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[Weekender] Korea in midst of golf wear craze

Korean golfers purchase nearly half of golf apparel globally; Fashion brands flock to launch their first golf wear lineup

April 29, 2023 - 16:01 By Lee Yoon-seo

K-pop girl band Twice has recently renewed its contract with golf wear brand Pearly Gates. A growing number of K-pop artists and TV celebrities appear in golf wear advertising campaigns. (Pearly Gates)

Kim Min-young, a white-collar office worker in her 30s, said that in light of the start of golf season -- which customarily runs from April to September -- she recently spent some 700,000 won ($523) on clothes from the newly released spring and summer collection launched by her favorite golf wear brand.

"When my friends and I go to golf courses for a game, there's definitely that tension of scanning who is using what and who is wearing what -- and what brands the products are from," said Kim.

"No matter which group I go golfing with, there's a subtle examination of which golf items people are using -- and that makes me not want to feel left behind," she said.

"I think I spend an average of a million won annually to buy golf-related items."

Kim is one of many golf aficionados with a particular fondness for dressing up on the green in South Korea -- the country with the biggest global market share for golf attire as of 2022.

According to US-based golf research firm Golf Datatech, the overall golf-related commodity market surged 30 percent globally during the COVID-19 pandemic from $8.53 billion in 2019 to $11.08 billion in 2022. The US took up the largest market share with 48.1 percent last year, followed by Japan with 18.4 percent and South Korea with 10.2 percent.

But when it comes to the golf wear market, worth $8.87 billion last year, Korea is an unrivaled market leader with a whopping 45 percent of the market share, drastically outnumbering the US' 26 percent market share.

The data suggest that nearly half of the world's golf clothing in 2022 was consumed in Korea.

Experts say the particular boom in the nation's golf wear industry comes as Korea’s cultural tendency to prioritize “saving face” in front of others tends to surface during activities that are socially recognized as luxurious, such as golfing.

Koreans tend to compare themselves to others, said Lee Eun-hee, a professor of consumer science at Inha University, adding, "The desire to flaunt one's social standing with displays of wealth is deeply engraved in them."

"During one of the most luxurious pastimes that an ordinary citizen can have, naturally, such desires will rise to the surface in the forms of luxury golf-related items."

Following the boom in the golf wear industry, Korea is reeling in a slew of global golf brands to launch and expand golf wear lineups in the country.

Most recently, Hyundai Department Store’s fashion retail arm Handsome launched its premium golf wear brand Lanvin Blanc, a licensed brand of the French luxury fashion house Lanvin, in 2022.

The brand is the first golf wear lineup for Lanvin, which decided to launch its golf wear brand in Korea because of the market potential it saw in the country.

“Korean consumers have a high fashion sense and Korea's golf wear market growth rate is unmatched ... Lanvin considered Korea as an optimal test bed that has unlimited potential in its expansion into the global golf wear market,” a Handsome official said.

An official from the global golf brand Titleist added that for its golf attire brand, Titleist Apparel, Korea is currently its largest market when compared to Japan and China.

"We are also selling Korea-made Titleist Apparel items in China," she said, adding that golf apparel produced in Korea is of the highest quality.

Domestic golf businesses have also seen significant increases in sales, with Korean fashion giant Kolon FnC releasing a slew of hit domestic golf brands such as Waak, Golden Bear and G/fore.

“Sales of our premium brand G/fore alone are estimated to have hit 100 billion won in sales last year,” a Kolon official said, without disclosing any specific earnings details of the individual brands.

Fashion retailers have seen sales jump recently, largely driven by golf wear brands. (Titleist Korea)

However, despite the booming golf wear industry, concerns are also rising over the widening disparity in profits among golf brands. Currently, most of the sales are led by a few high-priced luxury brands.

Industry officials agree that the COVID-19 pandemic greatly helped fuel the need for golf-related items, especially since other pastimes such as overseas travels were limited. But some of the brands have already started seeing a general decline in sales growth recently, they said.

“The market is being reshaped as the pandemic nears its end. We believe only brands with a clear identity and a solid, loyal customer base will continue to survive in the heated competition,” the Titleist official said.