Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Zara's "fast fashion" celebrates one-year anniversary in Seoul

On a sunny day last week, Han Jin-hee, 26, strolled down the streets of Myeong-dong, central Seoul, in a lighthearted mood. She had just come out from the clothing store Zara, after buying a dozen articles of clothing, which cost her a total of less than 150,000 won ($117).

“Fashions today change rapidly,” she said. “So instead of shopping for costly items, I buy a variety of cheaper pieces at Zara.” Han said she shops at the Spain-based retailer in Seoul at least twice every month.

She’s not alone. With constantly changing trends in an economy in decline, shoppers are increasingly turning to buying low-priced, mass-produced clothes from “fast fashion” labels, such as Zara, Mango, Uniqlo and Forever 21.

Relatively new to Seoul, the market is penetrating the local fashion industry, experts say. Such clothes are referred to as SPA, short for specialty retailer of private-label apparel. Such companies offer clothing at a low price by cutting margins on production, retail and distribution.

“Fast fashion labels are appealing to consumers growing more trend-conscious,” says Lee Ye-jin, a fashion retailer. “They shop for items that they can wear short-term at a low price.”

Industry experts predict that fast fashion labels in Korea will take a greater market share - up to 6 trillion won - of the total 30 trillion won local market.

Zara, which first opened a year ago in Myeong-dong and COEX, southern Seoul, now has seven branches in Korea including one that opened Monday in Busan. Three more branches are set to open in Gwangju, Daejeon and Suwon this year. Sweden’s H&M is also coming to Myeong-dong in July.

Japan’s Uniqlo store in Myeong-dong, which arrived here in 2007, has steady monthly sales of up to 1.2 billion won. The brand is planning on opening 10 to 15 new stores this year. Though all Mango stores closed early this year due to decrease in sales, Cheil Industries reopened the store last month in Myeong-dong, hoping for a leap in sales.

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