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Hallyu bets on beauty, fashion to go global

Jan. 17, 2012 - 19:43 By Shin Hae-in
A model takes to the catwalk during the “Dongdaemun Collection in Osaka,” which was held on Sep. 23, 2011 to introduce designs by six up-and-coming Korean designers with stores in Seoul’s major shopping district. (The Korea Tourism Association)
Korea boosts its brand value across the globe

Fashionistas around the world may soon be adding a new city to their list of fashion capitals alongside Paris, New York, London and Milan.

With its up-and-coming designers and beautiful celebrities Seoul is preparing to become the world’s next fashion and beauty destination.

Greeting President Lee Myung-bak and his wife at the White House during the Seoul-Washington summit last year, first lady Michelle Obama was clad in a distinguished purple dress designed by Korean-American designer Doori Chung.

Chung, who recently told the press in New York that Korea is her “root and strength,” is among the growing number of young Korean designers spreading their reach throughout New York and Europe.

Local fashion brands including O’2nd and Hexa by Kuho have also managed to enter the U.S. market, with O’2nd opening a store in CO-OP Barneys New York and Hexa by Kuho introduced at the IF Boutique, a luxury store in the U.S.

The explosive popularity of K-pop in Asia and Europe has also piqued the younger generation’s interest in Korean fashion items and cosmetics.

With a growing number of people searching online for the fashion items worn by their favorite Korean stars, sites selling Korea-made products are receiving more overseas customers.

“We’ve always had orders coming in from outside the country, but they were mostly Koreans. Since about two years ago, however, we have noticed Japanese names written in Korean letters,” Ahn Jin-hyun, CEO of popular online shopping mall, said.

“I have no idea how these Japanese got to know about us. We can only guess that it must have something to do with the popularity of Korean celebrities in Japan,” Ahn added.

Netstar, an online store run by a Korean CEO, was recently ranked in the top 10 at Japan’s largest internet shopping portal as the first foreigner-operated mall. Launched in 2007, Netstar sells women’s clothing, much of which has been featured in popular Korean TV dramas.

Local cosmetic brands such as Missha, The Face Shop, Nature Republic and Skin Food have also been doing well in Asian countries largely due to their relatively low prices and promotion strategies based on hallyu stars.

Missha has the largest number of overseas branches among local cosmetic firms, currently running some 900 stores in 25 countries including Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.

Hoping to become a global brand early on, Missha in 2004 focused on using popular Korean Wave stars such as BoA, Kim Hye-soo and Lee Byung-hun as models to win the hearts of foreign customers.

Japan and China are Missha’s two major target countries.

“We are currently stocking products in more than 3,000 drugstores in Japan. The company has been very much aware of the effect hallyu has on our sales for the past decade,” said Shin Eun-kyung, Missha’s PR official.

Industry insiders and government officials note the importance of “image-making” to boost the fashion and beauty sector.

“One of the biggest achievements of hallyu is what it did to the image of Korea,” Lee Charm, president of Korea Tourism Organization, said. “Korean stars have helped make everything about Korea ― its fashion, food and so on ― trendy.”

According to a study released by the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange in December, hallyu earned the country at least 4.98 trillion won in 2010, an increase of 1 trillion won from the previous year.

The study is based on various statistics including a survey on 2,000 people in their teens to 40s from five different countries including China and Japan.

Japan remained the No.1 market for hallyu, followed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam and Thailand. And the boost in the cultural sector due to hallyu created some 51,500 new jobs in 2010, the study showed.

While tourism showed the largest growth of 32 percent from 2009, the music and film industry raked in surprisingly little profit with smaller-than-expected exports, the study also showed.

The K-pop sector, however, played the largest role in enhancing Korea’s national image, with Girls’ Generation, Big Bang and Jang Keun-suk rated highest among Korean musicians overseas.

To help more of its brands and designers become noticed overseas, Korea plans to continue holding mega-size fashion shows outside the country in 2012.

Sponsored by the KTO, fashion shows introducing major Korean clothing brands and up-and-coming designers will be held in cities in Europe, Japan and elsewhere this year, joined by leaders of hallyu who will perform on stage or take to the catwalk.

Another sector that has expanded together with hallyu is medical tourism.

Establishing the Korea Medical Tourism Association in 2008, the Korean government has been increasing efforts to draw foreign visitors to the country for medical checkups and surgery by linking high-quality medical services with sightseeing and shopping opportunities.

Korea attracted some 110,000 patients from abroad last year, an increase of 30 percent from the 81,800 in 2010. A substantial proportion of those patients are estimated to have visited the country for cosmetic surgery, according to government data. The government aims to increase the figure to 300,000 by 2015.

The amount is still relatively small compared to the 1.56 million visiting Thailand and the 720,000 choosing to go to Singapore, but more people have been choosing Korea over Japan, which had been one of the most popular destinations for medical tourism before the March 11 earthquake and tsunami last year.

The Korean government is paying special attention to the field as “medical tourists” generally spend a longer period of time in Korea and spend more money.

Korea has made 350 billion won from medical tourism with the profit expected to reach 1.27 trillion won in 2015 and 5.5 trillion won by 2020.

“We are expecting at least 150,000 visitors in 2012 coming in for cosmetic surgery,” said Han Yu-ok of the KTO medical tourism bureau. “We see great potential in the area as women in the neighboring countries are generally more sensitive about fashion and beauty.”

About 70 percent of Korea’s medical tourists are Chinese, seeking to look like their favorite TV stars such as Song Hye-kyo and Choi Ji-woo, according to plastic surgeons.

“Because foreign patients have different facial structures compared to Koreans, we make an effort to recognize the patient’s overall features ahead of counseling,” said Lee Geum-joo, director of Bitnara Plastic Surgery Clinic in Sinsa-dong, Seoul.

“Korea has a long history in the cosmetic surgery sector. We are glad to be sharing the techniques and be seen as a part of hallyu,” she said.

Foreign language-services, provision of comfortable accommodation, fine meals and after-surgery leisure activities are keys to the success of medical tourism, Lee added.

By Shin Hae-in (