There's not an apple or peach in sight at one of Korea's most-popular fruit stalls

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There's not an apple or peach in sight at one of Korea's most-popular fruit stalls

A day in the life of Kim's Fruits' nationwide tour involves fruit T-shirts, plastic baskets and cardboard cutouts with messy handwriting. [KIM'S FRUITS]

A day in the life of Kim's Fruits' nationwide tour involves fruit T-shirts, plastic baskets and cardboard cutouts with messy handwriting. [KIM'S FRUITS]

 
A pick-up truck drives all over the country, from Seoul to Busan and Daegu. When it stops, the driver will and arrange plastic baskets on the ground, each with a different fruit inside. But there's something peculiar about this makeshift fruit stall. You won't find any crisp apples or juicy grapes to munch on, but rather T-shirts with digitally printed fruit on them.  
 
Kim’s Fruits, a clothing brand that started last May, found fame on social media for merging two disparate concepts into a whole unique experience.
 
A stop on the nationwide tour involves the routine of arranging the round baskets often seen at traditional markets. Each basket has a cardboard cutout that has a fruit pun scribbled on it with marker like “The Essence of Hip-Hop: Lime,” or “Justin Bieber’s Peaches,” an ode to the pop singer’s hit 2021 song.
 
Inside each basket is a white short-sleeved T-shirt with digital prints of a variety of fruits such as apples, oranges, strawberries and kiwis.
 
The brand’s employees are dressed up like regular fruit sellers, making it easy for passersby to mistake the scene for a real fruit selling stand.  
 
The Korea JoongAng Daily met with Kim Do-young, the 29-year-old owner and designer of Kim’s Fruits, on Feb. 24 at the brand's first offline store near Dongdaemun Station, central Seoul. Even though the store was not open yet, it already blended well into the famous shopping district’s traditional atmosphere with narrow alleyways filled with bustling crowds, exposed plumbing and poor lighting.
 
The entrance to Kim's Fruits' store in Jongno District, central Seoul, which has yet to open [SHIN MIN-HEE]

The entrance to Kim's Fruits' store in Jongno District, central Seoul, which has yet to open [SHIN MIN-HEE]

The interior of the Kim's Fruits store in Jongno District, central Seoul. The Korea JoongAng Daily talked to Kim Do-young, owner and designer of the brand, while sitting on the blue table. Kim hung a picture of himself on the wall, shown on the left side. [SHIN MIN-HEE]

The interior of the Kim's Fruits store in Jongno District, central Seoul. The Korea JoongAng Daily talked to Kim Do-young, owner and designer of the brand, while sitting on the blue table. Kim hung a picture of himself on the wall, shown on the left side. [SHIN MIN-HEE]

 
Despite the brand gaining popularity for its quirky concept, surprisingly, Kim seemed pretty unamused himself as he maintained a straight face — and at times appearing even bored — throughout the interview.
 
When asked why he chose Dongdaemun for the store, Kim answered plainly, “because it was the cheapest option.”
 
The store, which Kim said was built in the 1930s, is shabby and barely spacious enough to fit two people but Kim was satisfied with how he could “feel its history.”
 
He didn’t renovate an entire wall and left behind remnants of old, ripped flyers and scribbles of what used to be in the former print shop.
 
And on that same wall was a picture of himself hung high, with a welcoming smile but with eyes that appear to be surveilling the area.
 
The brand decided to rent an additional space of similar size next door to use as an office.
 
In round baskets are cardboard cutouts scribbled on with marker with fruit puns, like “Justin Bieber’s Peaches,” an ode to the pop singer’s hit 2021 song. [SHIN MIN-HEE]

In round baskets are cardboard cutouts scribbled on with marker with fruit puns, like “Justin Bieber’s Peaches,” an ode to the pop singer’s hit 2021 song. [SHIN MIN-HEE]

 
“When I come to work I usually head over to the office,” Kim said. “Since I’m not here often [in the space where we sell T-shirts] I wanted my face to remind my friends to work hard with passion. I feel like it sets the mood for the store. I got inspiration from how there’s a picture of the president at the general’s office when I was in the army.”
 
Though Kim’s Fruits began business just last year, it has seen major popularity, to the point of selling out 4,000 T-shirts within 20 minutes in a home shopping session conducted with CJ.  
 
Kim started his fruit T-shirt business by “coincidence” after he “printed a picture of a tomato on a T-shirt last year, and I thought it was cute so I wanted to turn it into a series.”
 
What originally started as a one-time offer in a flea market took an unexpected turn when Kim sold 100 T-shirts and sold them two hours earlier than expected that day.
 
The Kim's Fruits crew. Kim Do-young, owner and designer of the brand, is on the right. [KIM'S FRUITS]

The Kim's Fruits crew. Kim Do-young, owner and designer of the brand, is on the right. [KIM'S FRUITS]

 
Kim had printed T-shirts since university where he majored in advertising — “as a hobby at first” — and later on acquired a business license and made T-shirts with faces of hip-hop stars in small quantities. A number of them, like rappers Yumdda, Changmo and Beenzino, actually wore them, helping Kim to garner a social media presence of 33,000 followers today.
 
Kim’s Fruits has collaborated with several brands across a variety of fields, including the convenience store Emart 24, fast food restaurant Mom’s Touch and even dating app Tinder. As selling his T-shirts outdoors is easiest in the summer, Kim said that the brand has focused on partnering with other businesses to sell T-shirts in limited edition quantities or participate in pop-up stores in other seasons.
 
But Kim doesn’t seem interested in continuing such collaborations. His sole focus has been creating white short-sleeved T-shirts and aims to continue doing so. He plans to expand his service to selling customized T-shirts that are printed in just eight minutes with a machine he has in the office.
 
“I like the T-shirts that we’ve created just by ourselves; just as Kim’s Fruits,” Kim said. “There’s a certain charm to white short-sleeved T-shirts. Everyone wears them. Other garments, however, are worn according to preference. For instance, I wear hoodies but I don’t wear crewnecks. I think short-sleeved T-shirts are the most commonly worn and popular.”
 
The back of Kim's Fruits' pick-up truck [KIM'S FRUITS]

The back of Kim's Fruits' pick-up truck [KIM'S FRUITS]

 
Kim says that he likes how T-shirts are also like a canvas for him and sometimes they can specially function as a collector’s item and don’t necessarily have to be bought to be worn.
 
“For us, the most important thing is that we serve and entertain people who visit us because they like Kim’s Fruits,” Kim said. “And like how CJ started out as a sugar and flour manufacturer and Samsung as a small trading company, Kim’s Fruits began business on the streets and ended up selling in department stores. I believe that we can naturally continue our success story and grow larger, one step at a time. Our biggest goal is having our fans continue to support us and wear our T-shirts.”

BY SHIN MIN-HEE [shin.minhee@joongang.co.kr]
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