Refugee to Entrepreneur, Alumna Says Yes to New Opportunities

Esther Kim ’12, came to the United States with her parents as Jewish refugees— their life in suitcases⁠— and their family dog.

Kim was a marketing management and supply chain management double major during her undergraduate time at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management.

Beyond Whitman

After graduating, Kim moved to New York City. She shares, “The first four years after graduation I worked at Macy’s in New York City doing product development for a private label. It was a great experience that I would not change for anything.”

“The next four years were spent taking relationship and work risks that I felt were necessary at the time,” says Kim. Her boyfriend at the time, who is now her husband, was offered acting roles outside of NYC and Kim decided to leave with him. She shares, “I evaluated my marketing and supply chain education and how it goes with my personal life. I figured out what I could do in the new situation. Since 2016 I worked multiple remote sales jobs as I was traveling the world.”

Kim reveals, “I met my husband at a party where I did not know a single soul. Say yes to new experiences, which is my life motto.”

Saying “yes” the past four years has led Kim to realize that she had the capabilities to be an entrepreneur and launch her own business.

Becoming and Entrepreneur

Kim has been developing a travel fashion brand called Into the Night. She shares, “I am so excited about this. It’s an idea that I have had for a while, but I never had the tools to see it to fruition. When I was traveling, my primary focus was to pack light, so I could say yes to new experiences and be mobile. It’s very hard to travel if you have two full suitcases. The planes are small and the streets are cobble”

Kim in London
(Kim exploring the streets of London)

Kim’s goal is to make it easy for women to travel by embracing minimalist fashion that can be worn during the day and into the late hours of the night. She says, “My friends and I would have fun days traveling where we were exploring and the next thing you know, it’s 2 a.m. and you haven’t thought of your clothing because you feel great.”

The four years of experience with Macy’s proved to be valuable to Kim. “It’s just so interesting because I had experience at Macy’s learning about the lead time, supply chain and the garment district. When I left, I didn’t see myself using that again and now it is so relevant. I can speak to duties, customs, all these things that I learned at Macy’s. It gave me so much knowledge that I didn’t know I would need at the time,” she shares.

The opportunity to begin a business venture came to Kim as she was working to promote a restaurant’s online presence. Some people would deem Kim an influencer, but she prefers to not be categorized as one.

“When you have a blog and social media following, people make ‘influencer’ a dirty word and give a stigma to it. They assume you don’t work hard. I don’t see myself as an influencer,” explains Kim. “With Into The Night, I see myself more entrepreneurial and use social media as a marketing platform that it can be.”

She continues, “I’m trying to be bigger than my Instagram page. I want to make an impact outside of likes and follows. I want to impact their actual journeys and inspire people’s travels,” she says.

The restaurant owner she was writing for liked the copy that Kim produced and they began to build a business relationship. Kim shares, “She happened to be looking to guide female entrepreneurs wanting to break into the retail industry. I love fashion but I didn’t know where to start. You sometimes just need to meet someone to make you take the leap and she did.”

Crediting Her Education for Her Success

Kim never imagined life would take her where it did. She explains, “I was a first-generation American. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I did not know what I wanted to be and it’s ok if you don’t.”

Her entrepreneurial spirit and networking skills bloomed at the Whitman School. She reflects on her undergraduate time fondly. “One of my most memorable experiences was spending time in the Whitman team rooms,” Kim remarks.

She adds, “I met and collaborated with so many incredible minds into the wee hours of the night. We collaborated on our capstone projects and studied together. I made so many long-term friendships that have lasted me eight years now. You see a different side of people than you see in a classroom.”

Kim in ancient Rome
(Kim in ancient Rome)

Kim also gained some of her fashion expertise while enrolled at Syracuse University. “I was involved in the fashion and creative world. Expanding my network outside of the business school to creatives, like students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts who studied fashion and people in the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who could do videography, it was very cool and progressive,” says Kim, who also recalls that Instagram didn’t become popular until after she graduated.

Kim’s advice for other Syracuse University students is this; “Take yourself out of your comfort zone, embrace all and new experiences. You can find your husband and your job. Anything could happen. Expand your network and stay close to them, especially from Syracuse University.”

Learn more about Whitman alumni in the latest alumni profiles.

Maya Bingaman
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