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!