When it comes to handbags, people are often more likely to choose a product based on its brand name rather than its design or function. Those were the times when luxury was the number one destination in Korea.
Today, colorful and affordable Korean designs are a hit with fashionistas instead.
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Recently, more and more handbags made by Korean brands are becoming popular with young people as consumers look for unique designs and models to suit their different tastes and needs rather than being blindly loyal to a certain brand.
One such brand is Vunque, which launched in 2018 and is designed by Seok Jeong-hye.
The brand made 6 billion won (US$5.3 million) in sales last year, despite the fact that there are only a few offline stores. Seok previously created the successful “Couronne” bag which started with a small store and made over 100 billion won in sales in 2009, but she’s not the only designer enjoying popularity from new customers.
The “New Hester” bag, made by fashion brand Carlyn, was released in the fall of 2017 and sold more than 40,000 units in a year. The first edition of the “Salvia Joy,” a velvet handbag from J.Estina, sold 500 bags in only a month last year.
The company by_edit, which was founded by Oh Sun-hee, who used to be a reporter for the local edition of the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, has also proven popular.
She created bags made of canvas that are convenient for business trips or vacations. At first, she made the bags for her friends and acquaintances and sold the rest online. But only 30 minutes after the website opened, all 200 bags were sold out.
Early this year, the bag was added to the shelves of luxury department store Barney’s New York in Japan, and the brand was selected as a sponsor to make bags and clothes for employees at the “Biennale Arte 2019,” an international art exhibition to be held in Italy in May.
Another fashion reporter, Jeon Hyo-jin, co-chairman of Serge Poetics, has had to restock her small handbags about 10 times since they were released last May. CEO Lee Cho-rong, who used to be a designer for Benetton and Sisley Knit, has also seen good results with her brand COMME.R. The company’s products are available at many of Korea’s major online shopping malls, such as W concept, 29cm and Wizwid.
The key to the popularity of these bags is their unique designs as well as their relatively low prices. While leather bags cost between 200,000 won and 300,000 won, bags made of canvas or imitation leather can be purchased for less than 200,000 won.
“The design is nice and the price is about a tenth of a designer bag,” said Lee Ji-eun, a 34-year-old office worker who recently bought a Korean bag.
For many, the biggest draw of locally-designed bags are that they are cost-effective. “Women want to carry a bag that matches their outfit in color and shape,” says 28-year-old office worker Jeong Su-jin, “Korean bags are less expensive than foreign designer pieces, so you can purchase more bags for the same price.”
Having satisfied various tastes, Korean brands are getting recognized overseas as well.
The worldwide success of gu_de by designer Koo Ji-hye has led the way. Last year, gu_de was chosen by international shopping site Net-a-Porter for their program “The Vanguard,” which supports up-and-coming designers. The brand was the first Korean bag brand to be featured. Since then, its bags have been promoted and sold on the site.
COMME.R, Marge Sherwood, OSOI, ink, MUTEMUSE, and Fibreno have also been recognized for their unique models, use of color and high quality.
“Millennials prefer bags that are interesting and colorful,” said Lee of COMME.R, “Recent Korean bag designs have successfully met that criteria.”
A distribution method that excites customers has also played a role in the success of local brands. Every Wednesday, Vunque holds a “VWD” (Vunque Wednesday Drop) and releases a new product at 10 a.m.
“I wanted to release one new product every week to create excitement and fun,” designer Seok explained.
Oh’s by_edit also releases a new collection every one or two months after announcing them on social media. Every product the company makes is produced in a limited quantity and will not go into production again after it is sold out. “Although customers who miss the moment ask for more, it is more important to create a sustainable brand than to sell a lot,” said CEO Oh.
Popular products can run out just a few days after the release – sometimes even quicker than that. So, fans of the brand set up notifications so that they can be alerted as soon as a new product is released.
A change in the perception of handbags is also a significant factor in the success of Korean brands. “I feel like the objection to Korean bags has disappeared,” said Jeon Hyo-jin of Serge Poetics.
In the past, a Korean brand may have been pushed aside for being perceived as being of lower quality than a foreign brand despite evidence of the contrary. But now, customers are ready to really see what each brand offers, regardless of the brand’s name value or where it was made.
“It is the result of more diverse tastes,” said Kang Joo-yeon, a team leader of W Concept, an online shopping outlet. “People had the tendency to copy celebrities [in the past], but now they pay more attention to their own tastes.”
(Source: Korea Joongang Daily)