Designer Debuts Superhero-Inspired Line at Comic-Con

Tony Kim debuted 'Hero Within' at this year's Comic-Con

Every year the costumes at San Diego Comic-Con become more extravagant and intricate than the year before. The convention center is packed with thousands of custom made cosplays, many of which were designed specifically for these four days in July.

But what happens when the Con is over? Do you have to wait a full year to break out your fandom gear again?

Tony Kim thinks you should be able to let your geeky side show year round, whether you’re at a convention or not.

Kim’s first clothing line, 'Hero Within', takes professional men’s attire and adds a subtle, geeky twist to the classic look.

“Our design is subtle, sophisticated, not in your face,” Kim told NBC 7 San Diego. “I wanted to find something where I could be a geek, but still be taken seriously as a professional.”

'Hero Within' debuted at this year’s Con festivities, but the idea for the line had been in the works for quite some time.

“I wanted to be able to wear something to a wedding, or to work, that looked sophisticated, but also expressed my nerdy interests,” Kim said, proudly displaying his Batman-inspired blazer. “When no one was making clothing like that, I realized I had to take it into my own hands.”

There are eight pieces in the collection so far, and each piece incorporates the logo of the specific fandom or super hero that it is inspired by.

“We call them second-look pieces,” Kim explained. “When you first look at them, it seems just like a normal, well-made blazer. But when you look a second time, you notice the logo and get excited.”

Kim’s interest in the world of comics developed at an early age while he struggled to feel like he fit in with his surroundings. A year before he was born, Kim’s parents emigrated from Korea to Orange County; Kim said he grew up feeling like an outsider in his hometown.

“The comics I would read, especially Superman, helped me find my own voice and identity during that difficult time,” Kim said.

Because comics had such a profound effect on Kim as a child, the core of his new collection relies on helping other people find that same sense of confidence and inner strength.

“At any given time, 2,000 to 3,000 kids are in the foster system in Orange County. The journey of these kids, their experiences, is not that different from the storylines of many comics," Kim said. "They focus on heroes from another land, or a character who is orphaned and trying to find their identity and voice."

Kim and his wife were foster parents for many kids in Orange County, and they adopted two of the children that were under their care. Kim hopes that his two primary passions -- helping children at risk and geek culture -- can be seen woven throughout the Hero Within clothing line.

A percentage of the profits will go to help with providing foster kids in Orange County with age-appropriate comics, in the hopes that it inspires their own inner hero.

Next year's Comic-Con may be a year away, but Kim already has more than a few ideas about where he would like his business to be by then. 

“I would love to see my clothing on the backs of big talent! But thinking more practically, I think that I would like to see my work at the DC comics booth because they often display costumes from the movies, so perhaps my clothes could be incorporated as well,” Kim said with a smile. “I’d also like to organize a men’s version of the Her Universe fashion show so men’s geek fashion could have a bigger presence.”

Hero Within is licensed with DC Comics, and all the current designs are based on the Justice League characters. Kim says there are many other fandoms he would love to explore. 

“I think it would be really fun to work with Doctor Who from BBC, you know with so many different doctors throughout the years there are tons of possibilities,” Kim said eagerly. “You can really apply the concept of Hero Within to any fandom and find a way to make it work.”

In addition to expanding the line to encompass more fandoms, Kim says there is high demand for women’s geek apparel as well. He assured NBC 7 San Diego that he hasn’t forgotten about fangirls, and is certainly thinking about including women’s attire farther down the line.

But ultimately, Hero Within is not just about the merchandise.

“When you read the news today, there are so many bad things happening in the world, that it can be really depressing,” Kim explained. “So with Hero Within, I wanted to create a platform where heroism could be celebrated and we could bring a little hope and inspiration to the world by using the platform to share stories about heroes in our daily lives.”

Kim was invited to speak on a panel this year about geek clothing, and was touched by the outpouring of support and encouragement from fans and professionals alike. The positive reception of his work this Con has reinforced Kim’s passion for clothing that allows you to be proud of who you are.

“This is a day and age that’s about tolerance and embracing things that are weird and different,” Kim said. “And our collection is called Hero Within because I feel that we can celebrate our nerdy style by embracing our inner hero.”

Geek has never been so chic.

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