A conversation with Kin Woo

Meet Kin Woo, a journalist who swapped the front row seat for the front line.

It has been three years since Woo had stopped practising as an oncologist, choosing instead to follow a path of medical research and fashion journalism. Although, once he received an email saying that the government is considering emergency legislation to get doctors who are not currently with the NHS back into work, Woo jumped at the chance. He knew that it was something that he had to do.

kin woo journalist

What has the impact of Covid-19 been on the fashion industry? An example would be fashion shows, to prevent the spread of the pandemic they are becoming digital, do you believe this is the future of fashion?

Independent brands have had to learn to adapt to the evolving situation. The closure/ bankruptcy of so many retailers during the pandemic exposed the broken system of retail which meant many young designers had to take matters into their own hands and launch their own e-stores. I think going forward this will continue with designers taking back more control of their product. Speaking with designers, I think they are re-evaluating what they stand for and being more mindful of their output. Designers who have built a strong sense of community among their fans and people who buy their clothes have done better during the pandemic as people rally around to help them. There’s an emotional aspect to buying clothes – none more so than in a recession where there has to be a deeper meaning to buying stuff, especially when people have less money to spend on things outside of the essentials. There’s a general understanding that you can never go back to the way it was and fashion will need to forge a new path ahead. 

As for shows – this will be an unusual season with very few brands showing physical shows, but I will be interested in which brands adapt to the new situation the best. There’s still something about the shared collective experience of a fashion show in real life that will never be replicated by digital so I would like to think fashion shows will return when it is safe to do so. But it’d be great if designers consider if doing a fashion show makes sense for them or would a different way of presenting their collection work for the better.

How has Covid-19 impacted your personal life, as well as your professional life?

On a personal level, I had just gotten married last year, and we had to cancel our planned honeymoon in Japan in April as I returned to work in the NHS. On a professional level – I put my writing commitments and assignments on hold during the months I worked in the NHS. However, when the situation in the hospitals improved and more doctors were returning from working in Intensive Care, I was told I didn’t need to continue helping out at the hospital and have since returned to my day job. I have told my hospital I would be happy to return to help out if there is a second wave.

In your July Vogue article, you wrote that testing of front-line staff for Covid-19 ‘is not widely available and isn’t always accurate’. You also said, there have been ‘discussions about whether there is enough personal protective equipment available.’ Due to this, have there been times where you felt unsafe re-entering the NHS?

I am pleased to report that in the months since, it has been easier for NHS staff to get tested (and accuracy has also improved.) In the beginning, I was nervous about re-entering the NHS as the scientific advice kept changing (as we were still learning about the disease) and having to incorporate new Covid-19 protocols into my day-to-day work as an Oncologist. As with a lot of aspects of being a doctor, you adjust relatively quickly to new realities and it became a matter of fact.

Due to Covid-19, you wrote in your Vogue article that there’s a ‘rediscovered love of the NHS’ as well as ‘the supermarket workers, the ambulance drivers’ and many more.

Since the pandemic, there is a significant amount of respect to front line workers like there hasn’t been before. Do you believe this amount of appreciation will continue in the future? 

Hopefully, though I am sceptical – I find people have short memories. Though stories like the tragic death of Belly Mujinga did really resonate with the public, so I hope there continues to be an appreciation of what front line workers do, especially during a pandemic. The fact that in the last few months, magazines and designers have chosen to highlight the heroics of front- line workers rather than models/celebrities may also contribute to growing awareness.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to start their careers in the fashion industry?

I started as an intern on a magazine, so that’s still a viable option but not the only option. I think people like Pam Boy are an inspiration as he cultivated his distinctive voice online and is now a senior editor at a major magazine. Especially at the beginning, it is crucial to develop a voice as that is when is the time to be bold and free and experiment. From my experience – work with magazines that you love and respect so you can learn from the best as well as building a good portfolio. There are also a lot more mentoring schemes and people are probably a lot more helpful in giving advice.

My main advice is always to shoot for the stars as you never know what you might get back!

Written by Ella Titman