Premium sportswear is the rage

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Premium sportswear is the rage

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Under Armour, a U.S.-based sportswear brand known for its sweat-absorbing compression shirts, opened its first Korean flagship store on bustling Gangnam-daero in southern Seoul on Wednesday. [UNDER ARMOUR KOREA]

Fitness freaks in Korea will have abundant apparel choices starting this year, as the dominance of Nike and Adidas is challenged.

Premium sportswear brands from around the world, which were best known to Koreans from foreign shopping websites, are targeting the local market, acknowledging the solid growth of Korea’s sportswear market over the last couple of years.
In contrast to the sluggish fashion industry, Korea’s sportswear market has shown continuous growth. Last year, sales reached 6.98 trillion won ($5.96 billion), a 5.8 percent year on year increase from 2015.

Sales are expected to reach 7.3 trillion won this year, according to Samsung Design Lab, a fashion industry research center, a 4.4 percent rise.

Under Armour, a U.S. sports apparel brand founded in 1996 by former football player Kevin Plank, will enter the Korean market directly this year.

The brand had been running some 50 stores in partnership with local retailer Galaxia Corporation, an affiliate of the Hyosung conglomerate since 2012. But because of a limited lineup and high price tags, last year an estimated 20 to 30 billion won worth of purchases were still made directly from foreign shopping sites by Korean consumers.

So Under Armour opened its second-biggest store in the world on bustling Gangnam-daero, nicknamed Gangnam Boulevard, on Wednesday. It pledged to generate 800 billion won in sales from stores in Korea over the next five to eight years.

“Korea’s Gangnam flagship store is the world’s second-biggest after the store in Shanghai,” said David Song, manager of Under Armour Korea at an opening event on Wednesday. “This means our brand saw that big of an opportunity in Korea.”

Song said the biggest products for Under Armour in Korea are in its apparel line, best represented by its compression shirt, which absorbs sweat.

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Lululemon Athletica, a Canadian yoga apparel brand dubbed “the Chanel of yoga wear,” opened its first store in Asia in affluent Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul last May. [LULULEMON ATHLETICA KOREA]

Under Armour’s core appeal is quite different from those of Nike and Adidas, Song said.

“Descente and Reebok are brands that have strong lineups in apparel just like us,” he said. “In three years we are going to take 50 percent of their revenue, which translates to 300 billion won.”

A direct investment from the U.S. means Korean consumers can see a more diverse lineup of Under Armour apparel at prices that are 20 percent lower than before.

Song said the company will open another store on trendy Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, in April, which will be more oriented to women’s wear.

“I am thinking of opening at least four stores that are directly managed by us within this year,” Song said.

Under Armour is not the only foreign sportswear brand coming to Korea.

Lululemon Athletica, a Canadian yoga apparel brand - dubbed “the Chanel of yoga apparel” because of its high price tags and premium quality - opened its first store in Asia in affluent Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul.

Laurent Potdevin, CEO of Lululemon, visited Korea at the time. He explained that Koreans’ preference for high-end brands and understanding of brand value led Lululemon to pick Seoul for its first Asian outlet.

Lululemon opened another shop inside Parnas Mall in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul only three months later.

It is poised to open a third branch in Starfield Hanam, the largest shopping complex in Korea by floor space, within this year.

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“Before opening the official flagship store, we ran a showroom to see how Koreans respond to the brand,” said a spokesperson for the brand. “Seoul’s was the most successful among other shops in the Asia-Pacific region.”

In response to the foreign brands’ arrivals, domestic fashion houses are gearing up to go head-to-head with them. LF, a fashion arm of LG Group, said it will launch a sports line of its New York-based brand Jillstuart with this year’s spring-summer collection. It is the first time that LF will present a sportswear brand that includes diverse sports categories, from training to yoga. The company said it will open 150 shops by 2020.

“Lifestyle sportswear brands have already proved their possibilities in the U.S. and European markets,” said Son Kwang-ick, the head of Jillstuart Sport Division.

K2 Korea, an outdoor-oriented fashion group, said it will bring German sportswear brand Dynafit to Korea this spring. The brand was originally a ski gear manufacturer. It will rebrand itself as a training and running apparel brand in Korea.


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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