Veteran shoe brands wear out their welcome

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Veteran shoe brands wear out their welcome

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Early domestic shoe brands like Land Rover and Esquire are disappearing from major department stores in Seoul’s affluent Gangnam District as imported and emerging domestic designer brands take root.

Shinsegae Department Store, in the area that was recently parodied in Psy’s viral hit song and music video “Gangnam Style,” stopped stocking the two brands earlier this year as it moves to restructure its selection by more prominently displaying foreign and designer brands.

Land Rover and Esquire previously stood as the most popular luxury shoe makers among the country’s first-generation brands at major department stores.

However, they have now been ditched by a number of leading retailers, including Hyundai’s flagship department store in Apgujeong, another nexus of wealth in southern Seoul, and its World Trade Center branch in Samseong-dong, also south of the Han River.

In 2009, Kumkang Shoe, the No. 1 domestic shoemaker, closed its store at the same Apgujeong branch due to declining sales.

Now the industry fears the trend may spur a domino-like effect, not only across other parts of the capital and country, but also to other veteran domestic shoe brands and second-generation handmade domestic brands such as Saera, Tandy and Misope, which have all seen sales fall.

Shinsegae’s Gangnam branch has already begun replacing these on its shelves with trendy and affordable brands for young people such as France’s Repetto, U.S. brands Ash and Toms, and Australia’s Ugg.

It also opened an exclusive ‘Designer Shoes Select Shop’ featuring such domestic big names as Ma Vie En Rose and Byeuuns, with outlets in Samcheong-dong and Garosugil in Sinsa-dong.

The latter is considered one of the most fashion-conscious streets in the country. Many domestic fashion designers launch their own brands on Garosugil.

“The growing unpopularity of traditional domestic shoe brands in the Gangnam area, an area that is extremely sensitive to fashion trends, has led department stores to make major changes,” said an employee at Shinsegae Department Store.

Sales of traditional domestic brands such as Tandy and Soda rose by a mere 0.3 percent this year as of mid-August, compared to the same period in 2011. In contrast, sales of imported shoe brands jumped 110 percent.

The main branch of Hyundai Department Store in Apgujeong also waved goodbye to domestic handmade shoe brand Misope and replaced it with French sports shoe brand Pataugas earlier this year.

Hyundai’s department stores in Apgujeong and near Seoul’s World Trade Center saw overall sales growth of 1.1 percent on average in the first half of the year - less than half the rate of inflation - but sales of imported shoes raced up 40 percent over the same six months.

Additionally, the number of domestic shoe brands that are on offer at Galleria Department Store’s Luxury Hall in Apgujeong has been slowly sinking.

Gio & Samantha has been jettisoned, and only third-generation shoe brands like Helena and Kristie, Jinny Kim and Sue Comma Bonnie have survived the cull. The others have been replaced by Swedish brand Hasbeens.

“Tandy saw a 6 percent sales decrease at stores in the Gangnam area from January to August, compared to the same year-earlier period,” said an employee at Galleria.

“In Gangnam nowadays, unique shoe designs of emerging designer brands or imported sneakers brands, which are comfortable to wear, are the new hot items.”

The trend is becoming so ingrained that rumors are spreading of domestic shoe brands facing the threat of insolvency, and talk of them being acquired by foreign companies is on the rise.

“In blindly following fashion trends, their designs all started to look the same,” said an employee at Hyundai Department Store. “Constant sales at retailers also debased the credibility of their brands.”

Meanwhile, Esquire Fashion Company (EFC), the parent company of Esquire, Sonovi and Gelflex, said its brands have not lost ground in Gangnam, adding that the department stores have merely changed the concept of their respective shoe outlets.

“Apart from Esquire, sales of our new brands Sonovi and Gelflex are increasing significantly,” said an employee at EFC.

By Kim Jung-yoon [kjy@joongang.co.kr]

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