Seoul is a city known for its tech, pop, and beauty, but also for its air pollution. Earlier this year, emergency laws were brought in to tackle record levels of fine dust that blanketed the sky. And while the city’s inhabitants manage to style out face masks with much aplomb, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find out that, just as elsewhere across the globe, its young and emerging contingent of fashion-loving consumers and designers are readily taking this into account.
“With Instagram and social networks so active, people are immediately more aware – and it’s in their face, so they are feeling the fear; it’s more personal,” says Mikyung Jeon, Seoul Fashion Week’s new executive director. Her first season on the job, the former Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar alum has big plans for sustainability within Seoul Fashion Week (which wrapped last week) moving forward. Starting with the water bottles. “That,” she gestured to one on a table between shows, “won’t be here next time.”
“Besides Seoul Fashion Week, this [the Dongdaemun Design Plaza building, where it’s hosted, and known as the DDP for short] is sponsored by the city of Seoul and there is a really strong initiative from the city to use it not only for fashion and design but to create awareness [about sustainability] through lifestyle,” she explained. Indeed, in the surrounding shopping mall attached to the complex posters promoted “Seoul Ethical Fashion.”
To this end, while her plans are of course not yet concrete so soon into the role, her ambitions are, and she wants to instigate exhibitions and events so that the wider public can interact with and participate in these discussions. Notably, where other fashion weeks are closed-off to the public (except by social media), at Seoul Fashion Week, where the street-style game is high, the public can buy tickets to shows and be a part of it. As platforms go, fashion week here is incredibly strong – not least because of the influential presence of K-pop stars.
“It’s really important, we have to think about the environment and how much longer everything can be used,” said designer Hwansung Park of the K-pop favourite brand D-Antidote backstage after his show. “Every single factor, from fabrication to finish.”
Which is something that has long been the USP of up-cycling label Re;Code. Launched in 2012, the brand from Han Kyung-Ae set out with the idea of “designing newness without waste” and recently made its debut in Paris. As such, deadstock is used to create hand-crafted pieces, which take into account social sustainability just as much as it does environmental sustainability. Military parachutes, dresses, and trousers are all transformed into limited edition pieces.
Hyun-Min Han of label-on-the-rise Munn, too, echoed sentiments of re-use. “I’m trying to think more and more about repurposing; trying to innovate with new fabrics and new fibres,” he said after his show. This season, the designer incorporated ecological leather into his collection as well as re-used denim, having previously incorporated feedstock sacks to create his compelling catwalk looks.
“For young designers, they’re really taking it seriously. Consumers in Korea are very smart and their interest in sustainability is driving designers,” notes Jeon of a generational shift in which, she points out as an example, Jeju Island has become something of a pinup for positive change. A beautiful vacation destination, it is struggling with a trash issue but has recently experienced a renewed interest from young volunteers as part of a clean-up project. “It’s the right time,” she says of instrumenting such conscious changes.