Korean technology brands are well established in Western markets, paving a route for other Asian newcomers to follow, but the path to US success for fashion brands is less clear.
Gentle Monster, a Korean sunglasses and eyewear brand, has set its sights on growth in North America. The first celebrities have been spotted wearing its products, a US e-commerce site is to launch next month, and a flagship store in SoHo, New York will follow in the coming months.
The brand has teamed up with global entertainment and fashion marketing company ITB Worldwide to identify the best strategy for growth in America – one that seems to revolve around walking before you can run.
“As a Korean brand, especially as an Asian brand working in fashion, most of our content is focused on the Asia market,” admits Gentle Monster’s US chief executive, Won Lee. “To go into the Western market, especially America, the content localisation challenge is the biggest we face.”
Gentle Monster has cultivated an avant-garde reputation in its domestic market, with unusual arts performances and installations in its stores. The “duality” of its name reflects this philosophy, according to ITB’s executive vice-president, managing director, Peter Knell.
With New York consumers less likely to be impressed by such stunts, the brand is attempting to forge an image in-keeping with its spirit but “relevant” to prospective new customers.
“Introducing new brands into a crowded market, no matter what category, is always complex. There’s a lot of players in the marketplace at a lot of price points, so we had to figure out who we are as a brand,” says Knell.
“We’re not in a position to be buying media right now, and nor would I recommend it. We’re in a position to step back, breath and do it in the right way,” he adds.
Partnerships will play a key role in helping to grow awareness of the Gentle Monster brand. To take advantage of the recent New York Fashion Week, it partnered with upcoming fashion brand Tome, and will, in turn, assist Tome’s attempts to raise its profile in Seoul and beyond.
Rather than using a traditional celebrity seeding agency, Gentle Monster will use ITB’s “unique relationships” to push its products during next month’s Paris Fashion Week. Social media will also help: its tie-up with Tome helped double the number of Gentle Monster’s followers on Instagram.
Maintaining that balance between Korean heritage and US relevancy, however, will prove critical. “We’re trying to figure out who the Gentle Monster person is,” says Knell. “We constantly have conversations about how Korea communicates verses the US, where the overlap is, and we make it consistent.”