The outdoor sports apparel market in Korea is a mystery to domestic and foreign brands alike, having seen unprecedented growth in the world in recent years. It grew 4.8 times from W1.2 trillion in 2006 to W5.8 trillion (US$1=W1,115) in 2012.
The industry cannot explain why the market has grown so enormously over the last seven years. In the past few years, experts regularly forecast that growth would slow the following year, but even amid the recession the market maintained double-digit growth.
Lotte Department Store saw sales of its outdoor brand section up 21.3 percent on-year in January and February, while overall sales increased a mere 2.7 percent.
Experts now attribute the growth to the expansion of the customer base to a wider range of age groups. In the mid-2000s, outdoor sports clothes were popular only among those in their 40s or over, but now they appeal to younger consumers as well.
Kolon Sport saw sales to people in their 30s or younger rise from 24 percent in 2010 to 36 percent last year.
The trend of wearing outdoor sports clothes for everyday activities apparently plays a role. Waterproof mountain climbing jackets with vapor permeability, for example, are often worn as rain coats.
But the trend is eating into sales of golf clothes and casual wear. At Lotte, the casual wear and golf wear sections saw sales down 11 percent and 3.4 percent in the first two months of this year on-year.
This has led to other fashion companies getting into outdoor sportswear, with over 20 new brands launched or imported here since last year.
Weather is another factor. An executive at Hwaseung, the importer of U.S. outdoor brand Merrell, said, "Sales slowed a bit in the second half of last year, but with the chill weather they suddenly started to soar."
K2 Korea also said that as the weather gets warmer in March, sales are going up 30 to 40 percent compared to last year.
Korean consumers now seem to be looking for any excuse to buy outdoor sports clothes, said a North Face executive, and they tend to stock up whenever when the seasons change.
An industry insider said the market is likely to continue growing for some time.