At Queen Plaza inside Namdaemun Market in central Seoul, a small clothes store recently opened at a 36 square-meter space. Items here are mostly targeted towards women in their 20s and 30s such as mini one-piece skirts and skinny pants. Namdaemun has been famous for selling clothes for women in their 50s and 60s or children`s clothes.
The store is managed by nine young designers. Recently, they launched a joint brand named "Buff 34" and held a fashion show at Shinsegae Department Store in central Seoul.
Most of the designers have just begun their career in the fashion industry. They`re mostly in their 30s, but some just graduated from high school or are in their early 20s. An 18-year-old designer who came from Daegu says she was always interested in fashion and had managed an online shopping mall during high schooldays. She said, "I applied because I wanted to make clothes on my own and sell them."
A 36-year-old designer started her fashion design career when she was over 30. She had worked at an overseas office of a semiconductor firm but resigned with hope of giving it a try. She saw a recruiting ad for fashion designer at Namdaemun market and applied while studying fashion design at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
With 500 years of history, Korea`s representative traditional market had been a fashion hub for clothes and accessories. After the 1990s, however, Namdaemun Market fell behind from Dongdaemun shopping town or the upscale southern district of Gangnam.
Until recently, Namdaemun Market was left with stores selling clothes for middle-aged women, children`s clothes and accessories. Amid such situation, there have been movements to recover the market. Core example is the "Global N Fashion Icon" project, which is to recruit young fashion designers, open them stores for free and hold fashion shows. The project is supported by the Small and Medium Business Corporation, Korea Micro Enterprise Development Corporation, Seoul City, Jung Ward Office and Shinsegae Department Store.
New designers have been agonizing over the existing image of Namdaemun Market. One designer said, "When I told my friends that I will open a store in Namdaemun, they said I was signing my own death warrant. Well, I do worry about what I would do if clothes don`t sell."
Nevertheless, the nine designers are positive on their success. They are betting on women in their 30s and 40s who still feel young at heart.
Seoul City, Jung Ward Office and Shinsegae Department Store are promoting various support plans such as financial aid for fashion shows, launching a shop-in-shop at Shinsegae, and holding fashion shows in overseas. Shinsegae is also trying to make a shopping belt bridging itself with Namdaemun Market.