After graduating from Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) in 2018 with a degree in fashion merchandising, Taylor Kim still didn’t know what she wanted to do — beyond being a “designer.” She just knew she needed a job.
That openness led her to take a gap year, although it was by no means a year off. She landed an internship with Snapchat and an apprenticeship with Nike.
“I just wanted to learn,” she said. “Nothing was off the table. Coming out of it, I’ve had time to see the opportunities and career paths, and now I have a sense of what I want to do. It shaped my perspective of who I am and what I can bring to the world.”
Taylor said after college she felt like many students do — she knew what she wanted to do, but she was unsure of what that looked like. And, she was afraid because people around her had tried to push her into a different field.
It took her a while, but now at 22, Taylor has a clear direction for her future.
“You have to trust yourself with your own life,” she said.
Finding Her Way
Taylor was always artistic. Growing up she played the cello, was in the honors choir, and was involved in three musicals. She even won two scholarships.
Despite her talent, her parents and grandmother wanted her to go to a “good university” and get a stable job. So, she enrolled in California State University Fullerton to major in psychology — her goal was to become an art therapist. But with no financial support from her family or student aid, she was quickly in debt after her first semester.
And, she wasn’t sure therapy was for her. Instead, she was finding herself more passionate about issues such as environmental awareness, gentrification, and homelessness. Her love of art was still there, too.
Taylor transferred to East Los Angeles Community College. She was working two jobs, but she finally felt like she had the support and the time she needed to invest in her education. She was also able to get involved on campus, joining Phi Theta Kappa and the environmental club. Together, the two organizations started a composting and paper recycling program on campus.
“Through that, I found my desire to work with others and to do something for my larger community as a whole,” she said.
In 2016, she received the Pearson Scholarship for Higher Education and was paired with a mentor. The support came at a critical time, as she was still unsure of her career goals.
“That support was such an important aspect of the scholarship for me,” she said. “It felt like a community. It was really uplifting. It gives you a sense of belonging.”
Taylor participated in the Nikkei Community Internship Program and was placed at the Little Tokyo Service Center as a business outreach assistant. The non-profit’s mission was in line with her own passions, but her position wasn’t — she was still drawn to the arts.
Her “a-ha moment” came at a workshop, when someone asked what she really wanted to do. When she answered that she loved fashion, he asked, “Then what are you doing here?”
Embracing Her Art
Taylor transferred to LATTC. Initially, fashion merchandising seemed like a good fit. Taylor knew she didn’t want to be a fashion designer, but she was interested in fashion and the arts, and she was interested in business. This path let her combine the two.
In 2018, with an associate degree in hand, Taylor was ready for her next step — whatever that might be.
“I had no set goals,” she said. “I just needed a job, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I knew I wanted to work in design and fashion.”
She enrolled in the inaugural Snap Design Academy, a five-week program that was more like a design boot camp. It pulled 20 previously underserved students from Los Angeles’ community colleges and gave them access to design experts and resources.
“Through that, I was exposed to the design career,” she said. “It opened my eyes to all the possibilities in tech and design.”
In October 2018, she was recruited for a three-month paid internship at Snapchat in AV tech and graphic design. After that came her biggest opportunity yet — an apprenticeship with Nike.
Of the 300 applicants, 50 were chosen to compete in an all-day design competition. Of those 50, only 13 were selected to move to Oregon for a six-month apprenticeship at Nike’s world headquarters.
In January 2019, just as her Snapchat internship ended, Taylor moved to Portland. There she worked with Nike teams on a variety of projects, such as partnering with local manufacturers to use local resources and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
She also traveled to New York and toured Nike’s East Coast offices.
Focused and Fearless
Taylor is now back in Los Angeles eyeing her next move. She finally has a name for what she wants her career to be — brand design, which includes marketing, art direction, and content creation.
“Up until last year, I didn’t know what brand design was,” she said.
She also has a startup in mind, and she feels that, given her experiences of the past year, she has learned enough to take the leap.
And, she believes that now is the perfect time to try something and fail.
“Working with companies like Nike and Snapchat unlocked this attitude that nothing is off limits,” she said. “Have a crazy idea? Go for it. Opportunities come fast. You have to be ready to take them and learn from them.”
Taylor said her gap year was a truly valuable experience. It was a different type of learning that she recommends to anyone looking to boost their interpersonal skills, collaboration, empathy, and teamwork.
“These things will set you apart, and you only learn them in real-world situations,” she said. “Those real-world experiences are where you learn the nitty gritty of professional relationships.
“It helps challenge you to grow in the relationship aspect — that’s definitely priceless to me.”