Late last year when I was in Korea, I discovered a brand that seemed almost too good to be true. Equal parts art and design, this brand creates pieces that are highly functional, super cool, and zero waste to boot. Moreover, the team is led by veteran Korean designer, Imseonoc, whose credits include working as a critic professor at Samsung Art and Design Institute, as a costume designer with the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, leading the WEAR GREY collective, and being the Costume Director for the Korean performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. And that isn’t even scratching the surface. Long story short, I was incredibly fortunate to encounter one of Korea’s true design powerhouses, and the kind folks at PARTsPARTs were kind enough to invite me over for tea, a chat, and a little play.
With her original design studio opening in 1995, the PARTsPARTs label launching in 2011, and their newest studio, PARTsPARTs Laboratory, having just opened in April this year, Imseonoc has been in the game for a very long time. You only have to look at the embroidered and bejewelled Imseonoc logos on their pieces to understand exactly how much of an icon she really is (Karl Lagerfeld-esque, no?). For some designers, the longer they practice their craft, the more they solidify and settle into their aesthetics, processes, and traditions. However, for Imseonoc and the PARTsPARTs team, time has not led them to become comfortable or stagnant, rather, it has allowed them space to innovate. And innovate they have.
The first thing that you’ll notice is the texture of their collections. Unlike other designers, PARTsPARTs focuses on using one main fabric, and using it well. Enter neoprene. For those of us who have grown up in Australia, neoprene is usually associated with perforated mum totes, wetsuits and those surf-branded pencil cases that we all touted with pride during high school. Therefore, when I walked into the PARTsPARTs studio, I was surprised to see neoprene being used in such a versatile way. Neoprene would have been the last material that I would have chosen to wear on dry land, but my mind was about to be changed. Imseonoc explained that although neoprene seems like a cold and difficult material, it actually creates a modern aesthetic and builds practical clothing. It can either be strong and structured, or it can be used to create a soft and tender silhouette depending on the design and manufacturing process. The other benefits of neoprene include the fact that there is no distinction between the outer and inner sides of the fabric, therefore many of PARTsPARTs’ pieces, including their bags, are reversible. Neoprene is also unaffected by weather, and is less susceptible to collecting and creating dust, which makes it easier to maintain and to clean.
Moreover, the beauty of PARTsPARTs’ innovative wizardry with neoprene and polyester is that their annual collections become a sustainable work of art from the very beginning of the design process, to the very end of the making process. That is to say, they know what they’re doing.
They describe their design process as “simple and calculated”. This is evidenced by the fact that every PARTsPARTs design fits into either a square or rectangle as to reduce waste (see image above). Any off-cuts are then used to create other items (such as muffler scarves), and the material is ordered on a limited basis. Deadstock is then used in subsequent collections, of which there is only one per year, as to avoid overproduction. Their designs are basic and universally wearable, and they are sure to check even the smallest detail to ensure a beautiful and simple silhouette.
Then comes their next stroke of genius: no sewing (unless absolutely necessary). Instead of the traditional method of assembling a garment, PARTsPARTs developed a two-sided ’hot press/melt’ technique, which fuses the parts together through pressure and heat. We probably should have guessed this from their name. ‘PART’ represents the division of each individual piece that makes up a design, and ’s’ represents the ‘sum of all parts’. Even their brand name is ‘hot pressed’ together. Essentially, this team engages in high-tech advanced fashion lego construction everyday. And don’t overlook the presence of the word ‘ART’ in their name. PARTsPARTs aims to create wearable art that exceeds our limited expectations of what fashion can be.
However, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. What makes PARTsPARTs even more impressive (as if that was even possible) is their dedication to their philosophy. Imseonoc and her team are overflowing with integrity and thoughtfulness, and this is obvious as soon as you see how passionate they are about what they do. As a company, zero waste and sustainability are at their core, and they will do whatever they need to do to make sure that this is an everyday reality for them. PARTsPARTs expressed that they’ve learned to “suppress” the desire to give into trends, and have instead steeled their determination to pioneer the sustainable attitude that they want to see become the norm. This even extends into their working environment, with the new studio evolving into a more modern and environmentally friendly space.
‘Philosophy first, money later’ is typically not the most reliable business model, however PARTsPARTs truly believe that this is the way that it should be. As previously expressed, Korea is not an easy environment to be a fashion designer, let alone an ethical one. The fast fashion industry there is strong, and the coming and going of trends always seems to be increasing in speed. However, that doesn’t discourage the PARTsPARTs team - in fact, it motivates them. According to Imseonoc, people in Korea are starting to become more interested in ethical fashion, with their main focus falling on labour, wages, and policies/politics, which is encouraging. Furthermore, now that Korea has entered a “period of stable consumption… people now value things and are becoming smarter consumers.”
