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Black Business Owner In Korea Interview

Songtan Mugs Storefront

Cultural Strides Abroad 

Jason Holmes is a black-owned business owner who founded the online business Kimchi Socks LLC based out of America and here in South Korea, Songtan Mugs.  Kimchi Socks LLC is an accessories brand that focuses on selling socks tied to various community groups. In a similar space, Jason created Songtan Mugs, where he sells custom apparel and mugs.

Recently, I spoke with Jason, and here’s what we discussed about his business model and his life abroad. 

1. Can you tell me about yourself and what made you want to move, and live in South Korea? 

I’ve lived in South Korea since 2013. I work for the United States Air Force in the Civil Engineering industry. What made me want to move here is that I come from a military family. Since being in the military, I’ve learned military infrastructures help you decide what your future action should be because they’re designed to maintain economic standpoints. My motto is don’t follow the news follow where the money is being spent. 

Jason and his daughter in front of Songtan Mugs retail shop
Jason and his daughter in front of Songtan Mugs

2. You own two businesses in South Korea can you tell me why you created each of your businesses? 

I started Kimchi Socks LLC in 2014. The idea came to me when I visited Hongdae and I saw a lot of socks were being sold. I checked and found out that socks have a good markup. After that, I started buying and reselling socks all around the world. Eventually, I started making my own custom socks. I have manufacturers that are based here in South Korea. However, my business is based out of Wyoming. I choose Wyoming because you don’t have to pay business state taxes if you don’t do business in the state and I don’t make over a certain amount of money per year while living overseas, that income earned from the business Federal tax-free up to a certain limit. 

Related Reading: Starting A Business In Korea

I started Songtan Mugs after an unsuccessful fundraiser attempt. I was trying to raise money to purchase my own sock production equipment to reduce my cost to produce custom socks, have more flexibility in offering my customers smaller batches of custom knitted socks, and have more control of my means of production under Kimchi Socks LLC. I decided to pivot that idea and created Songtan Mugs. I started making sales by going to flea markets and creating and selling custom mugs right on the spot. Next, I started receiving bulk orders internationally and I’ve expanded to create masks and apparel. Recently, I leased the retail shop next to my current location because I want to expand my business and open a coffee shop in the future. 

If you want to find out more information on the products and videos Jason creates a check out: Songtan Mugs website, Facebook | Instagram | Youtube channel. 

3. Since the pandemic can you tell me about your experience as a business owner? Is the government offering loans, deferment on utilities, etc.? 

I don’t qualify to apply for loans or grants with the U.S. Government. In the future, that might change as I move from Active Duty into the Air Force Reserves. After I go into the reserves I will focus more on Songtan Mugs and the redevelopment of Kimchi Socks LLC. 

Related Reading: Twelve Tips For E-Commerce Startups

4. With the current protest happening around the world and you being a black man. I have to ask. Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination when doing business in S. Korea? 

I’ve haven’t experienced racism or discrimination while doing business in South Korea yet. I choose to pick my battles but I also work with Koreans sometimes to make the first contact for me. Are there biases, of course. This is their home turf, but you should always educate yourself on how other nationalities are doing business in Korea.

If you encounter a form of discrimination whether it’s sexism, ageism or racism let it roll off your shoulders and go and find another person who wants to do business. There are so many people who sell the same thing here. Don’t let that one person discourage you or take away your energy from building your empire. 

5. What do you think foreigners can/should do to support multicultural development in South Korea? 

Most pitch competitions and or angel investors want a portion (equity) in your business. I don’t believe that you should depend on local resources to help you compete with the locals in business. I’m writing a six-part series titled The 5-Story Building Model based on the book “PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America.” The series will discuss how we can use the models that Dr. Anderson discussed in the book in South Korea to build wealth in the community and grow influence. 

If you want to read the introduction to this series check out An Introduction – Black Lives Matter Korea post. 

6. What do you hope for your businesses and living abroad in the future? 

In the future, I want to open up a storefront right next to Songtan Mugs where I sell coffee. I want it to be a place where people can get together on the weekends to discuss business strategies and socialize. I want to establish a community for revenue resources for black business owners. 

7. Any business advice you would like to share with people who want to start their own business? 

Start small, test your idea out first, then move onto flea markets and creating social media advertisements. 

Final Thoughts:

Not only is our society changing during this pandemic but so is our cultural responsibility to each other. Building a strong sense of community, wherever you are is essential and necessary during this time of great change. We can all learn from each other.