K-fashion taking root in Singapore

More retailers in Singapore are offering South Korean fashion and accessory labels to meet growing demand

Korean fashion, or K-fashion, is taking root in Singapore, with industry watchers predicting the trend as more than a flash in the pan.

Riding on its popularity, retailers - from big-name department stores to online shops - have started to offer more South Korean brands, with local businesses springing up to meet the demand.

Department store Takashimaya started carrying Korean brands Stonehenge and Salut De Miel earlier this year. The two jewellery and accessory brands are performing 30 per cent above expectations and better than non-Korean brands of similar brand positioning, says Takashimaya's spokesman.

The average price for a Stonehenge accessory, such as bangles and rings, is less than $100. For Salut De Miel, prices range from $39 to $269.

The Orchard Road department store, which carries Korean womenswear label Style To Be, is having a Korean Fair early next year to showcase selected Korean fashion and accessory brands such as contemporary menswear label 87mm and womenswear label J Koo.

"We hope to explore the possibility of having more Korean brands if the market response to the fair is encouraging," adds the Takashimaya spokesman.

In recent years, department store Tangs also introduced Korean bag brand Joseph&Stacey (available only at Tangs at Tang Plaza) and Salut De Miel.

Online retail giant Zalora.sg brought in 16 new Korean brands in August and plans to bring in more, such as women's apparel brand Outstanding Ordinary and shoe brand Stiu. Regional sales for its Korean fashion and beauty category has more than doubled every season since 2014, when it started carrying Korean labels, says Zalora Group's chief category officer Mr Paresh Chauhan.

Korean fashion label H:Connect's first South-east Asian store in Singapore opened in October in Bugis Junction, selling trendy casual apparel for men and women. The popular brand, with more than 330 stores in South Korea, Taiwan, China and Singapore, already has a repeat customer rate of 10 per cent here, says Mr Brian Lee, chief executive officer of Branded Lifestyle which represents H:Connect.

He adds: "Response has been great - the first month of sales was 20 per cent above our expectations and we had hundreds of customers signing up for our loyalty programme within the first few weeks of opening."

There are plans to open more H:Connect stores here next year.

Smaller players are also taking notice.

Sects Shop in Orchard Gateway, which sells international streetwear labels for men, carried only two Korean labels when it first opened three years ago. Now, half of the 20 brands it sells are Korean.

Sales have also doubled in the past two years at womenswear clothing store Myth at Far East Plaza, which carries only Korean brands. Its owner Fiona Tan, 36, is now selling edgier Korean clothing styles compared with only feminine ones eight years ago.

Adding to the fray are a mix of local e-commerce start-ups, such as women's fashion retailer Me-In, edgy streetwear Bang3 and mother-daughter clothing retailer Ksisters - all opened in the past 21/2 years.

The popularity of K-fashion, say industry watchers, was in part fuelled by the hype surrounding all things Korean here - its dramas, music and food, as well as by its celebrities.

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of retail management in Temasek Polytechnic's School of Business, says: "The popularity is largely due to Korean celebrities who command much influence on fashion trends, such as musician G-Dragon and actor Kim Soo Hyun from the Korean drama, My Love From The Star."

But the trend, he says, is here to stay. K-fashion has a "diverse range of styles" - from feminine and elegant to edgy streetwear and high-fashion brands, ensuring its longevity.

"Korean brands are also able to churn out trendy clothing in less than a month - a blink of an eye compared with the six-month production time other designer brands need," he says, adding that they can do this because there are many garment production facilities in Korea and neighbouring China.

H:Connect, for example, takes as little as two weeks to put a product out in the showroom from the drawing board.

The K-fashion craze is not unique to Singapore.

Independent streetwear brands and contemporary designers such as avant-garde menswear label Juun.J has been gaining international popularity, thanks to recent advertisement campaigns fronted by Korean rapper and singer G-Dragon (whose real name is Kwon Ji Yong) and Taeyang (whose real name is Dong Young Bae). Both are members of music group Big Bang.

French luxury brand Chanel launched its cruise collection in Seoul and appointed G-Dragon as one of its brand ambassadors in May last year. In April this year, Seoul was also the host city for American media company Conde Nast's second annual International Luxury Conference.

Mr Kenny Lim, 39, co-founder of multi-label retailer Sects Shop at Orchard Gateway, says: "K-pop and K-beauty are already very established. K-fashion is next."


Fan buys clothes from thrift stores in Korea

Ms Ellie Tan, 21, tattoo apprentice

Her favourite South Korean fashion brands: I like The Mode, Stylenanda, Ader Error, A Piece of Cake and More Than Dope - each brand has its own personality yet is still very wearable.

I don't see many stores with such appeal in Singapore.

However, a lot of my clothes are not brand-new pieces from these brands as I find them expensive and shipping costs can be exorbitant.

Most of my clothes are bought from thrift stores in Hongdae, South Korea, during my trips.

At these stores, I buy clothes from other brands that emulate the Korean style, such as my mesh-and-crop top set (pictured) from local fashion retailer Young Hungry Free.

Her favourite Korean style icons: I like hip-hop artist CL (whose real name is Lee Chae Rin) because her style is rocker-chic one day, and sexy and lady-like the next.

On Instagram, I follow Korean influencers such as @hyoxxi and @themode_unni as well as stylish Koreans whose Instagram accounts I happen to chance on.

