SEOUL — While Chanel might be staging its cruise show here on May 4 and luxury brands continue to court South Korean consumers, it’s clear that many shoppers are shunning logos in favor of no-logo, nondescript casualwear.
Young Korean consumers are channeling athletic and clean-cut normcore-inspired looks. These include sweatshirts, sweatpants, mom jeans or skinny jeans with sneakers, letterman jackets, mannish wool coats, toques and tote bags. Nothing here looks vintage, scuffed or even slightly worn. Korean consumers favor fabrics and shapes that are sharp, crisp and one-color, creating an immaculate, almost futuristic-looking version of the trend. Retailers that trade in basics stand to gain in the current climate. Examples include Gap, Hennes & Mauritz, Zara and local brands such as 8 Seconds, Beanpole, Mixxo and A-land.
Koreans have even coined their own term for the no-logo “mega” trend. The “Nono’s” of Korea, short for “no logo, no brand,” denote a consumer demographic that focuses on design and value over brand loyalty, and self-expression and identity over status.
“The fashion community in Korea is very influenced by Western culture and fashion,” said Chae-yeon Song, cofounder of Styleshare, one of Korea’s largest online fashion communities. “In Korea, there are trends and then there are the megatrends, which everyone is more or less practicing. The current megatrends are no-logo and normcore.”
According to fashion experts, the no-logo trend is all about identity. “Fashion trends tend to change quickly in Korea,” said a representative at 8 Seconds, one of Korea’s main fast-fashion brands. “These days, young Koreans think of fashion as [an individualistic] way to express their personality….They don’t want to show logos or brands.”
Su-min Oh, fashion research team director at Cheil Industries Fashion Division, said logos and status symbols “are definitely less popular than before. People care more about style, design and not just about names these days; brand loyalty is decreasing.”
According to the Korea Chamber of Commerce, retail sales in Korea are set to grow by 2.4 percent this year to 276 trillion won, or $251.37 billion at current exchange. Retail sales grew at a similar rate in 2014, increasing 2.2 percent on 2013 figures.
“This growth is projected to be small due to [the] economic slowdown and lower levels of consumer sentiment,” the KCCI said.
In February, the Korean finance ministry said sales at the country’s top department stores were estimated to have fallen 9.7 percent in January from a year earlier. The ministry blamed part of the drop on the timing of the Lunar New Year holidays, which fell in late January last year but were in the middle of February this year.
Hye-jin Hong, the designer behind contemporary fashion house Studio K, said tough economic times could be part of the attraction of the no-logo trend for consumers.
“[Like much of the world,] because of economic uncertainty, people try to wear simple, non-trend-sensitive clothing they can wear for years to come….They want to minimize consumption and maximize their clothes’ wearability,” she said.
In spite of the economy, the Korean fashion market is maturing and experts say that younger generations are making more “value-conscious” purchases. Analysts at Samsung Design Net said Korean consumers want more than just status items; consumers are seeking a whole different set of specialized products and shopping experiences.
“Nowadays, peoples’ interests have expanded to technology [like the iPhone,] or lifestyles [like well-being, eco-friendly living, vintage, etc],” said Su-min Oh, an analyst with Samsung. “They are interested in more than just fashion now….And the market has noticed this.”
Given Korea’s fairly rigid society and high level of conformity, the newfound popularity of non-branded, no-logo items is particularly noteworthy. Just a few years ago, monogram luxury bags were so ubiquitous they were nicknamed “3 second bags,” as one could spot one being worn by women everywhere.
Tapping into the no-logo trend, Korean brands like handbag firm Couronne and 8 Seconds are putting a greater emphasis on product development and design than slapping labels on products.
“When we think about brands like Burberry, we think about their iconic trenchcoat; or when we think about Uniqlo, we think of their Heattech line,” said Samsung’s Oh. “Korean brands are also following this flow. For example, at 8 Seconds, they are heavily focusing on the marketing of the ‘wonder series’ line [a line of breathable and insulating inner wear].”
Hong, the Studio K designer, agreed that Korean consumers are becoming more discerning.
“Over the past decade people have become more informed. They don’t just care about a name: It’s about their chosen lifestyle, the cost of the item, and many other things,” she said. “We can definitely say Korean consumers are more mature now.”