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Sons of Fashion Giants Aim to Succeed on Their Own

Posted June. 22, 2009 00:17,   


The band Saohchilhoe was formed by the children of Korean fashion industry leaders. Upon first hearing the name of the band, The Dong-A Ilbo thought it might hold deep meaning since it referred to a group of fashion professionals.

After discovering the name was a combination of the last numbers of their birth years, the daily thought it was a joke.

In reality, Saohchilhoe members have known each other for less than three years. They formed the band to sympathize with each other given that they were under the same pressure — inheriting the family business – and had passion for the fashion industry.

The members are Kim Suk-hwan, 35, director of iStyle 24 and son of Hansae Yes 24 Holdings founder Kim Dong-nyung; Choi Jung-hyun, 35, CEO of Tomboy and son of his company’s late founder Choi Kyung-ro; Jung Hyung-jin 35, director of Handsome and son of his company’s chairman Jung Jae-bong; Kim Dae-hwan, 34, head of Wide Holdings and son of Superior Chairman Kim Gui-yeol; and Chon Jae-yong, 32, senior manager of Ssamzie and son of his company’s CEO Chon Ho-kyun.

The Dong-A Ilbo interviewed Kim Suk-hwan and Chon Jae-yong at the headquarters of Hansae in Seoul’s Yeouido district last week.

○ Depending on skills, not father’s support

Chon is the head of Ssamzie Market, the company’s apparel operations. He gave the Dong-A reporter a business card with the address of the company’s logistics center in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province.

“Since my father told me that I need to understand the logistics business if I want to do apparel, I’ve been learning logistics at the center since early last year,” Chon said.

Until he graduated from college, Chon said he had no intent to take over the family business. He studied arts at School of Visual Arts in New York to distance himself from his father’s company.

“However, I could hardly overcome the mental burden of being the son (of the Ssamzie CEO), so I had to help Ssamzie,” he said.

Chon said he also dabbled in advertising and filmmaking apart from apparel. He said fashion is not just about selling apparel but entails culture, so he has special interest in communication between the diverse genres of culture and fashion.

Kim Suk-hwan received a bachelor’s in business and a master’s in computer engineering at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He is the head of the online shopping mall iStyle 24 and ENT 24, the performance and movie business of yes24.com, an online book and entertainment content seller, by banking on his study in his two majors.

Hansae, iStyle’s parent company, is a mid-size apparel maker with annual exports worth 850 billion won (671 million U.S. dollars) original development manufacturing to leading U.S. apparel and sports brands, including Polo, The Gap and Nike.

Kim is said to have a solid future thanks to his rich father, but he insists he is in no position to get a free ride from his father’s success. “I’m still worried if I can do as well as my father has. I have the desire to develop my family business by introducing advanced logistical methods.”

Kim has begun to target a niche market by introducing a same-day delivery system for cosmetics and clothing to meet the needs of young buyers keen on speed. He might as well seek assistance from yes24.com, which has acquired ample delivery know-how through online sales, but his father stubbornly insisted on independent management.

Kim said, “Our logistics center in Paju, northwest of Seoul, is also operated independently from Yes 24’s logistics facility in that city.”

○ High value-added industry, not waning sector

Another challenge is for the two emerging fashion leaders to overcome the sector’s existing environment, which differs considerably from that in their fathers’ era.

Chon said, “What matters at this point is whether our fashion brands have the competitiveness of a unique character and shun uniformity in tune with the era of small quantity production of a wide variety of products ushered in by the fast fashion trend.”

The two entrepreneurs said the biggest challenge in their quest for fashion industry development is to boost their self-confidence. “Fashion was a high value-added industry that was comparable to the semiconductor industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It still holds adequate growth potential now,” Kim said.

Chon once introduced interior design using Korean characters at clothing stores. “With the share of domestic fashion brands significantly contracting in the face of foreign penetration of the domestic market, the Korean fashion industry needs more serious thought about Korean style and culture to advance onto the world market,” he said.