, like ice cream sundae." That's what I would say.
It’s also funny because you’re playing with the idea of Sunday School as well, which is a western reference to religious class, something just as symbolic as the strict, closed-minded Korean culture you mentioned.
Yeah, exactly. Religion also has just been such a big inspiration and a reference as well. I'm not religious, but it's the rich narratives that they tell. It's been such an exploring experience reading texts about it that I've never read before. The culture around it is so beautiful. I would love to explore that more, once our scheduled explorations are done.
But we explored that in our first lookbook ever, which was Genesis. It was about our company being born on our end, a branding born. In our Genesis, God was high every day when he started the Earth.
Exploring stuff like that has been really fun. We started it as a nice, fun hobby, and it's become such a pleasure. We are now working full-time on it. That was the first project that we did after we left our jobs. I was at VFILES as well, which is a fashion retailer, after my time consulting. It's been a ride and a half.
It’s creative to use your own cultural narratives to fuel a story for fashion. It makes a lot of sense because fashion is an important part of our lifestyle.
Like comfortable fashion, you know? We make smokewear. What does smokewear mean? It's got to be comfortable. It's got to feel high when you're wearing it. It's got to make you feel. It's got to make you think about the high moment or the high memories you have. We also want it to be lighthearted and funny. Whenever we create a garment, that's the main prerequisite that it needs to be.
How do you like to dress? On a day-to-day basis, are you somebody that dresses casual?
My favorite brand is Sundae School, and I wear a lot of Sundae School, obviously.
I'm very casual. I am probably, these days, mostly in workout gear during the day. When I go out, I usually wear my brand. But then I love mix and matching, so I love wearing my hoodies with a nice pair of pants and loafers. If I go out, sometimes I go all out, but most times I think it's pretty much an easy look.
The smokewear collection is made to order, and it's available in the U.S. and in Korea. Are there differences for the Korean market that you do, or differences for the American market?
Yeah, because in America there's a bigger market. In Korea, it's so taboo, it's basically a lot of people who engage in expat culture or people who are genuinely curious about the whole culture around it or the hip-hop scene. That is growing in Korea with the youth revolution, for sure, but it's still not a mass market. But that being said, Korean customers are amazing. They're my people. Yeah, then the American customers, they're amazing, and they're my people.
Tell me a little bit more about the Korean youth culture and that scene in Seoul. Is cannabis culture starting to get more ground?
No, Korea is super strict. I don't smoke when I'm in Korea. I respect the culture. But there was a flyer that I found on Instagram for a cannabis meetup in Korea. I was like, "That's so funny." That concept is just so foreign in Korea. People are talking about the medical benefits, of course, but I think general acceptance is definitely decades away. Then legalization, because of bureaucracy, is even more decades away.
Sundae School collections are inspired by cannabis but also Korean traditional fashion.
A lot of cuts and graphics are very inspired from where I was born. There's so many talented Korean designers out there.
Hanbok is a grand, traditional piece of clothing. It's so comfortable. The cuts are very well formed to the body, and the pleats, for instance. That's a very traditional Korean technique that we use in this collection. It was so rich. Exploring that culture, studying about it, brainstorming different ways to make the garment look more fresh and whatnot has been such a great experience, especially while high.
I appreciate how much you respect your culture and how much—even though it's divided on the issue of cannabis—you're still operating from a place of love for your culture.
Exactly. I'm not just Korean, I'm also American, you know? I am a Korean-American based in New York. We have that Korean-American culture. Usually, people are like, "Oh, that's a Korean smokewear brand," or "That's like a New York-based smokewear brand," but for us, it's just about the community of stoners, and they're everywhere. They're in Korea, too. There are people who smoke in Korea, but then the risks of going to jail exponentially increase, which... I mean, Korea.
Completely. Becoming a Korean-American, what does that mean to you now, and how does that relate to your brand?
One of the most important things for our brand is that we like to think of ourselves as irreverent and scholastic at the same time. We have some fresh new Sundae School university merch dropping. I'm so excited.
The new collection, Weed Scholar?
Yes, we just got it into Barneys. We'll be launching that line with them, so we're really excited about that. We're irreverent and scholastic at the same time, which is ironic, right? The irony is like the ethos. The fact that we are, I'll say it, the only Korean smokewear brand is so ironic. I love that.
I love the lookbook for Weed Scholar. How did you approach preparing for those images?
I co-creative directed this with my good friend Seung Jun Lee, who's an amazing creative director in Seoul. I was preparing for the show, and we couldn't make it out to Seoul, so I was like, "This is the concept. Run with it." The execution was so beautiful. The photographer Jinwoo Park is so amazing. He captured the vibe of the easy, comfortable, fab vibes of Sundae School perfectly.
The second lookbook we did was When Tigers Used to Smoke. Basically, I creative directed that with my sister, Mia. My sister did the shoot. On the first lookbook I did the shoot. It's been really fun.
It’s great that you have that ambition. Who inspires you?
Definitely our parents, of course. They're amazing. They're go-getters. We really learned how to hustle from them. We work hard, and basically, if it doesn't work out, don't cry about it, move on.
How do they feel about you making clothes for "the devil's lettuce”?
They were furious about it in the beginning, and then they came around. Before it was a concept, now it's still a concept and a storybook. I like to think of Sundae School as a collection of narratives complemented with a larger fabric of fashion in cannabis and culture. We're just a collection of stories, and I would really love to keep building on those stories.
Our clothes are very comfortable, and they're very easy. I think that they're the best shirts ever. Our caps, for instance, when you're smoking a joint, you can put it on the side and there's a space for your nightcap. There's a roach holder.
But that being said, our brand exists because of the culture and because of our consumers. We're actually running a survey on it right now, and they're most likely stoners, or so-called stoners. People who enjoy smoking weed or just using cannabis. I think that is such a big culture shift. Then you see how this industry is going to expand into trade and whatnot, and that's fascinating. Once I explained that angle, our parents were like, “Okay, word. Just go do your thing. Don't cry about it when you come back, and don't come to us for help." But I understand that. They paid for my education so I'm grateful. It's a challenge, but it's also exciting.