For years, Tony Kim had noticed a changing cultural trend in the geekosphere.
"Before, [nerds] were all sort of stigmatized as living in our parents' basements and everything... Now nerds and geeks are the artists, the businessmen, the community leaders; we're the influencers of culture now," Kim, founder and CEO of Hero Within, told SYFY WIRE. "But there wasn't an apparel for us. Everything still looks like costumes. I looked at my peers, my friends, and I thought, 'Wow they're really out there creating content and influencing culture, and they should have clothing that represents the things they love.'"
And so, Kim officially launched Hero Within in 2016, serving as both its founder and CEO. With Product Merchandiser Director Michael Lew and a tight-knit group of other talented employees at his side, Kim now designs an array of clothing and merchandise for the professional, fashion-forward nerd in everyone.
On the surface, Kim was inspired by his love of San Diego Comic-Con, which he credits with changing his life. Before the company's official launch, Kim even showed off his first prototype blazer at SDCC 2015. The response, in large part from his blog Crazy 4 Comic-Con, was overwhelmingly positive. His followers' feedback was critical, Kim says, given how much they represented the market he was looking at. The point, after all, was to empower nerds to express their geekdom in everyday life; rather than only breaking out an old T-shirt on specific occasions, he wanted fans to be able to go into work or hang out at a bar while looking equal parts sharp and nerdy. The two shouldn't be mutually exclusive, he says. "It's not just about clothing," he adds. "It's a sense of pride."
Kim feels a particular amount of pride due to the partnerships Hero Within has garnered. When it first launched, Hero Within boasted a partnership with DC, resulting in bonified DC-licensed merch. It was, in the simplest terms, a dream come true.
When he was young, Kim was drawn to science fiction and comic books because they told stories about outsiders. His parents immigrated to the United States from Korea about a year before he was born, and, growing up in Dallas, Texas, he felt a connection with the aliens and superpowered humans whose comics captured his attention.
"I felt very misunderstood and marginalized," he says. "It was tough growing up as a kid, so I looked to comic books… I joke that Superman and Wonder Woman kind of raised me. They instilled a lot of the values that I have."
Superman is arguably the most famous immigrant in fiction; Kal-El is an outsider, a literal alien who's forced to find his place on a different world but uses his gifts to help humanity. Superman's story — as well as so many other heroes' stories — gave Kim courage and helped him find his own community amongst other comics fans.
That's why, when Kim launched Hero Within, one of his goals was to create apparel in congruence with the heroes who helped raise him. He succeeded, and now has an official partnership with Warner Bros. and DC, resulting in a Superman blazer, a Wonder Woman denim jacket, a Batman peacoat, and more. Hero Within also boasts a partnership with Marvel Comics, meaning there's plenty of Avengers looks to go around, as well.
"When a large number of nerds were kids or teens, they felt like they were in a box or in a corner," Kim says. "And what I want my clothing to do is empower them… to bring their pride to the surface. That's why the company is called Hero Within, for the idea that we all have a hero inside of us. I want people to be proud of who they are."