PARTsPARTs have already achieved a significant amount in their time, but there is still a long way to go for Korea as a whole. So if they had to narrow it all down one hope, what would it be? “We wish that Korea will grow up in an era of honest business and social responsibility.” So do we.
Editor’s note: As of July, PARTsPARTs will be running an open studio program and zero-waste workshops! You’ll be able to experience their process firsthand and even make a little something for yourself. Be sure to take up this opportunity if you live in Korea, or put it on your list of things to do if you ever go over to visit. Keep an eye out for information on their Instagram and site.
When I first started super-sleuthing to find out what I could about ethical fashion in Korea, I came across a design collective called WEAR GREY. This collective consists of five local Korean designers who are dedicated to prioritising sustainability in their design and production. Even the name ‘WEAR GREY’ is a nod to the fact that the colour grey is a staple and doesn’t appear to get dirty that easily, therefore requiring less washing. One of the designers from this collective, Sohyan Bhaak of Post December was kind enough to invite me to her studio in Seoul and teach me more about the vision behind her label, as well as about fashion and consumer culture in Korea.
Post December is not new to ethical fashion. Launching a whole ten years ago, Bhaak came back from studying in the UK and brought home her newfound and foreign interest in ethical fashion. She launched Post December with the philosophy that sustainability will sustain longer when ‘it’s good for me and good for others’. That is to say, you can make others better when you make yourself better. So with her determination to do and be ‘better’, Bhaak started her label and hasn’t looked back since.
Similarly to WEAR GREY, Post December’s name carries a profound thoughtfulness. ‘Post December’ refers to a 13th month of the year; a month that pushes us to consider things beyond our physical perception of time and space, as well as a space to reflect. Marrying perfectly with their philosophy, operating with a 13th month in mind provides you with the space to take care of yourself, and to grow to become better so that you can in turn benefit others. That sounds like a wonderful way to practise sustainability, and it sounds an awful lot like a fashion revolution to me.
You can see the 13th month play out in Bhaak’s designs. Each Post December piece is crafted ever so intentionally from sourcing the materials right up until the last stitch. They fill you with the feeling that time stood still to allow for the quality and details to develop just right. Then as you wear them, you can immediately sense that these pieces are going to be in your life for a long time. Art that allows you this experience really is something special.
When discussing the consumer culture in Korea, it seemed that my quick observations were correct. According to Bhaak, most Koreans consider trends and aesthetics before considering how clothes are made, or whether they actually need to purchase something at all. There was a brief spike in interest in ethical fashion after Lee Hyori, a popular Korean singer, openly vowed to stop wearing genuine animal fur. However, Bhaak knew that shifting culture and changing highly established mindsets was not the job of one person alone, which consequently led to the birth of WEAR GREY.
So then, how are Bhaak and likeminded designers tackling the mammoth task of redirecting Korea’s consumer mindset? Well, firstly, they’re being realistic and acknowledging that there is already so much noise in the world, and that it can be really difficult to filter it out in order to only hear what’s worth hearing. Secondly, they’re extending their influence the good ol’ fashioned way: by practising what they preach.
Bhaak believes that there are multiple steps in the process of achieving authentic change. The first step is to find a tribe of likeminded people and create a support network. The next step is to truly believe that what you are doing is good so that others will also come to see its merits and be inspired. And then once you’ve established these two things, the last step is to work diligently with integrity and see your vision come to pass. This process is not about influencing from afar, rather it is about inviting people to journey alongside you and grow together.
We love Post December’s approach to modelling best practice and being people of their word. Whether we’re at the top of our game or just starting out, we always need quality role models to look up to, and Post December is just that for their fellow designers. Therefore, with a decade of experience and a strong vision and philosophy, I asked Bhaak one last crucial question about what she thought the future of ethical fashion in Korea would look like. Her answer was far less predictive, and far more directive, “It must exist.“
It was the start of Labour Day weekend. My family and I were at the airport, excitedly waiting to board a flight that would take us to Sydney where we would spend the long weekend with our beloved 97-year-old Nanna and our many, many relatives. We had all rushed from our various workplaces to get to the airport on time, and to be honest, our minds were probably still a few steps behind our bodies. In that state, it was decided that a feast of nuggets would be our dinner because nuggets are both a safe haven and a happy place at all times for all people fight me.
As we were waiting for our number to call us into sweet, sweet nuggety heaven, I spotted a girl out the corner of my eye. Probably a model. If not, should definitely become a model, I thought to myself. She’d be perfect for an upcoming shoot, but having a stranger approach you about modelling whilst you’re at Maccas is probably a bit too weird.. Nuggets first.
