Musician and jewelry designer Jinsol Woo of OHT NYC aims to break through norms with his art-for-all, one piece at a time.
Musician and jewelry designer Jinsol Woo of OHT NYC aims to break through norms with his art-for-all, one piece at a time.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.

OHT NYC Designer & Musician Jinsol Woo Wants to Disrupt Society Through Art

Designer & musical artist Jinsol Woo is the creative mind behind the viral edgy jewelry brand OHT NYC. We sat down to share his inspiring story on breaking the rules, taking risks, and turning a rock bottom moment into a thriving business in New York City.

I meet Jinsol Woo in person for the second time at his office in Manhattan on a Friday evening. We first met briefly at his successful pop-up event with Spotify in April, and we’ve been trying to work out another meeting date ever since. Though most of the city is crowding the subway to head home after the workday, the jewelry designer is still in full gear this evening. The OHT NYC brand office is bustling as their small staff team streams in and out. I’m told they’re packing last minute orders placed by the Head in the Clouds festival crowd, prepping marketing posts, and taking customer service inquiries on various phones and laptops scattered around. 

Despite the time of day, the energy is more than amiable. Jinsol hands me a hard seltzer to sip as he politely cautions me he may have to step out for a quick business call at any moment. 

The creative designer and musician certainly keeps a packed schedule. In fact, it’s so busy that for a few moments we both sat in silence as he apologetically caught up on a few urgent emails that couldn’t wait due to festival preparations and artist interviews coming up. I’m in no rush this day, so I follow suit to tap away at my own overflowing email inbox on my MacBook and crack open the seltzer. This can is flavored with Asian pear, and I’ve had this brand before – it’s a good choice. Jinsol steps out briefly to take that phone call I was warned about, so I chat with the team and look over past designs OHT has released. Each sample is proudly displayed on Renaissance busts in the office, including two new pieces that haven’t yet been announced – I’m informed they’ll be for sale this weekend at Head in the Clouds. I already know they’ll sell out; many of their designs do.

OHT NYC's unique and edgy design aesthetic has attracted a large following since its debut - built off designer Jinsol Woo's idea of genderless expression.
OHT NYC's unique and edgy design aesthetic has attracted a large following since its debut - built off designer Jinsol Woo's idea of genderless expression.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.

...It’s all made up. It’s defined by society. I want my art to affect society in a good way, and free up those rules a little bit.

Jinsol Woo, musician & jewelry designer of OHT NYC, on societal norms for "the right thing to do" and expectations.

Jinsol returns, and we get started. The OHT NYC designer seems somewhat private online, but in person is an open book. He candidly answers my personal questions, and in turn asks me questions about the lip tattoo I’d had done that day, some of my work, and whether I’d seen the OHT Head in the Clouds artist interviews from last year. (I hadn’t, but saved them on my phone to watch later that evening.) 

The OHT NYC jewelry line is taking the world by storm, around the globe from New York to Korea and beyond. With events like Head in the Clouds, partnerships with branding giants such as Nike, and limited release collections that sell out instantly, Jinsol Woo seems to have no limits to either his potential or ambition. Listen in on our conversation at his office in Manhattan about his inspiring story building a global brand from nothing, taking major risks, finding a unique identity, and blasting apart societal norms.

The designer has a cult following online of over 360,000 followers and counting on Instagram, in addition to a hearty Tiktok audience. The OHT NYC jewelry line has its own solid standing at well over 100,000 followers of its own and designs that often sell out.
The designer has a cult following online of over 360,000 followers and counting on Instagram, in addition to a hearty Tiktok audience. The OHT NYC jewelry line has its own solid standing at well over 100,000 followers of its own and designs that often sell out.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

Hi Jinsol! I first want to say, wow - the pop up in New York City this month (and the HITC Night Market) were a definite success. I had friends waiting in line at the pop up who got there extremely early and still weren’t first in the door. The energy was amazing and you seem to have thought of everything: live DJ, drinks, videographer, bottled tea, dessert bar, gift bags, and almost every design OHT has made there ready for shoppers to take home. It must have been an exciting but exhausting day for you and the team.

Did you all go home right after the pop-up and Night Market ended to relax, or did you celebrate?

