SEOUL — Korean fashion continues to churn out new talent. Gu_de, a handbag brand based here, is one of the latest to receive global recognition, having been picked up by Net-a-porter for fall 2018.
Founded by Ji Hye Koo, the brand’s collection is manufactured in South Korea, enabling Koo to offer quality product at a moderate price. Bags — fabricated from richly colored leather, stamped with crocodile or lizard patterns — retail between $400 and $700.
Koo founded the label in late 2016 after working within the fashion design departments of conglomerates like Samsung. Gu_de’s retail debut came shortly after launch, hitting the shelves of Samsung-owned Beaker in early 2017.
Koo said that Korean consumers’ thirst for newness has pushed her to create intriguing designs. “There are so many brands in Korea, some are operated by a big company and some are small, individual brands like us. Koreans are always looking for something new. People want unique designs, so I feel a little bit of pressure. It’s motivating; we are trying very hard all the time.”
The majority of Gu_de’s bags are inspired by Seventies structured shapes, with petite proportions and removable, interchangeable straps. According to Koo, they appeal to a new, sophisticated type of Korean consumer.
“In former days, most people here were looking for bags from a big company, but now this is changing. People are looking for bags that are unique and new. They want a new style and don’t want the same bag as others — she wants her own thing,” the designer explained.
“Quality is important, as well as good design with a good price,” said Koo’s husband and Gu_de’s head of overseas business development Ethan H.K. Song.
This ethos aligns Gu_de with other rising companies in the developing mid-range handbag category, which have seen success with designs offered for under $1,000. According to buyers who recently assessed spring 2018’s accessories offering, this category of handbag is poised for significant growth.
“We want people to know about our brand but we don’t want to go too fast. We have seen that with some brands — they are booming at the beginning and later they disappear; we don’t want to do that,” Song said.
The brand, which takes its name from an antiquarian Scottish pronunciation of “good,” invites consumers to shop its showroom located within a quiet Seoul neighborhood, and says it has no intention to open a store on a busy retail drag. Instead, Koo plans to allocate resources to ramp up Gu_de’s handbag business overseas.
She plans to experiment with shoes — the category with which she has the most design experience — in the coming seasons.