Peter Kim built Hudson Jeans in his own image, and customers are falling in love with his spirit

Peter Kim was adamant that he not get up one morning in his 40s or 50s with regrets about the career path he had chosen.

“You have people who have done everything right,” says Kim, founder and CEO of Hudson Jeans. “They’ve gone to good schools and made their money and they have a family. But they wake up and they’re like, ‘I hate my life. I hate my job. I hate everything about this.’ And it’s like, ‘No wonder. You’ve been living somebody else’s life all these years.’”
It was a path Kim could have easily followed.

The expectation from his family was that he would become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, but that just didn’t fit what Kim wanted to do with his life. And he saw no reason to try to force it to work.

“I’ve had this rebellious attitude and perspective for as long as I can remember,” Kim says. “When I was a young kid, everything was why, why, why. And people would say, ‘He’s a problem child.’ My thought was I’m not. I’m trying to be good. It’s just that a lot of stuff doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not sure why people follow things that don’t make sense.”

Kim chose to march to the beat of his own drum and it led to plenty of challenges. As a child, it created the image of a rebellious child who just wanted to be difficult. As a young adult, Kim’s personality drove him to take every idea that popped into his head and try to make it work.

“I would take on 10 projects at a time,” Kim says. “They were all great ideas, but I couldn’t execute on all of them. I would get overwhelmed and in the end, not one of them would work out. So yeah, I’m constantly battling. I want to do 10 things, but I’ve got to make sure that I focus in on two or three of them that I know I’m going to do really well.”

One of those areas of focus is Hudson Jeans. Kim founded the 140-employee company in 2002 and helped it become the global leader in premium denim.

In 2013, Joe’s Jeans Inc. acquired the business for $65.4 million in cash and $27.5 million in convertible notes. Hudson became a wholly owned subsidiary of Joe’s Jeans and new doors of opportunity quickly sprang open as a result.

“If you can get this passion and this dream and put your all into it and figure out how to make a living off of that, that’s where you’ll truly be happy,” Kim says. “And that’s where I’ve come.”

Follow your passion

The need to constantly ask why isn’t as much about rebellion as it is about fully exploring what’s out there and understanding where it fits in, if it does at all, with what you want to do with your life.

“From a very young age, we’re given praise for wanting to be an astronaut or a doctor or the president, becoming a garbage man,” Kim says. “It’s all cute. But at some point, things change and it becomes about being responsible. You need to make money, get a job and provide for your family. And what you used to want to be, you’re discouraged from pursuing that. ‘Be serious, get your head out of the clouds and be realistic. Stop daydreaming.’”

Passion is what makes you who you are and if you let that go and replace it with actions that are based on conformity or an attempt to meet someone’s expectations, Kim believes it’s going to be hard to find satisfaction.

“If you’re passionate about something, whatever it is, why not just foster that and keep pushing forward?” Kim says. “In society, it’s rarely asked, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ If it is, whatever the answer is that comes out, if it’s not fitting into the societal box, it’s like, ‘Wow, there’s something wrong with that.’”

Hudson Jeans has been the perfect outlet for Kim’s philosophy on life, business and leadership.

“As far as clothing goes, denim is the ultimate representation of irreverence, rebellion and challenging the status quo,” Kim says. “It’s about that spirit of rock and roll, passion and dreams. So to me, it’s a really great product alignment with what my message is, which is basically to the world that what I’m trying to do is help people awaken and realize what’s going on. I want to inspire them and empower them to live their lives.”

Kim saw an opportunity to veer from the status quo with the launch of the #ShushTheBrush and #HudsonSpotlight campaigns. The company announced it would veer away from using an airbrush in photo advertisements and would instead focus on the many different people who wear its product.

“Our mission is to help people look and feel amazing so they are inspired to live their dreams and be real,” Kim says. “And I think denim does that because people are passionate about their jeans. And there are still tons of country clubs and places you cannot get into with jeans. So it’s that little touch of irreverence that other pieces of clothing don’t quite have.”

Put yourself out there

Rebellion just for the sake of being a contrarian doesn’t accomplish anything. But if you’re an entrepreneur and you have an idea and you sit on it because you don’t think the world will like or accept it, you’re squandering a great opportunity.

“It’s absolutely our duty to make ourselves the best possible person we can be,” Kim says. “If you’ve got that entrepreneurial spirit, you’ve got to explore that and go for it. At the very least, check it out and try it. Everybody should be exploring, questioning and taking time to be uncomfortable.”

Discomfort is another aspect of Kim’s persona that does not match your average, everyday CEO.

“I’ve come to love being in absolute pain,” Kim says. “I love that dark, lonely abyss that comes at the worst of times. I do ultramarathons and 100-mile bike rides and I typically do them with as little training as possible because I find from a physical sense, you find out about yourself, your humanity and the human spirit when you go to those dark places. You don’t learn that stuff when things are great, when it’s all bright and bubbly and happy. I’ve always found my greatest lessons have been at my darkest points.”

The key is learning to change your perspective. Hudson was a successful company before becoming part of Joe’s Jeans and it would have been easy to maintain the status quo and just keep right on going. But Kim saw an opportunity to go in a different direction that he felt would make his company even better.

“You’ve got to go for it,” Kim says. “You’re going to fail a lot. You’re going to run into so many problems and issues but if you keep pounding it and pounding it, something is going to happen. Attack it from every angle and just go for it.”

Of course, this leads to the challenge that Kim has continually dealt with in his life — trying to resist the urge to take on too many projects at once.

When he was younger, he tried to do everything and ended up with nothing. If he was still that way, he wouldn’t be leading Hudson Jeans to the heights it has achieved. He probably would not have been named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year™ finalist in Greater Los Angeles.

“This morning, my team had come up and we have this project we’re working on and they were like, ‘I don’t think we can get this done for spring,’” Kim says. “They wanted to push it off to fall. But they hesitated because they know I always want things now. And I said, ‘I get it, push it to fall. We have two other things that are really important right now, so let’s stay focused. We’ve got to make sure we do this right.’”

Purpose, passion and edge

Kim has three points that he tries to live by: Purpose, passion and edge.

“It’s trying to find your purpose, making sure you’re living a passionate life and pushing life to the edge,” Kim says. “It has to be your edge because I think that is different for everybody. Some person’s edge might be trying a different restaurant for dinner. Another person’s edge could be living in danger. Edge doesn’t just represent excitement, thrill or adventure. It’s also having curiosity. Life is incredible and there is so much to see and it’s a shame we’re not going to see it all. Let’s question and see how far we can peel away this thing.”

Takeaways:

  • Don’t abandon your dreams.
  • Never stop asking why.
  • Find your edge and don’t be afraid of it.

The Kim File

NAME: Peter Kim
TITLE: founder and CEO
COMPANY: Hudson Jeans

Born: Los Angeles

Education: University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

The years before Hudson Jeans: In 1994, Kim went to work in his family’s failing apparel business. He worked nonstop learning the business inside and out and in just a few short years, dug the company out of a $10 million hole. In 1999, armed with the real world experience needed to launch his own streetwear brand, Kim developed and then ultimately sold his Drunknmunky label before turning his attention to the then undeveloped premium denim market.

Outside the office: Kim lives with his wife and twin daughters in Los Feliz, California, close to the neighborhood where he grew up. He is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, and has been honored with several awards for his commitment to community service and outreach through various charitable organizations including OneVoice International and YO! Watts.

Kim on taking credit for success: The success of Hudson comes down to every individual on our team. My role is just to inspire and empower them.