Concept Korea wants to help Korean designers beyond New York Fashion Week.
The organization, which is formed out of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism agency, came to New York 10 years ago with the goal of providing Korean designers with the resources to have a show during New York Fashion Week. Successful alumni from the program include Kai, Beyond Closet and Juun.J.
But according to Misun Song, project director of Concept Korea, the designers have requested more help in the U.S. market, which is why Concept Korea is launching The Select, a showroom that opened this week that will feature the spring collections from 10 Korean designers including Nohant, Lie, Wnderkammer, Bmuet(te), Kye, Beyond Closet, The Centaur, SWBD, Hidden Forest Market and Heohwan Simulation. The showroom is located at 62 Greene Street in New York.
“We allow designers to do a show twice a year and then after that they disconnect from the market,” said Song. “We heard from a lot of designers that they would like a more permanent space in the U.S.”
The showroom will serve as a space where buyers can discover brands and conduct business, but it will also be a venue for pop-ups that will be open to the public. Song said to expect a retail space dedicated to Korean beauty products or other product categories.
Concept Korea, which supports designers with a budget for public relations, marketing and to show at New York Fashion Week, has evolved since launching a decade ago. What used to be one show that highlighted six designers is now one show that emphasizes two. This season they worked with Iise, a contemporary streetwear line started by brothers Terrence and Kevin Kim, and Lie, a contemporary women’s line also run by siblings, Chung Chung Lee and Nana Lee, whose father Lee Sangbong founded Lie Sangbong. There has been an effort to invest more in individual brands that have different needs and different customers.
“Different designers require different marketing and press strategies and we wanted to consider that,” said Song.
Winning the competition means they can show in New York for two seasons and reapply for one more year of support. Song says that showing in the U.S. lends the brand global credibility and helps them in other markets.
There has been a renewed interest in Korea with brands such as Ader Error, which recently collaborated with Puma, capturing the market’s attention, and more Japanese buyers traveling to Seoul. Richard Chung, project director of Concept Korea, attributes this to how Korean designers present their collections today. Iise’s line, for example, was inspired by the riots that were taking place outside of Iise’s headquarters in Seoul and traditional Korean details.
“Designers used to come into the international markets with a focus on business and value, but now they are telling their own stories about Korean culture,” said Chug. “They are trying to tell a story about their lifestyle.”
Chung said the biggest challenge for these brands is buyers not wanting to take a chance on a smaller, newer collection, but being supported by Concept Korea gives them more confidence. In 2016, Concept Korea started to have a presence at Pitti Uomo and in Shanghai. They are also working with the British Fashion Council with London trade shows.