Jee Lee, Founder & Creative Director On Realizing Her Own Vision By Creating Brand A.F.L.O.A.T and Paving the Way in Conscious Consumerism in Swimwear

Name: Jee (Yeon) Lee

Title/Role: Founder of A F L O A T (All for the Love of an Awesome Tomorrow)

Based in: New York City

Age: 32

Jee Lee, the founder and designer of novel swimwear brand, A F L O A T, is an enigma: From graduating at Duke University with a degree in Economics and Chinese and a minor in Psychology, to attaining an AAS degree in Fashion Merchandising at Parsons School of Design, she has pulled on her multi-faceted education in redrafting the definition for modern luxury swimwear. After having worked at leading fashion houses such as Barneys New York and Loewe, Jee left at the end of 2018 to pursue her long time dream of creating a brand. She’s quickly moved to found two LLCs that encompass operations of her new swimsuit/bodysuit brand A F L O A T (all for the love of an awesome tomorrow) and fashion consulting. Having debuted her collection at Paris market and at Cabana Miami this July, she is poised to charm the fashion world, on her own terms.

We explore together her life philosophy, which has pervaded every aspect of her swimwear-bodysuit brand, and A F L O A T’s stance on sustainability, wellbeing and appreciation for time-old craftsmanship (Italian, no less).

1. In your words, who are you?

Jee:  I am creative and entrepreneurial spirited. I love art, electronic music and travelling. I love fashion, especially RTW (ready to wear), as I see it as a way to express the person that I am.

 2. “Made in NYC with high-tech, sustainable Italian fabrics” What does that mean for you? In a retail world littered with terms like Italian made or artisan-made in the apparel space, what is it you are doing with swimwear?

Jee: With my background as a buyer at Barneys New York and Loewe, I felt a huge void in the swimwear market. Swimwear looked all too similar, and it was a personal struggle to find a unique suit that I wanted to wear and could express who I am through it. I recognized the opportunity to inject something new to the market, and with A F L O A T, my goal was to create a multifunctional swim/bodysuit brand that you can wear as a swimsuit or bodysuit with a distinct combination of bright, bold colors and unique geometric shapes. Also, as travel and social media have become a huge part of our lives, I wanted to design suits that photograph well or as we call it, Instagram-worthy. Sleeves were designed as a set for many suits in the collection to be able to create an editorial look; on a functional, more practical level, they serve to cover your skin.

“Made in NYC” has a special meaning for me despite the relatively higher cost of production that comes as a result. “Made in NYC” has allowed me to have full, direct control over the entire process from sample making to production in order to ensure high quality. Additionally, I made it our goal to use sustainable, eco-friendly fabrics as well as minimal packaging, which is in line with what the acronym A F L O A T stands for— “All For the Love of an Awesome Tomorrow,” signifying our commitment to raise awareness on sustainability issues

3. Who or what do you derive inspiration from on a more regular basis?

Jee: I derive inspiration from art of all media that I encounter, particularly when I travel. 

Oil painting is one of my favorite media because depth of colors and texture of brush strokes bring out emotions and movements in paintings. I particularly appreciate pop of colors in the works of Henri Matisse and surrealism elements in Marc Chagall’s and Rene Magritte’s works that make you think outside the frame and use your imagination to understand or make a story out of it.

René Magritte, Son of Man, 1964

4. Let’s talk about your wellbeing as a solo founder and freelance. Where does balance come into it all, and how do you thrive balancing both roles, or rather 3, considering your personal life? 

Jee: Aside from running my own brand A F L O A T, I run a fashion brand consulting business and have been working on a project for a fashion company. The project involves identifying, strategizing and helping brands penetrate the global market. I recently spearheaded the launching of a handbag brand with two leading global retailers, which has been very fulfilling. The project has also allowed me to step back from my own brand and look at the bigger picture in regards to brand identity, collection plan, pricing, and growth strategies, etc. Although it’s a tremendous amount of work and responsibilities to run two separate businesses, I have never felt more fulfilled; both businesses have allowed me to use my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to the fullest. As for both businesses I am working on things that are meaningful to me as a person and out of my own initiative, I find myself generally happier—that happiness certainly spills over into my personal life. Also, there is a benefit of flexible work schedule which has enabled me to be creative with the use of my own time and fit in activities such as workout sessions, museum hopping and traveling that fuel me to spring forward.

5. Is there ever a time you struggled with maintaining balance in your life? What was it and what actionable things did you end up taking to overcome it?

Jee:  As an entrepreneur, it’s all too easy for your personal life to become an extension of your work life. In the beginning when I formed the two LLCs, I struggled a bit to get my mind off of my business given a long list of tasks to be completed to get the business running. I found myself working without weekends; however, once I recognized the lack of work/life balance, I had to consciously make an effort to set my mind off of it and step back. I strive to have at least one day off a week to rest and fuel up for the coming week, which has become part of my routine now.

6. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well?

Jee: With my personal trainer, I follow a workout regimen that involves TRX training. It uses your own body weight to work out your core and build strength. Even with lots of work travel making it challenging to keep up my workout routine, I strive to get in a few workout sessions per week.. When I am traveling and do not have access to a gym, I make it my goal to walk as many miles as possible to work off any extra calories from enjoying good food. I also enjoy floating in the water which helps me relieve stress and brings calmness to mind. This is also what inspired to name the brand A F L O A T. 

7. Do you use any apps, tools, or refer to any sites that you feel have directly impacted your physical, emotional, mental, and or spiritual wellbeing?

Jee: I have been using a Garmin watch which is linked to its app on Iphone that tracks your steps, calories burned, sleep level, stress level and more. Ever since I started using it, I’ve become more aware of my own state and increasingly look to ways to improve both my physical and emotional wellbeing.

8. As someone who naturally desires to create, how does the concept of “work” tie closely with your idea of your wellness? 

Jee: Even as a buyer, I’ve always wanted to create a brand of my own that mirrors the lifestyle and vision that I pursue. An important part of the brand identity is in the name itself, A F L O A T, which as I mentioned before was inspired by my love of floating in the water because it calms my mind and body. I see the brand as a reflection of my personal pursuit for wellness. 

9. When you envision your life of wellness, what does that look like to you if you were to draw yourself and your life out, whether it be from the framing of a regimen or lifestyle?

Jee: I’d like to continue sticking with my workout routine, traveling and experience more. Now as a founder of a swim/bodysuit brand and more than ever, I dream of living closer to beautiful beaches.

We’re calling it here first: A F L O A T, designed to make all your worries fade away with a colorful float in the water, is one to watch.

Interview by Susan Im

Swimwear Look Photos by Yeon J. Yue

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