In 2014, as he was heading into his senior year at Fordham College at Rose Hill, Kim worked with his brothers Dylan and Elliott to design and create a camera bag that could double as an everyday backpack.
Six years later, what started as passion project has turned into Brevite, a direct-to-consumer company that is expected to bring in more than $3 million in revenue in 2020. And earlier this month, the company’s success earned the brothers a spot on Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” list of the top young entrepreneurs in retail and e-commerce.
The idea for their company came to the Kim brothers after Dylan was looking for a bag he could use to carry his school books and keep his camera gear safe.
“It turns out nobody made products like this,” said Kim, who began thinking about how best to design the kind of bag his brother wanted. “I started with sketches. And then I started making cardboard mock-ups.” He even bought a used sewing machine at a thrift shop, taught himself to sew, and created a few samples before hiring someone to prototype the bags.
From Prototype to Production
Shortly after they had a few samples, Kim said he decided to join the Fordham Foundry, the University’s hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, to learn more about how to move from prototype to production and turn their project into a business. In January 2015, after talking to people at the Foundry, the brothers launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $30,000. They contracted with their first supplier and began selling the specially designed camera backpacks directly to consumers.
Over the next three years, Brevite began slowly taking off while the brothers were still in school. After graduating from Fordham, Kim enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned a master’s degree in design. Instead of seeking venture capital funding, the brothers bootstrapped the company through campaigns and competitions, such as the Ram’s Den Competition, the Fordham Foundry’s annual alumni pitch event, which Brevite won in 2018.
Al Bartosic, GABELLI ’84, executive director of the Fordham Foundry, has worked with Kim in recent years. He said that Kim and his brothers understood that launching and growing their business would take hard work.
“It’s nice to see [that work]come to fruition and see Brandon and his brothers really fulfilling their dream and making it happen.” He said that entrepreneurship has gotten a “glamorous rap” lately, with some people thinking, “I go to college, and while I’m in college … I get a venture capitalist to write me a check for a million dollars, and then the next thing I know, I’m retiring on an island somewhere. And that’s kind of not the way that it really works. And Brandon and his brothers understand that.”
Kim said that 2018 was a pivotal year for Brevite. In addition to winning the Ram’s Den competition and completing internships and degree programs, he and his brothers decided to fully invest their time and energy in growing the company.
“We were like, ‘All right, what are we doing here? It’s just taking up all this time, and we’ve got no time for anything else.’ So we finally just were like, ‘OK, we’re gonna do this.’”
Two years later, “the business is totally different than when we started out,” Kim said. “Taking it up to seven figures required a complete revamp,” including branching out to design backpacks for general consumers, in addition to photographers.
Fordham Foundry: A Hub for Innovation
Kim said that his decision to join the Fordham Foundry in 2015 helped him and his brothers connect with like-minded entrepreneurial students and gain a base of knowledge and insight about how the startup community operates and how to run a business.
“The people running [the Foundry]are very practical and they’re very accomplished in their own entrepreneurial careers. And then on top of that, they just give really great advice on how to build a business, not necessarily companies but businesses,” he said, emphasizing that the skills and lessons learned go beyond just forming a singular organization.
Bartosic said that the Foundry serves all students, regardless of their major, and provides a space for students and alumni to test, grow, and try out their ideas, with the backing of a supportive community.
“We offer, hopefully, an environment where it’s safe to talk about your ideas, and it’s OK to fail,” he said. “I think that generationally, everybody wants to look cool on Instagram—my life is perfect, and everything is great. … And that’s just not the way that life works. Entrepreneurship really forces you to face that. As long as you’ve got someone that’s supporting you and saying, ‘It’s OK [to fail], or here, let’s try to learn what you did, so you don’t do it again’—those are the kinds of services we provide.”
Over the past few years, the Foundry has grown to provide resources ranging from roundtable discussions to one-on-one mentorship. In addition, the Foundry works with the Gabelli School of Business school to offer two courses—Launch Your Startup and the Startup Venture Experience.
Kim has been a part of the Foundry’s growth since he graduated from Fordham. He was an entrepreneur-in-residence for about 18 months, providing advice, mentorship, and guidance to students who were interested in launching their businesses, and he currently serves on the Foundry’s alumni council.
He said his favorite piece of advice to students is to stay in school and get their degree, instead of dropping out to pursue their idea full time. “Get your degree, do your degree,” he said with a laugh.
He also advises students to take advantage of the Foundry’s mentoring programs and connections. And he encourages alumni who are entrepreneurs to get involved with the Foundry, too, particularly through its alumni council.
“I think the Foundry is a fantastic resource. I think it’s heavily underutilized,” he said. “I think student founders should certainly go to the Foundry [and]even like if they’re not interested in founding companies, but they’re interested in startups, it’s a great place to go.”