CNN, Yale and Cesco are not just household names, they're fashion darling
Don’t be alarmed if you’re walking down the streets in Korea and see someone wearing a t-shirt with the CNN logo boldly written across the front. No, CNN is not “breaking” into the fashion world. Rather, the Korean fashion world is taking inspiration from logos of other brands, particularly those that have no relation to the fashion industry.
Lately, more and more local fashion companies have been using logos of well-known brands, after acquiring their licenses or as part of collaborations, to create apparel collections. In turn, logo-based apparel has been proving popular among Korean consumers.
Yale University, CNN, Billboard, National Geographic, Kodak and Major League Baseball (MLB) are some of the many examples.
Words Corporation, a local fashion start-up launched in 2020, announced that in 2021 alone, it exceeded over 10 billion won ($7.69 million) in sales for its Yale brand, a collection offering t-shirts, pants, hats and socks with the Yale University logo.
Sales in 2021 were some five times greater than the previous year.
The brand is so popular that on domestic online fashion retailer Musinsa, Yale is currently the third best-selling brand. It ranks higher than Adidas and Nike, which sit at No. 4 and No. 5.
Domestic fashion companies The Nature Holdings and F&F, which each launched clothing brands National Geographic Apparel and Discovery-expedition, have proven their popularity over the years with their casual clothing and accessories. The brands stamp the American documentary channels’ logos on their apparel after legally obtaining the rights to use them.
The Nature Holdings said last year that it would expand its business to China, after signing a memorandum of understanding with Bestseller, a fashion house based in Denmark that is one of the top five fashion companies in China. There are over 7,000 shops run by Bestseller in the country.
Stone Global, a domestic sportswear brand, founded CNN Apparel in January last year — the media company’s first-ever licensed apparel brand. CNN Apparel is described as a lifestyle outdoor brand and uses the slogan “go there.” Its clothes are centered on casual looks and comfort.
“Licensed [apparel] brands have their own specific concepts that are consistent with the original logo’s concept,” an insider for CNN Apparel told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “For example, Discovery-expedition goes under the theme of exploration, National Geographic Apparel is about nature, Snowpeak Apparel is camping and Kodak Apparel is photography.”
“Go there” is named after CNN’s weekly news show which sees correspondents address cultural, political and economic news. CNN Apparel hopes its customers will “venture freely to the outdoors of their taste.”
In other instances, some fashion companies launch a small collection of clothes for a limited time.
Musinsa dropped the limited edition Cesco Team collection after partnering with Cesco — a Korean disinfection and pest management business.
“Although everyone knows what Cesco is and what it does, there hasn’t really been a chance for them to interact with the general public; especially the younger generation,” an insider for Musinsa told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Cesco was looking for a way to establish a friendlier image and we ended up collaborating on clothes.”
The idea of wearing a shirt that has the logo of a company that’s best known for exterminating cockroaches may seem slightly absurd, but such merchandise is correlated with creating a fandom.
“Whether it’s a K-pop singer or a popular TV show, there’s bound to be a fandom, and merchandise will be made to target these fans,” pop culture critic Jeong Deok-hyun said. “That is to say, a logo is linked to brand image. Korea is a country that’s at the cutting edge of consuming fandom goods.”
Younger Koreans have long been drawn to logos — for example sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas and luxury fashion brands like Gucci and Prada. But how have these brands expanded to a university and a news outlet?
“The average person, walking down the street, will look again if they see someone wearing a t-shirt or hoodie with such logos, like Yale,” Lee Eun-hee, a consumer science professor at Inha University, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “They’ll wonder, ‘Did they go to Yale?’ From the consumer’s point of view, they want to feel a sense of belonging or exhibit the fact that they have the experience of having been someplace. They want to cherish the memory, and they want to show it off. This in turn leads to the ultimate goal of feeling satisfied with how they present or feel about themselves.”
Another factor derives from how Korea is considered to have a culture that is deeply rooted in reputation and maintaining one’s honor or authority while avoiding doing anything to “lose face.”
“They say a long time ago, no matter how starved your family was — the father would still go around picking his teeth with a toothpick to pretend he just ate meat,” Prof. Lee said. “That’s how important Koreans think of their reputations, and how their appearances look to others.”
“These brands use the fact that they have an admirable image among the public, like how Yale has a very prestigious and scholastic image, and this is reflected into fashion,” critic Jeong continued. “It could be, however, a bit embarrassing to think about a Seoul National University varsity jacket or KBS jacket being sold and frequently worn in other countries.”
Prof. Lee pointed out that there’s a difference for non-Korean logos, as they evoke a global image, as opposed to the aforementioned Korean brands.
“Another tendency Koreans have is that they prefer things from overseas because they have a fantasy about them,” she said, “which is why they continue to go abroad for vacation. They want to explore the unknown. So wearing logos from overseas brands is one way to begin and dream bigger and better. As for Seoul National University, honestly, anyone can go buy it if they want, by visiting the school’s souvenir shop!”
So next time you see a Yale sweatshirt in Korea, don’t immediately assume that that person has been to Yale University — it may just be their way of taking part in Korea’s latest trend.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]