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Self-Taught Seamstress To Debut Fashion Collection At 17

Julia Ritchey

  Artown’s Reno Fashion Show is celebrating its fourth year Saturday at the Atlantis Casino Resort, where 200 models will strut the runway featuring work from a dozen designers. This year’s show will also mark the debut of 17-year-old Sophie Kim, the youngest designer ever to be showcased. For our ongoing series on Artown, Reno Public Radio’s Julia Ritchey takes us behind the scenes of Sophie’s first collection.

Sophie Kim can sew fast. She places the needle down on a turquoise sliver of satin and presses her foot to the pedal. Sophie began sewing in elementary school after her parents bought her an inexpensive sewing machine and hasn’t stopped since.

“Pretty much my mom the only thing she knew how to sew was in a straight line, so I’m completely self-taught," says Sophie. "So I just use the Internet and YouTube and stuff like that to find out how to do stuff.”
Sophie’s mom, Carol, remembers the first pair of jeans her daughter made for an American Girl Doll.

“She actually put little labels in the pockets like premium jeans," she says. "To this day, that’s probably been my most impressive (memory), because I thought, ‘Oh my God, that looks just like a jean I would buy from the store for her American Girl doll.’”


From dolls, Sophie progressed to making saddle pads for horses, anime-inspired costumes to wear to comic book conventions and even junior prom dresses for her and a few friends. 

 Carol says sewing has always been an outlet for her daughter, who just finished her junior year at Sage Ridge High School.


“This has been her major way of relieving her stress," said Carol. "She loves to just finish in one sitting. So she will actually sit there for three or four hours just to finish the outfit after having studied for three or four hours. Loves it.”


After Carol learned about the upcoming Reno Fashion Show, she reached out to event organizers to see if they’d be interested in featuring her daughter’s work.


Brian Aranda, who directs the show, says he was a little skeptical at first, but once he saw Sophie’s work, was blown away by the craftsmanship.


“Sophie is very remarkable because of her attention to detail. I have not seen designs of that quality from such a young age out of Reno,” he says.


Called Sophimoya, her runway collection will feature 14 dresses, which Sophie has carefully hung from hangers on a rack in her living room. 

“For most of my pieces I usually work with satins and tulles because the tulle is very light and if you gather it, it looks really nice, and satin has this shiny, fancy look to it,” she says.


Besides those fabrics, Sophie also employs rhinestones, rushing and flower embellishments. Sorting through the cocktail-length dresses, Sophie points to a piece that is especially meaningful.  


“This was actually my prom dress," she says. "So pretty much it’s just a black dress with some tulle, and I actually painted the skirt and hand-placed all of these rhinestones on here, so it’s supposed to look like the galaxy I guess.”


Sophie said although she had a few dresses for the collection, she made about six in one week once she learned she was going to be included in the show. With about 1,000 people expected to attend this year, she says the pressure is on. 


“I’m really excited for the fashion show, but I’m also really nervous at the same time because I’m just hoping my stuff is going to be on part with the rest of the designers,” she says.

Sophie’s not sure if she’ll pursue fashion professionally or just keep it as a hobby beyond high school. For now, she’s just looking forward to designing her next costume to wear to an anime expo this fall.

Credit Julia Ritchey
Sophie Kim sews a sliver of cloth. Kim will show 14 dresses at the Reno Fashion Show this Saturday.

Julia Ritchey is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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