Following your dream can be a rewarding path, but the path shouldn’t end there. Kelly Li ’10, founder of Studio K Apparel Co., believes you should “Dream. Create. Repeat.” The brand humbly began in August 2015 as an unconventional enterprise. Studio K Apparel Co. provides a reminder that we can each make a commitment to effect positive change. Read about his journey and how he aspires to inspire others.
What was UCLA like for you as student?
Overall, it was great. My goal was to pursue filmmaking and storytelling as a career. Back then, the real choice to make was between UCLA and USC. I took the campus tour of USC first and it was fine. During my campus tour of UCLA, there was this special moment on the top of Janss Steps, with the ocean breeze hitting me, and it just felt right. After that, it was UCLA all the way.
UCLA was drastically different from where I grew up in Ohio. It took me a little bit to readjust, but I loved meeting people from different backgrounds. Coming from a small town with little diversity, I truly enjoyed learning about where people came from, their majors and their passions.
Was it hard being so far from family in Ohio?
The first two months were the hardest. I was super homesick. I had never been that far away from home and family ever in my life. For a long time, it didn’t feel like home. I missed everyone in Ohio. Then you start making friends and start integrating yourself into the activities on campus. Westwood being a bubble was actually helpful in my transition to college since it felt very comforting.
How do you think you changed between freshman and senior year?
In so many ways, the freshman Kelly and the Kelly on graduation day are night and day. My perspective on the world became much more open. Coming from a small town, UCLA made me feel like I could accomplish anything. That perspective shift was great. I also became a little more confident and a little less naïve. I realized that there is a lot of good in the world, but there is equally just as much bad. My experience at UCLA allowed me to be informed of the bad and that forced me to always try to effect positive change. As much as I can, I want to be able to tip that balance towards good.
And how have you tipped that balance?
Everyday, I go out and just try to be the best person I can be. It may sound corny, but it’s the truth. Every little bit counts. I also try to tell stories that have a positive message and are relatable through film and everything else that I create. Ultimately, this is why I created the lifestyle brand, Studio K Apparel Co. I wanted a place where I could create these messages and relay them to the world.
How did you come up with your first line of apparel, “Dream, Create, Repeat?”
This is a motto that I’ve kept since college. It is something that continues to push me every day. While I was in college, I kept thinking that I’m working towards the goal of graduation, but what happens after that goal is achieved? You invest so much time in a goal or a dream, but what happens when you’re done? Life doesn’t just stop. You have to keep striving towards the next dream and bringing it to fruition.
What is your background?
I do business development at DC Entertainment. I took what I learned on how to build and grow and strengthen a business like a giant studio. For a start up, you don’t have all the resources, but you scale down the pieces.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in starting your company?
Success is never an easy thing. Every overnight success is not really overnight. You don’t get to see the hustle and foundation-building that is done behind the scenes. Every day is a grind and there are new challenges that pop up. You fix one and then another pops up. Finding time to sleep and eat is also a challenge. At the end of the day, doing something you love is so rewarding and it allows you to push through the mental and physical blocks. I’m just thankful for having the opportunity to work towards my goals and my dreams.
What have you learned about yourself during this process?
Balance. Trying to keep everything perfectly balanced. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail at it. I’ve also learned to be thankful and grateful for everything I have in my life. I definitely try not to answer work emails when I’m on my personal time. I do my best to draw specific lines around these special moments. I need that work-life balance. I need to have the personal part of my life in check. Nothing in life is more important than the ones you love and care about.