Nestled on the boundary between the central Jung and Jongno districts of downtown Seoul, Dongdaemun Market straddles a 585,700 sq.m area and is home to around 35,000 stores that employ some 150,000 people.
It used to be a wholesale clothing market catering to local customers, but now Dongdaemun Market has secured its place on the international fashion scene and is frequented by customers from around the world. A chief retailer with a committee overseeing the market said every year, more than 2.5 million foreigners visit Dongdaemun Market and generate more than US$3 billion in sales. Annual revenues total around W15 trillion (US$1=W1,068).
◆ Fashion and Textile Hub
The greatest strength of Dongdaemun Market is its "one-stop" system, where the entire process of designing, manufacturing and sales takes place in the same area.
Hong Woon-pyo, who sells women's clothes, comes to work at 9 a.m. and checks fabric samples and accessories presented by a designer. After that, the designer buys fabric and other materials to create a sample outfit and heads to the production line in another part of the area at around 2 p.m. The finished product is brought back by courier at around 7 p.m.
Big store owners in Dongdaemun employ three to four designers and introduce seven to eight new apparel lines every week. "These days, the trend is to come up with a wide range of clothes in small amounts for young consumers who tend to seek uniqueness and individuality," he said.
Dongdaemun-based brands constantly come out with new products, boosting production of popular lines and wasting no time scrapping unpopular ones.
Kwon Jong-yeol, CEO of Bangbang Apparel, which got its start at Dongdaemun Market in 1961, said, "The core competitiveness of Dongdaemun Market is to respond quickly to the needs of consumers by coming out with a wide variety of designs."
This system can be seen as the precursor to the popular fast-fashion brands such as Zara, Uniqlo and H&M. Those fast-fashion brands respond quickly to the needs of consumers, but they are no match for Dongdaemun fashion stores when it comes to speed.
Roh Jeong-ho at fashion retailer Shinsegae International, who got his start selling clothes in Dongdaemun Market, said, "Dongdaemun is the only place in the world where fashion design, production and sales all take place within a five to 10 km radius."
◆ No Longer Cheap Clothes
In the past, Dongdaemun brands were famously cheap. But these days, the top department stores invite Dongdaemun brands to set up shops inside their stores, while foreign buyers favor them for their superior quality with relatively low prices.
This was possible by maintaining speedy production procedures while improving quality. One designer who runs a men's brand, said, "We are targeting high-end fashion clients who prefer clothes that are different to standardized products made by large fashion houses."