A

We had the night market right after the pop-up in one week, so we needed to get that ready…so, we actually weren’t relaxed at all. 

Q

You have HITC artist interviews coming up now too. I feel like you’re seriously everywhere this year.

A

So much going on. A lot more collaborations coming this year, but I’m also trying to make sure we release our core collection in 2024. We’re doing too many collabs - I want to do more OHT main line. 

The brand's unique aesthetic brings together elements from so-called "niche" underground society, edgy cyber notes, and an updated Renaissance feel.
The brand's unique aesthetic brings together elements from so-called "niche" underground society, edgy cyber notes, and an updated Renaissance feel.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

I think you have a good brand identity even within your collaborations though. It doesn’t feel like you’ve lost any of your own voice in it or are just making a money grab. I feel I see some designers going that route where they promote a collection together, but it ends up being so strongly one designer or the other with the branding. For OHT, each of your collaborative collections makes perfect sense.

A

We always get total control on designing. Surprisingly, on all of our collabs they ask us to just take charge of the designs. They don’t even really say much - and I think that’s a good thing. They trust our designs; they think the aesthetic that we have is cool.

[I have to agree with them. I tell Jinsol about how earlier that day the man dining next to me at lunch stopped to ask me about my OHT x 88rising necklace I’m wearing due to the aesthetic, even though his own outfit was a different style. He’d told me “that’s really cool, I’ve never seen something like that!” as he wrote the brand name down on a note in his phone.]

Q

I think it really stands out and is more recognizable to people since you do have that unique distinct identity. It’s not just for one gender or type of person either, so it appeals to a wide group of people.

A

We don’t like defining things in general, you know? We don’t like defining gender, or the norms in society...we don’t like to obey to those rules. That’s our main design aesthetic and brand direction.

OHT NYC is pushing the boundaries of jewelry and expectations, with hot ticket collaborations and popular new designs that include lighted jewelry, bracelets that double as phone charms [seen here,] and barbell piercing aesthetics.
OHT NYC is pushing the boundaries of jewelry and expectations, with hot ticket collaborations and popular new designs that include lighted jewelry, bracelets that double as phone charms [seen here,] and barbell piercing aesthetics.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

I do want to talk a bit about your background from before we got to this point - before all of the pop ups and brand collaborations and this cult following. Your own story is really inspiring. Switching from an engineering major in Korea to a popular jewelry designer and now emerging musician in New York City… it’s definitely a change-up.

People following their passions like this often tell me that they discover this hard way: some people around them are not always initially supportive of them branching out to a creative career. There's this stigmatized uncertainty that often comes with it. It can be a very vulnerable feeling at the start, expressing your passions and why you want to follow them on a non-traditional path. Did you have any of this cynical feedback at the start of your journey, or moments of self doubt? 

A

Typical story. I grew up poor, I always had this main drive to flip my situation. When I was an engineering major, I wasn’t good at it. I basically bounced from the bottom. I hit the bottom thinking I wasn’t going to be good at anything, but there was a waking up moment for me to go on and discover what I like to do, and make my way out there. 

From that point on, I always had this 100% certainty in my mind that “I’m going to be somebody.” I continued on from Korea, and went to FIT. I still split the basement with my friend [he laughs] - typical story. Had no money whatsoever, struggling artist…I managed to work at some corporate companies such as Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein.

While I was working there, I realized that I came here to basically be somebody, spread my dreams. I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do. It was time for me to follow my passion, so I quit my job.

From that point on, I always had this 100% certainty in my mind that “I’m going to be somebody.”

Jinsol Woo, musician & jewelry designer of OHT NYC, of the choice to follow his passions after hitting rock bottom.

Q

That was your pivotal moment then?

A

I wasn’t born to do mediocre stuff - you know? I was meant to be somebody. This was not the way for me to be somebody, so why not change? I had no hesitation at all. I came to NYC and I was certain that this was not the life that I wanted to live, so there was no point to living life like that. I just didn’t want it. 

Jinsol Woo is adamant about staying true to himself - finding a unique identity that he shares through his design work and music.
Jinsol Woo is adamant about staying true to himself - finding a unique identity that he shares through his design work and music.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

You’ve talked about manifestation publicly before. Do you think it works? 

