Pins, Pans and Bridal Silk

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Pins, Pans and Bridal Silk

The pulse of Seoul's fashion industry is in the middle of downtown Seoul, hidden beneath the exterior of a drab, run-down building. Amid the noise and traffic of the Dongdaemun Market area, one building in particular beckons designers and Martha Stewart devotees.

The Dongdaemun Chain Store (Dongdaemun Jonghab Sijang) is a mecca for those in the fashion and interior design industries, who come here first for their raw materials. The big players at Dongdaemun Chain Store are wholesale customers, but housewives, brides and a large contingent of foreign clients (the majority from Japan) can be found right alongside rubbing elbows with them.

Luxurious suit materials, bright silks for hanbok (traditional Korean costumes), bedding material, curtains, hair accessories, jewelry supplies and kitchenware draw close to 10,000 customers a day. A self-styled, "one-stop shopping mall," Dongdaemun Chain Store offers creative dreamers everything from basic textiles to all the extras, like zippers, buttons, sewing materials, hand-made patches and ribbons.

Another reason for the popularity of this store is the undeniably rock bottom prices, available even for small purchases. If you're lucky, you'll find goods at dumping prices, which means a further discount of up to 40 percent.

During peak hours, 2. to 5 p.m., the seven-story building swarms with browsers and shoppers. There are 3,500 individual stores within the market, creating a beehive atmosphere. Many stores are simply tiny stalls crammed with goods. Some of the perimeter stores on the ground floor have their displays outside.

At 20,000 pyeong (66,000 square meters), the wholesale and retail market can be overwhelming not only for non-Korean speakers, but for locals as well. But store owners are always available with a calculator in hand to speak the international language of barter, and make a sale.

BLUEPRINT - Each floor of the Dongdaemun Chain Store is divided into sections, or dongs, A,B and C. Products are different from floor to floor, but on any particular floor types of products are loosely divided with no strict division markers. The stores occupy from B1 to the fourth floor of the building, other floors are devoted to management offices and machinery.

B1 -- The basement is a cornucopia of peripherals. Yarns and sewing materials are found in A and B dongs, with products including zippers, buttons, hair pins, fringes, beads and glue guns spread throughout. If you're looking to redo your bedroom, head to C, where quilt and pillow materials can be found.

1st Floor -- Kitchenware such as plates, kettles, pots and pans are in A. Bundles of fake leather or PVC, ribbon trims, velcro, elastic bands and bedding supplies are also found in the three sections. Most materials are sold by the yard with the minimum yardage varying from store to store and depending on the material.

2d Floor -- This home designers' heaven features curtain material, padding for pillows, blankets and quilts, chairs, printed textiles and clothing materials (satin and polyester blends). The rows of hanbok stalls in A stand out. Some store owners even dress in bright silk hanboks. The price of Korean silk averages 30,000 to 50,000 won per yard, ($25-$40) with the more exquisite ones commanding exorbitant prices. An odd assortment of lace, nylons, clasps, hooks, belt buckles, buttons, fake flowers, feathers and chains are in the B section.

3d Floor -- Wool, cotton, acrylic, nylon and polyester blends can be found here. Cotton blends sell for 5,000 to 8,000 won per yard.

4th Floor -- This floor is similar, but is the new floor of the building.

HISTORY -- The land once belonged to the city of Seoul, which used the area as a storage ground for trolley cars. As trolley cars became outdated, the government sold the land and Dongdaemun Chain Store opened on Dec. 23, 1970. In 1975, what used to be the D section of Dongdaemun Chain Store was sold to Dongseoul Jinheung Company. In 1985, a new section behind C-dong opened as Dongdaemun Shopping Town. Oddly, the interiors of all sections are connected.

STATISTICS - Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thread and textile stores are closed on Sundays.

Near Dongdaemun Subway Station (walk out of exit No. 3).

Parking is available.

The nearby Korea Exchange Bank (Eohwan Eunhaeng) has automatic withdrawal machines.

For a general overview of Dongdaemun Chain Store and the surrounding area, visit

NEXT WEEK - Noryangjin Fish Market (Noryangjin Susansijang).

by Joe Yong-hee

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