Thanks to the sweeping popularity of Korean pop culture overseas, Korean products are attracting a lot of attention. In particular, Korean cosmetics products, known as K-beauty goods, are growing fast in the global market. These days, consumers in various countries are showing an interest in K-fashion as well, with not only clothes but bags raising their international profile. Today, we’ll introduce Alice Martha, a bag brand boasting trendy designs and reasonable prices. Let’s hear from the company’s chief product officer, Kwak Chang-hoon.

Alice Martha was launched in January 2014. But before that, I worked in the fashion sector for about 15 years. First, I started as a salesperson in Dongdaemun to sell various items, including jeans. Later, I turned my eyes to the bag business. In general, bags are made of leather or imitation leather. Bag manufacturers used to produce a certain amount of bags, like 100 pieces, for one design. If a particular model didn’t sell well, the remaining pieces would comprise a backlog of unsold inventory. I wanted to change the system and try something new. First, I made 50 pieces of bags made of imitation leather. For the other 50 pieces, I used garment fabrics instead. They were made of various fabrics featuring stripes, dots, and camouflage patterns, even though they all come with the same design.

After ending his military service, Kwak worked at the wholesale Dongdaemun fashion market, where clothing products are manufactured and distributed. While meeting with numerous people and visiting factories, he developed his fashion sense. Based on his experience, he opened a bag store. He executed his own plan to produce bags using garment fabrics. When he opened his shop, chiffon blouses with a dot pattern were in fashion. He made bags with the same fabric, and it turned out to be a success. After that, he concentrated on a bag business in earnest to launch a new brand, Alice Martha. The company creates new designs in a unique way.

The company does have a design team. But we collect various ideas from employees working at a bag store in Dongdaemun, department stores and the headquarters. The young employees submit their favorite designs to the design team, and we hold a meeting to decide on final ones. We see diverse designs, as we reflect opinions of a number of people. Once designs are decided, they go through the planning and production process very quickly since we have our own factory.

Alice Martha values “communication.” The company allows both design specialists and employees working at shops to present their ideas in order to create designs that ensure practicability, popularity and simplicity. The company has released more than 300 types of bags to cater to different tastes of young women. The philosophy of communication also shined in the process of building infrastructure.

Communication is important, not only when interacting with employees but with factories. For bag factories in a poor production environment, I purchased some land and brought them together so they could manufacture goods in cooperation there. I wanted to provide a better environment to factory owners, who were mostly older people, but it turned out to be ideal infrastructure for us. In the past, outer and inner parts of the bags were produced by different factories and they were assembled by other workers. But here, the whole processes from design creation to production are integrated as one to increase efficiency. As a result, the company was able to save time during production and produce high-quality goods to offer them at affordable prices.

There are many small bag factories near Dongdaemun market, with nearly 900 sewing factories clustered together in the Changshin-dong area. But they have been on the downward slide, as a large number of clothing and bag manufacturers have relocated overseas. Alice Martha decided to cooperate with the bag factories, which were struggling to stay afloat despite their expertise. It secured a site to bring together the factories that had been dispersed. As they joined forces, it was possible to create an environment where the company could manufacture high-quality bags quickly right here in Korea and to offer the products at inexpensive prices. The company’s major items are sold at 49,000 won, which is less than 50 US dollars, so young consumers can afford them. These inexpensive bags featuring new, charming designs are released each season. The company also provides free after-sales services, contributing to its rapid growth in the market.

On a global shopping app, our products were sold out upon their release. At the time, we made 500 pieces per color. As we introduced 12 different colors, there were 6,000 pieces. In terms of offline businesses, we’re now working with 120-130 multi-brand shops and 12 to 13 department stores in Korea.

In 2016, the company’s products were sold out on a shopping app only an hour after they were released. The business prospered, with the company winning “Hi-Seoul Good Products Awards” sponsored by the Seoul Business Agency. Encouraged by the success, the company bravely made inroads into foreign markets to make remarkable achievements last year.

Last year, Alice Martha made its first appearance at Hong Kong Fashion Access and won the best award in the design category. Currently, we’re exporting the products to Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Thailand. Many buyers are eager to get our products. A Japanese buyer proposed selling our products in a multi-brand shop in the form of a pop-up store in the second basement of a shopping mall in Shibuya, Tokyo. In Taiwan, a company expressed its hope to sign a business agreement with us. Many other firms have asked us to give them an exclusive right to sell our products.

Last year, the company won the APLF Leather and Material Awards at Hong Kong Fashion Access to gain international recognition. It is now reaching out to many Asian countries to expand its overseas operations. We’re looking forward to the K-fashion fever to be created by this promising company’s affordable and stylish products.