I keep track of Korean trends through websites such as Hypebeast.com and Highsnobiety.com - there has been an influx of Korean trends and news on those sites recently.

What she likes about Korean fashion: I like that K-fashion has a wide range of styles - from hip-hop and minimalist to high street and feminine.

I don't like to stick to one style when it comes to fashion.

I was in Seoul in April and I like the youth culture in Hongdae - it is energetic and South Koreans there make an effort to dress up.

Retailer offers salon recommendations too

Founders of Seoul-based womenswear retailer Me-In, Ms Kim Hye Jin, and Ms Charlotte Yen. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Me-In, www.me-in.kr

Sells: Women's clothes, accessories and shoes sourced from South Korea, which are suitable for the office or dressy occasions. New designs are launched every week and prices range from $15 for accessories to $250 for a formal dress or leather shoes or bags.

Bestsellers: Kaylen sheer blouse ($67), Elise colour-block pleated dress ($85) and Kiara buckle wrap skirt ($73). The Seoul-based womenswear retailer was co-founded in 2014 by Ms Kim Hye Jin, 30, who is South Korean, and Ms Charlotte Yen, a Singaporean who lives here. The pair met through a mutual friend.

Ms Yen, who oversees the development of the business, found the language barrier and messy user interfaces an issue while shopping for clothing from South Korean fashion websites.

Since Me-In was launched, Ms Yen says that revenue has doubled and that 40 per cent of their customers are from Singapore.

Ms Kim, who takes care of the creative aspects of the business such as sourcing for products in South Korea and photography, says South Korean and Singaporean women have similar styles of dressing. She says both groups of customers buy 80 per cent of the same styles - such as clothes that can be worn in and out of the office.

The difference is due to seasonal variations between Korea and Singapore as well as varying body types. Ms Kim notes that South-east Asian women tend to have wider hips.

To stand out from other online retailers, Me-In has a curated beauty and travel section with hair and beauty salon and trendy restaurant recommendations in South Korea.

Ms Kim reckons that the trend is here to stay: "Korean fashion is evolving and there is a new era of expressing individual personality, so the market is expected to grow in the future."

Ms Lee Jungmin, with daughters Jooha (far left) and Yeonsoo, launched Ksisters because she wanted to introduce South Korea's popular "twinning" culture to Singapore, where couples and families wear matching outfits. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Matching sets a hit for store

Ksisters, www.ksisters.sg

Sells: A mix of casual cotton clothing as well as feminine lace and chiffon tops and dresses for girls sourced from South Korean brands such as Cocoa and Ccommame. Mothers can also buy clothing to match their daughters'.

There is a small selection of items for babies and boys and the website is updated with one or two designs weekly. Prices range from $17 for a child's T-shirt to an average of $60 for a woman's dress. Bestsellers: Matching skorts for girls ($40) and mothers ($50) that come in three colours - red, navy and green.

Ksisters was launched in Singapore in August by South Korean Lee Jungmin, who moved to Singapore in April last year when her husband got a job here. The mother of two girls, aged three and two, saw a gap for chic clothing for children here.

"Clothes for children here tend to be cute with animal-character prints," says Ms Lee, 30, who sources for the clothes.

"In Korea, fashion is well-developed and there are a lot of styles for children, from dressy to edgy."

She wanted to introduce Korea's popular "twinning" culture to Singapore, where couples and families wear matching or similar outfits, as she sees it as an opportunity for parents to bond with their children.

Four months into the business, Ms Lee says sales has grown by 150 per cent and that mother-daughter twinning outfits make up 30 per cent of her sales.

Her customers are all Singaporeans.

She expects revenue to double in the next four months as sales up till Tuesday has already equalled last month's total takings.

Customers shopping for the upcoming Chinese New Year season will also shore up sales.

Says Ms Lee: "Our red skorts twinsets are a hit because of the Christmas season and I think their popularity will continue until Chinese New Year."


Attracted initially by colourful outfits

Mr Garion Tan, 23, retail assistant His favourite South Korean fashion brands: Accessories, men's and women's apparel brand R.Shemiste for its caps.

I like accessories because I can use them to spruce up my minimalist-style outfits.

I also like Andersson Bell because its clothes are easy to pull off and I like the tops with extra-long sleeves - they look sloppy yet cool.

I'm also planning to go to South Korea next year to shop for clothing and accessories from brands such as Vei-8 which sells apparel.

His favourite Korean style icons: I would say my dressing is influenced by American rapper and dancer Jay Park. I like his hip-hop style and the gold chains he wears. I also follow fashion blogger Jun Jeong (@jjunl) on Instagram - I like his minimalist black-and-white outfits and the brands he wears, such as Rick Owens and Off-White. I look at his account when I need inspiration for outfits.

What got him started with K-fashion: I started listening to K-pop groups such as Girls' Generation and Shinee a few years ago. The band members in Shinee were wearing Dr. Martens boots and colourful skinny pants which I thought were more colourful than what the average Singaporean man would wear.

But now I'm more into Korean hip-hop artists such as Gray (whose real name is Lee Seong Hwa) and Simon D (whose real name is Jung Ki Seok), so my style has changed accordingly - my wardrobe is mostly black and white now.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2016, with the headline K-fashion taking root in Singapore. Subscribe