In the past few years, Korea has undoubtedly become one of the most fashion forward and trendsetting countries in Asia.
In the last few years traveling back and forth between LA, London and different countries within Asia, I have seen the influx of Korean designers and Korean culture truly dominate the Asian market and even influence the western market. From K-Pop, Korean drama’s and of course fashion, Korea has well and truly marked themselves on the fashion map.
I was fortunate enough to finally visit South Korea for the first time last month and the hype completely lived up to my expectations. The streets were awash with the trendiest of stores, boutiques and department stores.
One of the most standout experiences I had in Korea was meeting with The Korean Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) and Concept Korea’s three winning designers showing at this years NYFW.
KOCCA is founded by South Korea’s leading government agency that backs the development and exposure of Korean creatives both in Korea and internationally. They don’t just cover fashion but everything from animation, music, broadcasting and even character licensing.
I was so impressed to see such an amazing platform for creatives to build their brand and gain publicity both domestically and internationally.
KOCCA actively helps the advancement of these industries with production support, marketing and promotion, including global expansion abroad, as well as human capital development, and the implementation of cultural technology.
KOCCA is broken down into three organizations, Content Korea Lab, cel Academy, and cel Venture Complex. The aim of Content Korea Lab (CKL) is to allow any Korean Citizen who has a solid idea, to make their dream a reality or to start a business. cel Academy is there to help provide concept creators with training, and cel Venture Complex is there to nurture content start-ups. Incredibly impressive, I think you’ll agree?!
Concept Korea ensures the promotion of Korean fashion designers outside of Korea and in the past have specifically focused on assisting designers break in to the US fashion market. Organized by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of The Republic of Korea and Korea Creative Contents Agency. Concept Korea began in 2010, and this F/W 2015 season marked the organization's 14th time showing at New York Fashion Week. I was fortunate enough to sit down with the Project manager of the KOCCA to focus specifically on discussing Concept Korea to learn more about their future plans and how they have evolved and strengthened since their launch.
Ji Kyeong Hwa Thank you so much for taking the time to meet and interview!
I love that KOCCA was started up to really support cultural activities. With Concept Korea being the first of its kind and was launched to support Korean designers specifically build their brand and bring it to both a Korean market as well as an international one.
How important do you feel it is to have built this opportunity for local Korean designers?
We already have some designers out there supporting themselves, but KOCCA is there to help new and up and coming designers to be independent by themselves. We are there to help bridge the gap to make them truly independent as designers and ultimately support themselves.
How did the initial idea for promoting designers come about?
KOCCA already had a platform for cartoon, and other creative content. We already had this platform for art and fashion and games, animation any sort of art content. However to achieve the ultimate goal, we have to go globally with these platforms. Fashion wasn’t expanding the same way. Designers certainly had high creativity but they lacked certain techniques of how to expand. This was a good way to offer them this opportunity. We already did it in other areas so it was a good way to help small brands expand.
Concept Korea is such an amazing platform for designers, really promoting them on an international level. Can you walk me through the process of starting up Concept Korea when it began in 2010 and how it has evolved since then?
From 2010 to 2012 the emphasis was more focused on the Korean image. In 2012-2014 more focused on the promotional side of Korean fashion then in 2014 to now we are focusing more on the professional field to market designers abroad, the unique characteristics of the designers and their work and more business focused aspects for the designers, to help them establish themselves within the global market.
In the beginning our strategy was to get the word out there about Korean fashion. Therefore the first step was to promote them. We want to connect globally. Now we have done that we are focusing on helping designers with the business side of it. Helping designers to grow in the international market. We have got our name out there by taking part in NYFW. In addition to showcasing the designers in NYFW we also have showrooms available for the designers.
How important do you think fashion is in defining a countries culture and specifically really bringing the Korean culture to the attention of the world?
It’s really helping identify Korean style and what Korean fashion is, the modern fashion. We are focused on promoting those up and coming designers that are able to showcase and best exemplifies that. Needless to say all the designers have very different styles, but they have a certain style that Korean fashion shares. For instance, Jarred (designer Ji Yeon-Lee) a few seasons ago, in season 13 with her Asian style drew foreign interest. Also we have interest from China, and other countries within Asia as K-Pop is really popular which makes people very interested in Korean fashion.
What is the process of choosing the designers that are selected each year?
Every season we have an application for designers to go through. The first involves a Q and A test containing questions about their vision and plans for expansion. Candidates are finally selected from judges abroad, comprised of professional fashion experts.
This season we had a couple of judges that chose the three designers that showed in New York Fashion Week. The applicants would show the judges their designs. The judges evaluate the designers; assess how they plan to develop their brand, how strong their vision is and how they see their path for the future.
How many people apply?
It’s a high bar to even apply, therefore in some ways it’s not that competitive as they have to have some sales before applying, and also what goals they have going forward. There is a very high evaluation scale that they have to go through. So in the end the competition is 2 to 1.
(L-R) Yohan Kim, YounHee Park, Heejin Kim
What do you look for when choosing the designers? Do they have to have a very different style and aesthetic from each other?
The focus is more on their business sense, and what potential they would have to grow into a business. Therefore it is not just dependent on their fashion style and how different they are.
You have just shown for the 14th time at New York fashion week. That is an amazing accomplishment. How has each year strengthened since launching Concept Korea and how do you plan to expand and further develop the talent on an international scale?
Since we have now shown in NYFW for some years now, the media knows about Concept Korea, the Korean brands, and that we have active participation in NYFW. However now that we have also gained notable recognition, we are also expanding the platform to other places outside of the United States, namely Italy, Shanghai, and other places globally outside of the U.S
What do you think is the biggest challenge for designers in Korea and how does Concept Korea help designers address and overcome these challenges?
Since the Korean market is still in a transitional period, we are moving towards expanding to a global market but it is still very slow. Even though Korean fashion (on a global scale) is smaller than other more international fashion markets, Korean fashion still has many strong points with high quality and unique Korean vibes and Concept Korea is the best way for Korean designers to expand.
Are there any upcoming partnerships you can discuss?
Concept Korea will continue to do NYFW as well as expanding through Asia and Shanghai and Italy and we are also trying to target Europe and China markets. We are also partnering with Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore where we have showroom spaces. We are also looking to Hong Kong and Shanghai. We hope to continue to target new markets.
Click for more information on Concept Korea
Click for more information on KOCCA