We definitely ate too many. Consequently, we now had to rush to the boarding gate. Scrambling to gather all our bags, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be missing an opportunity if I didn’t approach this girl. “I’ll be back in a minute!”
I ran back to Maccas and searched through a whole new wave of people. Finally, in the back corner of the restaurant, I found her, introduced myself, had a chat, swapped details, and as a result, my friends, we bring you this very look book. All it took was an airport, a pile of nuggets, and some guts.
As we take the time during Fashion Revolution Week to celebrate all the amazing work that designers, makers, and creative individuals are doing to reconcile our relationships with people, art, and the environment again, I can’t help but feel a little proud of what we’ve created here at KINGDOM.
Over the past 5-and-a-bit years, we’ve floated around the ethical fashion scene in Melbourne doing whatever we can to help. If you’ve been around since the beginning, you’ll remember our Ethical Fashion Markets, interviews with our ethical fashion friends, presentations at schools, and content collaborations. We’ve been in the spotlight, shone the spotlight on important matters, and empowered our friends as they’ve stepped into the spotlight. It really has been the most fulfilling journey working with others to create meaningful work and meaningful connections.
These days, we’ve found our happy place in producing photo shoots and creating content for social enterprises and ethical fashion brands. It has been our absolute pleasure to meet new creators with whom we share the same values. It has also been a joy to connect people to create teams of people who are all doing what they do for the benefit of others. If you were to ask us what a ‘fashion revolution’ actually is, we’d tell you that it is exactly what we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing since 2014.
To us, a ‘fashion revolution’ is educating and empowering people to make decisions that benefit others over themselves. It is choosing to have integrity at all times and to hold true to your values even when presented with an easier compromise. It is about being humble in our achievements and choosing to be supportive instead of competitive when others are ‘doing better’ than ourselves.
It is our belief that if we were to all choose to operate in this manner, not only would we experience a fashion revolution, but we’d also experience a revolution in every part of life.
So why stop at fashion when we could do so much more? What else in your world requires a revolution?
Shopping ethically when travelling always presents a few challenges. Firstly, being in a foreign environment can make it difficult to know the ins and outs and lay of the land, which takes away the advantage of local insight (particularly if you’re travelling solo to a brand new place). Secondly, if the foreign country’s language is different to that of your own, researching can be tricky. Furthermore, shopping ethically in your hometown is probably challenging enough, so do you really want to force yourself to bring that challenge along with you whilst you’re on holidays?
Look, I get it. As I mentioned in my previous post, YOLO hits hard when you’re on holidays. However, integrity must hit harder, particularly when it’s most inconvenient. Therefore, I was super determined to only shop ethically whilst I was in Seoul, and made it my mission to make it easier for other people to do so as well.
Luckily, when I started formulating a game plan for shopping in Seoul, there were a few articles scattered around the Internet with some tips and tricks. A few expats had also populated YouTube with a handful of second-hand shopping vlogs, which were arguably even more helpful, so I definitely recommend falling down the YouTube rabbit-hole for research’s sake. I also made some friends over there who happened to love vintage shopping too, which led me to some offline local gems (thank you, thank you, thank you!).
Below is a descriptive list of my favourite KINGDOM-approved shopping spots in Seoul. Whether you’re an ethical shopper, a vintage lover, or a bargain hunter, you’ll definitely love these places.
Quality vintage can be hard to find. The word itself gets thrown around so much, that most of the time, people are just referring to second-hand clothing that was probably still made less than five years ago. This is totally not the case at Page One though. Predominately, if not exclusively womenswear, the geniuses behind Page One have searched high and low to find interesting, high quality vintage pieces from around the world, though I noticed a particularly strong collection of Japanese vintage. I’m talking vintage pieces that you’d actually want to wear today and forever, as opposed to vintage pieces that are ‘funny, but realistically still not worth spending money on’. The store is also beautifully merchandised, so even if you don’t buy anything, you can still marvel at the store itself. I managed to score my favourite pieces of the trip at this store: a mustard-coloured velvet top, the perfect red plaid pencil skirt, and the world’s most flattering black dress complete with pockets! I definitely could have bought a lot more from here, but alas, my one suitcase limit crushed my dreams. I’ll be back for sure next time I’m in Seoul, and probably make it my first stop!
