How My Dad Let Me Fail in Order to Succeed

How My Dad Let Me Fail in Order to Succeed

When my dad first immigrated to the United States from South Korea, he ended up in Lansing, Michigan and landed his first job as a gas station attendant. Back then, they wouldn’t turn off the engine when fueling. He recalled filling up the tanks, coughing, and holding his breath as long as he could until he had to breathe the noxious fumes of the cars (which, by the way, had way less pollution regulations back then).

Thankfully, he landed his second job at a bread factory. He had a very menial job and knew he could help the factory operate much more efficiently, but since he didn’t know English, he struggled to communicate his ideas to his bosses. Eventually, he figured that math was a universal language and expressed his thoughts through pointing, drawing numbers, and demonstrating how they could increase the efficiency of production. This earned him a promotion despite the fact that he couldn’t speak their language.

My family in 1982

After my older sister Jin (the other co-founder of Coop) was born in 1979, my parents saved every penny and headed out west for the Gold Rush. Just kidding, they’re not that old. However, they did jump in their old Mercury and make the long trek to Los Angeles, the land of opportunity and diversity. In 1982, I was born at the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles.

Back in South Korea, my dad had learned pattern making, the art of turning 2D designs into fabric patterns used to make clothes. Essentially, he knew how to turn the drawings of fashion designers into clothes that fit comfortably. The garment district was thriving in Los Angeles, so he quickly landed a job as a pattern maker. My parents continued to save every dime and nickel—even reserving a can of Coke and Big Mac for special occasions. After a few years, they had saved enough money to start a small retail clothing store in Echo Park, a bustling community in Los Angeles. Combining my dad’s textile experience and my mom’s natural knack for fashion, the store did great, which allowed them to open a second location.

My parents’ clothing store in Echo Park

During this time, I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, often following my parents to work and hiding in the clothing racks like a secret agent, hoping the shoppers wouldn’t find me. I remember when the 1992 LA Riots completely destroyed one store, forcing my dad to lock himself inside the remaining one to protect it. He said that rioters would try to break in, so he had to fire a warning shot in the air for them to scatter. In the end, that store survived, but the second location was another story. There wasn’t a single clothes hanger left, the cash register was bashed open, and everything from the stapler to the toilet paper was gone.

Fortunately, my parents bounced back and rebuilt the looted store. Things went well for several more years, but after a while, they had bigger plans. They sold both stores and started designing and manufacturing their own clothes and designs to sell to retailers. My dad was finally able to showcase his pattern making skills, and their line Picasso Style started to garner attention due to the fit of their denim. They started going to industry trade shows, where their booth buzzed with customers. At one point, magazine editors and reporters wanted to interview my parents, but due to their poor English skills, they were too shy and turned them down.

Regardless of their language barrier, they did well for themselves. Eventually, the company expanded and started supplying major retailers like Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Forever 21, and many others.

The Picasso Style team in 2006

As a confused college student, I ended up joining their company and started from the bottom: packing boxes, driving shipments, and learning everything from sales and production to textiles and manufacturing. With time, my dad trusted me to begin leading sales for the company. I was young and struggled a lot, making mistakes that harmed the company’s sales. With clients demanding lower prices, the clothing industry faltering at the time, and my mistakes made out of inexperience, the business reached a point in which it was no longer sustainable.

Despite that difficult period of time, I’m really thankful that my dad let me learn from my mistakes and continued to trust and invest in me.

He taught me that failure is necessary for success. With his encouragement, my sister Jin and I transitioned their clothing line into an e-commerce business, which gradually morphed into Coop, the sleep company you see here today.

Aside from teaching me the greatest lesson of all, I’m also thankful for my dad’s dedication to family and his courage to leave his home country for a mysterious new world in search of opportunity. His perseverance despite all the visible and invisible hurdles, as well as his ability to pick himself back up even after tragic losses, has continued to amaze and inspire me. Coop is truly an extension of seeds sown (and sewn!) from my father’s sacrifices.

Father and son

Thank you, Dad, I love you!

Feel free to share about your father in the comments below, and happy Father’s Day!