Korea’s businessman of mystery
Kim Woong-ki, 58, founder and chairman of Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., is known as a “mysterious export leader” in Korea’s textile and clothing industry, because the company is the No. 1 exporter in the industry but its brand name is not widely known.
“Since our company began in 1986, we have focused on exports as an original manufacturer, so we could not advertise our brand,” Kim said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at Sae-A’s head office in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, this week. The original manufacturer makes a product, which is then sold under the brand name of the company that buys it.
Kim was given the Gold Tower Order of Industrial Service Merit by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy in a ceremony held to celebrate the 23rd Textile Day on Wednesday.
Sae-A, which started with an investment of only 5 million won ($4,315.93), now has annual sales of 1.3 trillion won, of which more than 1 trillion won is represented by exports. This includes supplies to major U.S. discount store chains including Wal-Mart and Target and to well-known U.S. clothing brands such as Gap, Banana Republic and Levi’s.
Another reason why the Sae-A label is less known is because the company’s production facilities are located mainly in foreign countries, Kim said.
“As the United States accounts for the whole of our exports, we have plants that are close to the country in Guatemala and Nicaragua. And considering the cost of labor, we also operate factories in Indonesia and Vietnam,” he said.
“Our 20 factories worldwide produce 1.4 million pieces of clothing a day and the annual production rate is 360 million pieces,” he continued. “That number is nearly equal to the U.S. population of 360 million .?.?. The U.S. market is important because it is the world’s biggest. It imported $73.1 billion in clothing last year.”
Regarding some analysts’ view that the textile and clothing industry’s future is not so bright, Kim said, “As long as the human race exists, the industry cannot disappear. There can only be companies that disappear and those that survive. Fashion companies have to evolve, like an organism. They should continue to change their marketing methods and develop new and original products. And Korean companies need to be more globalized.”
As part of these changes, Sae-A has put together a team to help it reduce greenhouse gas emissions at each of its factories, Kim said. For example, the company is considering installing a photovoltaic power generation system at its Indonesian factory.
By Moon Byung-joo [firstname.lastname@example.org]