South Korea’s ‘패션’ for fashion*

South Korea has advanced economically and technologically in a short amount of time. I recently wrote a piece for Luxiders sustainable magazine titled ‘Top 10 Most Sustainable Cities.’ I included South Korea on this list because of its advanced public transport and its new smart city ‘Songdo.’ But, it got me thinking – what’s their fashion industry like?

The Korean Wave

South Korean culture has spread worldwide with the popularity of K-pop and films like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. This Korean wave is affecting the fashion industry, with Harper’s Bazaar saying ‘Korean style is a mixture of street wear and luxury.’ The combination of western influence and wealth has created a new branch of fashion that brings together European and street wear brands.

Mino kpop

Rapper Mino walking for Virgil Abloh’s Menswear Louis Vuitton S/S 2020 Collection


The market in Dongdaemun is often referred to as the ‘fashion mecca’ of Seoul. There are countless stalls in the market where you can haggle for prices. But, the multi-story malls that open at 10AM and close at 5AM have fixed prices. The hustle and bustle never stops, and with lower prices than international fashion brands, Dongdaemun is the centre of fast-fashion production.

dongdaemun design plaza

Dongdaemun Design Plaza

Is the industry becoming more sustainable?

Dongdaemun design plaza hosted a Sustainable Fashion Summit, bringing together designers that are changing the fashion game. With debates and exhibitions, the event showcased the changing industry and showed the endless possibilities sustainable fashion can bring. It wasn’t just ecological sustainability being discussed but social; the importance of fair trade and the significance of collaborating with impoverished communities.

It seems that sustainable fashion is becoming more popular in Korea due to the influence of K-pop stars and influencers. Their collaborations with luxury fashion houses and red carpet appearances makes them the fashion ambassadors for Korea.

SwatchOn is an organisation dedicated to transforming the fast fashion culture in Dongdaemun. Their suppliers create high-quality fashion with minimal environmental impact – they only work with suppliers that source sustainable and organic materials and do not work with suppliers producing fur or leather. Their transparency will revitalise the Korean fashion market, bringing quality and sustainable clothing to Dongdaemun:

‘Our ultimate mission is to bring positive changes to the Korean fabric market, especially towards sustainability. Since sustainability should be culturally embedded, we are constantly communicating with Korean authorities, suppliers, and buyers to spread our philosophy. The progress we can make could be small or big and it may take a long time. However, we believe that even small changes matter, and will work hard so that every aspect of our business can have an element of sustainability.’

What’s next?

It seems that South Korea, like they have with their cities, is transforming their fashion industry into one that is sustainable. With the work SwatchOn is carrying out, Seoul and South Korea’s other major cities may begin to see a shift towards ‘slow’ fashion. K-pop’s influence is international, and so is their fashion – watch this space.

S x

*패션 (paesyeon) – fashion

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