A

Yeah, it works. It definitely works. I…[he trails off abruptly, about to reveal plans that must still be under wraps.] I cannot really say that out loud.

But I know where I’m going to be in 3 years, in 5 years. And those always worked. Even this situation that I’m having right now…not that I’m something amazing, but I knew that I was going to be like this 3 years ago.

Q

You must be something amazing to other people, if journalists like me want to interview you. Do you have a vision board?

A

Not necessarily. I just have these strong core beliefs in my mind.

Q

Obviously it’s working. Your jewelry is on the necks of just about every major idol in the k-pop industry right now. Who was your first major pull request from, and how did that come about?

A

A lot of people ask about this. How this happened was that I’m good at discovering what’s going to be trendy. Not just in fashion, but also in artists too. When I started my brand, I discovered some of the k-pop artists that I thought were going to blow up, and I started working with and collaborating with them. And then they blew up as wearing my jewelry. So I naturally got into the k-pop industry. 

The stylists, they share. They don’t do only one [artist], they do many. I think the first major group was Red Velvet - Joy wore my pearl cross necklace, I think. That was the first big explosion that I had, and ever since I got connected to the industry. I also speak Korean, and I’m a New York brand, so I provided them with what’s trending in New York - this was back when k-pop wasn’t as booming as it is now. 

Because I knew k-pop, I knew it was a good opportunity for me. At the time, if it was a regular New York brand, they would have turned down a lot of opportunities that were arising. A lot of k-pop stylists reached out to me, but if I didn’t know k-pop I would have probably declined loaning pieces. All those things worked out, and I literally became friends with them. I was also providing the best design possible that helped them shine and stand out on stage.

The creative has found success in New York City, after taking a risk in changing career paths and moving abroad from Korea to build a business in fashion in America.
The creative has found success in New York City, after taking a risk in changing career paths and moving abroad from Korea to build a business in fashion in America.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

Do you bring any storytelling of your own background or culture into your designs? You seem to have belonged to so many different cultural circles throughout the years - in Korea, NYC, fashion, music…

A

I think it’s totally separate from my art. I think the way I design doesn’t really have anything to do with my heritage - it just goes back to what I said earlier about challenging norms. I would usually take elements from so-called “niche” culture, like adult stores. Since I had confidence in my design, I was able to bring those elements, give them good quality in design, and make them more able to be presented in everyday culture. I brought them to life in a way.

Q

Speaking of different elements coming together - your music (which I discovered last week on YouTube and immediately added to my playlists) seamlessly flows between both Korean and English lyrics. It feels so natural, and seems to mirror your own story: this multi-talented creative just working towards making something great.

I’m curious - what does your typical day to day routine look like, balancing so many simultaneous projects as just one person? 

A

[sheepishly grinning] Well…I just don’t balance. I just live through it. 

But music is more of my fun project. I generally just love creating something new. Obviously, jewelry and fashion is my life - it’s a business, I need to make money off of it, and we have employees in here. Music is more my relaxation, I just have fun doing it. Fashion is more of my job, and music is more of my alter-ego. It balances out.

The designer's latest song "Without You" on YouTube released earlier this year has garnered over 500,000 views in just three months.
The designer's latest song "Without You" on YouTube released earlier this year has garnered over 500,000 views in just three months. Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

When I ask new designers what their strategy is for growth, they tend to confidently tell me some variant of essentially “going viral.” Virality on social media seems to be a strategy for so many new faces in the industry, but I personally think sometimes people get carried away with living their lives solely on the internet. They forget there’s an an important weight to visibility in the offline world, too.

It looks like you’ve nailed that aspect of building an increasingly large offline presence. You hosted the recent NYC and Hongdae pop-ups, attend in-person events like the Head in the Clouds festival, and idols are constantly wearing your designs on-stage or at fan events. Do you have any advice to share with young designers struggling to turn an online presence into a real world community like this?

A

[He sighs.] Well, my only advice for people is “it takes time.” Whether it’s something you have to do in real life or online, the main purpose of running a business is that you have to give people a way to engage with your product. You have to build up your dialogue. I wasn’t intentionally building it but with every new thing that happened, I focused on executing it right. 