2F, 316-13 Sangsu-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard scouring a market before. After being very well fed by the ahjummas and halmonis downstairs in the food hall (a non-negotiable stop for anyone that eats food - congratulations, that includes you), we headed upstairs to explore the maze of vintage stalls, which just so happened to be mostly run by the funniest and most charming twentysomething-year-old guys in Korea. THAT’S NOT WHY I’M RECOMMENDING IT THOUGH. No, silly boys (my fav) aside, this market was like a heaven for anyone who has even a vague interest in streetwear. There was vintage streetwear and sportswear everywhere (e.g. Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Carhartt) that had been specifically sourced from Korea, Japan, America, and Italy. The other non-streetwear vintage was also curated carefully, and made for very enjoyable browsing (I almost bought an incredible vintage Ralph Lauren plaid blazer and now the regret is real). As I mentioned before, the guys working here are a lot of fun, so be sure to have a chat and see what kinds of deals you can negotiate. Haggling is acceptable, just make sure that you’re being friendly as it’s not the same vibe as buying souvenirs at a street market. Also, if you’re indecisive and need to walk around more before committing to purchasing anything, make a note of the store number because it is near impossible to backtrack because the whole place looks the same (I’m also horrendous with directions). Set aside a day for this wonderland.
88, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea
Jongno 5-ga Station (Line 1), Exit 8 // Euljiro 4-ga Station (Lines 2 & 5), Exit 4 (walk 100m)
Food market: 9am-6pm (closed Sunday)
Vintage market: 10am-7pm (closed Sunday)
Just a stone’s throw away from Page One is Hantage, another well-loved vintage store in Seoul. A destination for both guys and gals, Hantage has a good collection of casual vintage clothes. I spotted a few pieces that I’d probably consider ‘second-hand’ as opposed to ‘vintage’, but either way, I ended up trying on the most clothes on in this store. I left with a reversible men’s golf jacket that I have worn many a time since coming home. It should be noted that the price point at Hantage was higher than that of the other stores, and I didn’t always think that it was worth the price tag, but it’s still worth a stop if you’re already in the area.
Basement 1, 347-14 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
For those of you from Australia, Vin Prime is essentially the Korean version of Savers. There isn’t too much to say, other than price point at Vin Prime would be the same as that of your local op-shop or charity store (a few dollars per piece depending on brand), though I’d say that the stock was generally of a surprisingly high quality. The other good news for people that don’t typically like thrift shopping is that Vin Prime stores are orderly, clean, and a well lit. Trust Korea to give us the best of both worlds.
Seoul Ethical Fashion
This was a surprise find and still quite a new store. In fact, when I was there, the store was celebrating their first birthday! Tucked away in the Dongdaemun Design Plaza amongst other beautiful design stores celebrating local artists and designers, the Seoul Ethical Fashion store is home to a large range of both local and international fashion designers who are determined to promote sustainability, functionality, slow fashion, and ethical processes. If you want to get a good idea of what the ethical fashion scene is like here in Korea, then this is your one-stop shop. The shop assistants are incredibly knowledgeable about each of the brands that they represent, and are more than happy to talk and teach if you have any questions. There was plenty that I wanted to buy (including the most whimsical embroidered lace hanbok that didn’t fit me), and definitely a lot of designers that I want to look into further. I’ll definitely be back next time I’m in town.
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun History and Culture Park Station (Lines 2, 4 & 5), Exit 1
Finally, my vintage-loving local friend introduced me to the wonders of Dongmyo, and I totally would not have discovered it on my own (apologies for the lack of images). Dongmyo is not for the faint of heart. This place requires grit, stamina, determination, and a keen eye. There are plenty of vintage and second-hand stores selling everything from clothing (plenty of streetwear and grunge), to statues and ornaments, to jewellery, to electrical appliances. However, and bear with me here, the fun place to find clothes here is actually on the floor. Along the fence, you will find piles and piles of clothes that have been tipped out onto the ground, and your job is to sort through it to find gems. You literally dig for treasure - and treasure I did find! From the corner of my eye, I spotted the texture of a chunky black knit at the bottom of the pile. When I pulled it out, it had a few twigs and some dried grass stuck on it, but after a good clean and much plucking, I was left with an incredibly cosy hand-knit turtleneck jumper with bell sleeves and an asymmetrical hem (what a dream!). And how much did it cost me? A very cool $2. You might as well try.
Dongmyo Station (Lines 1 & 6), Exit 3
There you have it, friends. If you want to shop KINGDOM-style amongst the noise of wholesale stores and department stores, now you can. An honourable mention also goes to Smith Market (@smithmarket), which I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit. However, if you are keen to nab high-end designer pieces (e.g. Chanel, Burberry, Acne, Isabel Marant etc.) for about 90% off, then Smith Market is your guy. They also post their offerings on their website, so you can have a browse before you head in too.
Hope this post was helpful to all who are going, or planning to go to Seoul one day. Having spoken to some ethical fashion designers in Korea (interviews coming up!), it seems that there is a lot of opportunity in Korea, and that there are some exciting things brewing beneath the surface. I’m excited to see where the Korean ethical fashion scene heads in future, and I’ll definitely be back to experience it in person again as soon as I can!