Mild-mannered, delightfully engaging, and equipped with tasteful sensibilities, Sonia Kim, founder and CEO of Bono Spera, is typically found in her brick-and-mortar store in Costa Mesa. Inside her modest 300 s.q. ft space at the OC Mix (which she's occupied for three years now), her eclectic taste is obvious, with fashion, home goods, skincare products, and practically everything in between for sale.
What isn't immediately clear are how she became an entrepreneur and her ambitions for her brand.
Before setting out on her own, Kim spent just under a decade in the fashion and retail industries. Her most notable positions were as the Head Planner for Luxury Goods for the eCommerce giant Revolve, and the Head of International Planning for Latin America for Forever 21. With a career track that mostly worked behind the scenes, Kim developed a sober understanding of what it means to run a business in fashion.
So, what led her to leave behind an enviable resume, a cushy 401K, and an overall sense of stability? And where does she think her brand is heading? Well, we went ahead and asked her.
So, an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from USC and a steady yet unarguably successful climb up the corporate ladder. Why did you abandon ship when you did?
So, I was about to turn 30 and really unhappy with my job. I'd been thinking about wanting to start my own thing for several years by that point and was growing afraid of getting too comfortable. On top of all that, I felt pressured to get married, have a family, and settle down. So, I was at a crossroads in many different ways. But I ultimately decided that if I waited too long, then I would never be able to do anything "risky" again. I was confident in my professional experience, and I firmly believed that my professional ambitions were worth putting everything else on the back burner.
Bono Spera means ‘Good Hope’ in Latin. What was the inspiration behind the name?
Funny story—after I left my job at Forever 21 and “officially” became an entrepreneur, I literally spent so much time agonizing over a name for my business. It’s so hard! You have to expertly capture the essence of and the story behind your brand while also just, loving the name, y’know? To be honest, I actually started several different businesses and went through several different names. Bono Spera was a business that was intended to be an eCommerce site selling health supplements. Under the concept of a company dedicated to health and wellness, we decided to also bring in athleisure apparel and skincare products. Over the years, Bono Spera has evolved into a lifestyle brand with contemporary fashion and home goods being notable additions.
Settling on the name, I liked the timeless quality that Latin gave it. I also wanted to be a resource for others like me who are currently on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement—to be a “good” source of “hope.”
What did life look like for you just before you started the company?
Right after I graduated from college, I couldn’t seem to escape from retail. But I guess I stayed in it for so long because I enjoyed the constant change that came with the new trends every season. My prime years were spent at Revolve and I was there during a very exciting time at the company. They were still very young and eCommerce was still new territory for the retail industry. I eventually ushered in and headed Revolve's luxury arm, Forward by Elyse Walker. I experienced the most professional growth during my time there, which was really what launched me higher up the corporate ladder. Love you Revolve <3 Miss your parties.
You spent most of your professional experience in fashion. What inspired you to branch out into skincare and beauty?
Skincare has always been a personal obsession of mine because of my struggles with rosacea and overall sensitive, reactive skin. It all actually started really early. I wore SPF daily and did a double cleanse starting in the late 90s (I’m an 80s baby) after seeing my mom do her daily routine. A lot of the skincare practices coming from Korea nowadays are “innovative” and “trendy,” but listen—I practically came out of the womb lathered in SPF.
So, branching out into skincare and beauty just seemed like a natural next step. This beauty community (especially K-beauty) is really active and energetic, and I appreciate that I’ve been able to make meaningful friendships in the community.
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing a minority, female entrepreneur?
It’s like walking a tight rope and the pole to help keep my balance is a lot heavier. As I work towards realizing my professional ambitions, I also have to keep an eye on my biological clock, as I hope to have a family one day. It can be difficult to come across as strong and confident in spite of my own insecurities, which largely stem from being a minority and a woman. There are a lot of stereotypes that I have to go up against, and it can be exhausting and degrading. Overall, there are just a lot of personal sacrifices that I don’t believe most male counterparts in my industry have to make.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Patience. Not to sound cliche, but I believe advancements in technology and the general pace of modern society have conditioned me (and most of us) to expect results quickly. However, that simply isn’t the reality of an entrepreneur. It takes time for ideas to develop and to come into fruition. You have to learn to develop an incredible amount of willpower, patience, and mental fortitude, and to have faith in yourself.
And, the most thrilling moment you’ve had thus far?
There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout the years, and no single moment stands out as being an unforgettably thrilling moment. I guess, in general, it’s been thrilling to be able to make meaningful friendships with customers that I’ve met through my store. I appreciate the encouragement that they’ve given me and even consider some of them lifelong friends.
Where do you see Bono Spera in 5 years time?
In 5 years, I hope that I will have been successful in scaling my business online while simultaneously maintaining a strong brick-and-mortar presence. I would also like to have created a community that supports and empowers minority women. (Much) further down the line, I have my sights set on international markets. My hope is for Bono Spera to become a company that constantly pushes boundaries, and cultivates human creativity and innovation.
On a rare day off, what are you eating, doing, and watching?
Watching K-dramas (highly recommend Crash Landing on You) and eating chocolate (slightly dark) in my pj’s.