However virality certainly helps. Online presence is definitely a stronger background than offline presence. Offline, you can only do so much. But online, with viral videos it’s just a different level. Considering the norms, people are just grown with this idea that you make money and present your brand in only one way - but I don’t think so. If you want to get virality, you have to treat social media as your work. Just thinking “oh, we’re a brand, so we’ll make this type of branded content” isn’t the way. Being able to interact with your target audience in the right way is also your job - doing research could be literally you watching Tiktoks all day. And that’s okay - who defines what’s the right way to work?

No rules. No definition on things.

Guests and shoppers at the Spotify pop-up in New York in April waited in the rain outside the event with a long queue due to a major turnout. The brand sold out of multiple designs that day. Jinsol personally helped shoppers to try on each piece and find their style.
Guests and shoppers at the Spotify pop-up in New York in April waited in the rain outside the event with a long queue due to a major turnout. The brand sold out of multiple designs that day. Jinsol personally helped shoppers to try on each piece and find their style.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

Do you have anyone you look up to in the business?

A

No. [An immediate reply, followed by a small chuckle.]

Q

I had a feeling you’d say that.

A

I don’t know, I guess I’m just in my own world in a sense. I don’t need to follow what anyone else is doing, though I do of course appreciate other people’s art. I appreciate everyone - I think everyone has their own thing going on, which is great. … You have no right to change anyone else.

Jinsol and his team meet with shoppers at the New York City Spotify event. This pearl cross necklace is one of the brand's most popular pieces right now and was the first major pull for OHT, for k-pop girl group Red Velvet's Joy.
Jinsol and his team meet with shoppers at the New York City Spotify event. This pearl cross necklace is one of the brand's most popular pieces right now and was the first major pull for OHT, for k-pop girl group Red Velvet's Joy. Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.
Q

And they have no right to change you! 

You’ve worked with some powerhouse names back to back though: Nike. Nerdy. 88rising. Dabin and more. Who is your next major dream collaboration?

A

We have a couple coming up, with more big names. I can’t really name them, and we’re working on finalizing those projects still.

[He does give me a few off-record hints though. I'll just say that the edgy aesthetics are a perfect fit, and these collections are going to be good. I tell him I’ll be first in line for sure.]

Q

One last question. This seems like an easy one, but it actually requires a little soul-searching! As a designer, a musician, a creative…what do you truly want your work to convey each time you create something new?

A

Redefining what’s right and wrong is the main thing. In this world, there’s so many things that are treated as “the right thing to do.” But that’s not true every single time, it’s all made up. It’s defined by society. I want my art to affect society in a good way, and free up those rules a little bit.

Jinsol Woo has big plans ahead for both himself and OHT NYC, and the confidence combined with dedication to make them happen.
Jinsol Woo has big plans ahead for both himself and OHT NYC, and the confidence combined with dedication to make them happen.Courtesy of Jinsol Woo.

[This article was also published at https://www.laurweeks.com/laurslist on May 12, 2024 as a part of Laur's List, a new interview column by Laur Weeks documenting inspirational stories within the fashion and design industry.]

CREDITS

Designer: Jinsol Woo @jinsolwoo of OHT NYC @ohtnyc

Interviewed and edited by: Laur Weeks @Laur.Weeks

Photography courtesy of Jinsol Woo and OHT NYC.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Musician and jewelry designer Jinsol Woo of OHT NYC aims to break through norms with his art-for-all, one piece at a time.
Meet Jisoon Kim, the Korean Designer Disrupting the Repurposed Market
Musician and jewelry designer Jinsol Woo of OHT NYC aims to break through norms with his art-for-all, one piece at a time.
The Wild World of Luxury Watches: How Wrist Aficionado Leveraged Social Media to Become Industry Experts
Musician and jewelry designer Jinsol Woo of OHT NYC aims to break through norms with his art-for-all, one piece at a time.
Designer Duo The Blonds Discuss Fiery A/W 2024 Collection at New York Fashion Week

Become an Insider!  Step into the world of luxury with RESIDENT Magazine. Click here to subscribe to our exclusive newsletter and gain unparalleled access to the latest in luxury lifestyle, high-end real estate, travel exclusives, and so much more.

Are you interested in advertising with Resident? Email us at advertising@resident.com to learn more.

Related Stories

No stories found.
logo
Resident Magazine
resident.com