Seohyun Lee, President and CEO of the Fashion Group at Samsung C&T Corporation, told the Conference delegates how the tech giant entered the fashion arena
For many people, Samsung is synonymous with electronics, but the brand has a healthy fashion division that is the largest industry player in Korea. Surprised? It doesn't stop there.
"A little-known fact is that Samsung started out in the textiles business in the mid-1950s, some 10 years before going into electronics," Seohyun Lee, President and CEO of Samsung C&T Corporation, Fashion Group said today at the second Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Seoul. She also revealed that the company intends to move from Asian markets to concentrate its efforts overseas with its fast-fashion brand 8 Seconds. Lee, born in Seoul, is well-placed to lead the charge. As passionate about nurturing the booming fashion industry in South Korea as she is about promoting its global potential, she is a key campaigner for the talent that is ready for export.
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"Koreans make up the largest percentage of students at major design schools around the world - this was the case when I was at school and it's the same today," she said. "Fifteen to 30 per cent of students at Parsons, Central Saint Martins and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp are Korean, so why aren't there more Korean designers at Fashion Week? Until quite recently we were focused on consuming global trends, whereas now we are becoming more confident of our own style and story." Her enthusiasm stretches to supporting emerging talent through Samsung's Art and Design Institute (where students are mentored by its fashion, electronics and marketing teams and is, as she says, "producing amazing results"), but as well as encouraging people to create, she is realistic about the customer they will eventually be targeting.
"Traditional luxury goods customers used to be baby boomers, but today, they are the Millennials, and that means a shift to a digital generation," she said, citing virtual reality, speedy connections like 5G, and artificial intelligence as areas for serious consideration. "They are more independent, but at the same time they are hyper-connected, which has forced fashion companies to change how they market their goods. Another change is the emergence of Asia as the largest market for luxury goods. The industry is looking east for growth, so I believe we are at an exciting crossroads." So, could Samsung be the next LVMH? "I'm not sure we could be the LVMH of Korea, but the key point is I have a vision of growing Samsung fashion overseas in the next 10 years. However, I want to run business in a modern way - finding out what the customers wants and moving quickly. We will continue to nurture new talent and invest in Korean fashion so that the industry can grow together with us."
By Scarlett Conlon, reporting live from the CNI Luxury Conference in Seoul