Over the past year, Korean womenswear designer Jee Won has been working on Suggesty, a personal styling/e-commerce app and website featuring curated Korean fashion brands indexed into a shoppable database. Suggesty is still in beta, with an expected rollout in early 2019 – but Won timed her brand’s launch perfectly.
“K-Beauty and K-Pop hit the U.S. rather hard,” the former Eli Tahari womenswear designer tells Refinery29. “The U.S. is already fascinated with Korean culture. I think K-Fashion already has the same potential. It is enough to hold Americans captive.” (According to Mintel, a global market intelligence agency, the Korean beauty market has quickly become one of the world’s top 10 industries and made an estimated $13.1 billion in sale in 2018. The worldwide dominance of music groups like BTS, meanwhile, has proven out K-Pop's mass appeal.)
Suggesty is currently working with over forty Korean fashion brands, from established international labels to up-and-coming streetwear designers, all with a focus on quality fabrication, function and fit. Clothing and accessories range from $50 - $350, and can be purchased via the app or online. Broadly speaking, Korean fashion mimics American hip-hop culture with its bold colors and bright patterns, where the most seemingly mundane items like long puffer jackets or T-shirts baring Jesse Jackson’s 1988 US presidential campaign logo become status symbols.
As Won suggested, Korean fashion is on the precipice of a global moment, and Suggesty isn’t the only Korean fashion company carving out a space in American consumers' wallets. In July, Aland, a South Korean-based retailer started 13 years ago by sisters Kinam and Jung Eun Jung, opened a Brooklyn store selling clothing, beauty products and housewares. Vogue calls Aland’s shopping experience “a cross between Urban Outfitters and Uniqlo.” “We like to discover new designers, and then share their style with the customers,” Kinam told Vogue the weekend of the store’s opening. “Customers don’t come to Aland simply to buy something. We think of it as a place for designers to share their unique point of view.”
Similarly, in November, Opening Ceremony launched a new partnership called 10 Soul, presenting 10 emerging Korean designers (A.Bell, BLINDNESS, Bourie, D-Antidote, HCL, J KOO, MÜNN, Pushbutton, YCH, and Youser) from Seoul Fashion Week. It was the first time some of the participants (A.Bell, Bourie, HCL, J KOO, MÜNN and YCH) were sold outside of Korea. It’s also worth noting that since Opening Ceremony debuted in 2002, the retailer has attended Seoul Fashion Week, and has partnered with the event for the past six years to support emerging designers.
Established designers are also benefiting from K-culture’s rabid global fanbase. Lyst found in its Year in Fashion report, which tracked more than 100 million searches from 80 million shoppers all over the world, that K-pop boy bands like BTS and EXO and women K-pop stars like CL and Park Bom are “major global influencers” who drive trends. For example, when BTS member Suga wore a checked shirt created by Virgil Abloh, searches for the designer went up 120%. After Moschino’s creative director named K-pop singer CL one of his muses, searches for the brand catapulted sales. Camila Clarkson, Lyst’s communications manager, says this is just the beginning, and K-pop will continue to inspire and dominate fashion trends next year. Here’s hoping Suggesty and other K-fashion newbies can ride that wave.