Meet Eugene Yoon
The East Bay humanitarian leverages fashion to help those in need.
Until he walked the length of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Eugene Yoon says, “I didn’t truly understand the power of kindness.” He’d been a regular kid, who grew up in Castro Valley, went to college in Los Angeles, and then worked (like so many graduates in L.A.) in the film industry. However, his path took a detour in 2015. That’s the year he came across a video of Arthur Renowitzky, who’d attended Castro Valley High, Yoon’s alma mater; Renowitzky had been shot and was paralyzed below the waist but dreamed of walking again.
In response, Yoon was prompted to trek the PCT as a way to raise funds so his former schoolmate could buy robotic legs. During the six-month hike, Yoon posted updates on his progress, while donations kept pace. Strangers who saw his posts offered him meals, did his laundry, and asked if he wanted to crash at their houses. The benevolence he encountered was a revelation to the budding humanitarian. “It was an alternate universe,” he says.
Yoon found the chain of openheartedness so exhilarating that he rerouted his life yet again after completing the hike: He chose fashion to support his new habit of compassion. His resulting line of T-shirts and other apparel, called Kin Lov Gra—for “kindness, love, gratitude”—funds his philanthropy, including an ongoing Acts of Kindness marathon, in which he devotes his days to helping those in need.
“I used to have this image of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa—icons who felt unattainable to an everyday person like myself,” Yoon says. “I’ve learned you don’t have to be perfect, and in your brokenness or whatever state you’re in, you have the capacity to impact someone’s life.”
Small gestures loom large. Last year, while handing out lunches on L.A.’s Skid Row, Yoon was taken to a man too weak to emerge from his tent. “He was dying of AIDS, and after we had a conversation, I asked if I could share his story,” Yoon recalls. “In that moment, I could feel the energy shift. He said, ‘Yes, because then I would know my life meant something.’ He wanted to know that his life mattered.”
Next on Yoon’s agenda is a new series of Kin Lov Gra collections, starting with T-shirts and backpacks whose proceeds will fund school supplies for low-income districts in the Bay Area, L.A., and Denver. After that, he plans to finance hunger and sex-trafficking response efforts.
Yoon says he’s not using his film degree, but in his quietly dramatic gestures, you can see a filmmaker’s ability to find Mother Teresa in—as he calls himself—an everyday person. kinlovgra.com.