DIY Fashion: Custom-made Korea

Retired Article: Info from 2013

Retired Article: Info from 2013

Words by Nick Scherf, shots by Heather Soyeon Kim

Korea is known for its many affordable and well-manufactured custom fashion goods. This month, we took a closer look at some exciting fashion opportunities and experiences tailored just for you!

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DIY Handbags at Bagstage, a Class Act  Garosu-gil, Sinsa-dong, Seoul
Garosu-gil in the Gangnam District is Seoul’s latest hotspot for fashionistas. High-end jewelers, creative clothing shops, and a plethora of coffee houses line this adorable street and its adjacent alleys.
It’s here that we found Bagstage, a wonderfully unique multi-purpose building that opened in July 2012. Bagstage houses the Simone Handbag Museum as well as specialty shops. Fashion history buffs will love the remarkable museum—not only is it the first handbag museum in the world, but it’s also home to 300 bags dating from the year 1550 to modernity.
But what drew our attention to Bagstage was the DIY shop located downstairs: a place where visitors can actually put together their own luxury handbags themselves!
With 20 years in the industry, Jang Hee, the master curator of the DIY shop, is an expert. Design professors from around the world send students to Bagstage to take the course and study alongside him. (The class is open to anyone, but if you do not speak Korean, you should have a friend with you who does.)
During the course, participants select the style of bag they want to make. Patterns are provided as guides to recreate with the help of the staff. After choosing a pattern, students can access the lower floor to select their materials.
Walking down the spiral staircase into the materials room is like walking into a textile nirvana. From leather to fur, exotic to plain, or bright to muted, every type of material imaginable is available. Have you ever seen leather made of ostrich before? Neither had we, but there it was, sitting next to the buffalo hide. Similarly, we couldn’t stop smiling when the staff excitedly showed us a new type of leather invented from sea fish.
After the materials are chosen, participants work with the staff to cut, sew, lace, and accessorize their own bags over the course of the following weeks. Methods for adding pockets, linings, or embossed letters are also taught.
Bagstage is run by Simone Accessories Collection Ltd., an internationally-recognized Korean exporter in the high-end handbag marketplace. Simone designs for 25+ big names in fashion like Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and Marc Jacobs. Thus, international fashion buyers frequent Bagstage at least four times a year.

536-17 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu. W200,000 base + cost of additional materials. 02-3444-0739

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Marketpress Knows Prints to a Tee  Hongdae & Itaewon, Seoul
We first found Marketpress in its new Itaewon location, but this fantastic custom printing shop actually originated in the indie neighborhood of Hongdae.
Hyeyun Park, the owner of Marketpress, got her start in painting, illustration, and computer graphics.  This background led her to start an online venture through which her fellow artists could post and sell their designs and products. With her knowledge of screen printing, Park then used her site to tap into a custom niche market in Seoul’s tee-shirt industry. Two years and two store fronts later, Marketpress is poised for even more success.
Marketpress is able to print on virtually anything, and encourages customers to bring in their own items. Hats, bags, and pillows are just some of pieces customers have brought in for printing in the past. A wide selection of pre-made creative merchandise is also stocked at the store. Any request from single items to bulk orders can be filled by Marketpress’s staff.
Park agrees that the idea of custom tee-shirts is not new. She asserts that both the concept for the store and the website are quite popular in other cities internationally. But in Seoul, it’s not easy to find a business as dedicated to smaller scales. The shop functions like an ongoing local art show, supporting creativity and community involvement—making it the perfect medium for the average consumer of custom goods.
“People can perhaps print onto transfer paper and use an iron at home,” she says, “but it just isn’t the same. The product turns out totally different, and doesn’t have the same quality whatsoever. But when you look at larger tee-shirt companies, they only do bulk sets in hundreds or thousands.” Bridging the gap between homemade and wholesale is what makes Marketpress so special. In the two years that the Marketpress storefront has been open in Hongdae, Park has worked with clients like bands and nightclubs requesting merchandise for resale. Teams and restaurants in need of uniforms also frequent the shop. As her customer base tends to be from the younger crowd, she’s looking forward to repeated success in Itaewon, with its similar nightlife atmosphere.
“As a store owner, it can be difficult to run a small business in Korea because the country has so many franchises,” Park says. “That’s why it’s so important to shop at creative small businesses like ours. Still, we do well because there are no other businesses quite like us, and we’re great at we do.”

Marketpress.co.kr
Single prints W10,000 – 20,000, hoodies W30,000 – 40,000. Bulk discount negotiable.
363-1 Hongdae, Mapo-gu 070-4095-5090 or 57-29 Itaewon, Yongsan-gu 070-4641-1801, in Seoul

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Tailor-Made at Manchester Itaewon, Seoul
When you’re walking down the street in Itaewon, polite propositions from tailors are commonplace, but how do you know where to turn?
Manchester Tailor has been in business for over thirty-five years. Owned and operated by a long-time tailor who goes by simply “Mr. Oh”, Manchester has seen hundreds of fascinating clients walk through its doors (including yours truly). Adorning the ceiling of this basement-level operation are business cards and signed pictures from some of Manchester’s more reputable patrons.
A second tailor, Mr. Kim, is on hand to speak with clients in confident English. His father was also a tailor and a colleague of Mr. Oh’s. With several assistants behind the scenes, Manchester remains quaint and modest in its Itaewon locale.
Mr. Kim has a strong opinion when asked what differentiates Manchester from other businesses. He’s proud of Manchester’s reputation in the time-honored practice of handmade bespoke suiting. For them, the work is one of consumer art. The client is urged to return for at least one fitting during the two-week construction process to ensure a flawless result. The personalized article of clothing is built expressly for the client, and specifications are kept on file for several years. There are no secrets or gimmicks, and the lines of communication are open right down to the final stitch.
Recently, Manchester has seen competition from businesses making “faster for cheaper” promises. The real price paid is generally much lower quality suiting. A telltale sign of this underhanded merchandising is the use of glue, which Mr. Kim vehemently loathes. He strongly recommends that consumers request to see multiple samples of goods before entering into any sort of contract with unfamiliar tailors. As an example, materials and products are organized along the wall at Manchester so that customers can feel and inspect the quality firsthand.
Through the consultations and fittings, the Manchester tailors form relationships with their customers. They are knowledgeable of trends, and offer many different shapes. Mr. Kim speaks in terminology that is logical, such as “American fit” and “English fit,” meaning Wall Street and Savile Row or loose-cut and slim-fit.
“Those terms may not be exact,” he admits, “but I use them to help customers understand and visualize the product. Everyone has different needs when it comes to fit. To some, ‘fit’ means slim. To others, it simply means looking good or feeling comfortable. At the same time, everyone has a different build.” He explains that these two concerns are the reason bespoke suiting triumphs over ready-to-wear every time. “Our designs involve the construction of individualized patterns for every detail. This is truly a suit for him.”

140-200 #58-5 Itaewon, Seoul. Suits start at W350,000. 02-790-7112

To Cap It All Off
Seoul is home to people from all around the world, with style preferences—not to mention shapes and sizes—that reflect their backgrounds. Luckily, it is also a city where fashion needs can be met through affordable and stylish custom-made fashion.

Looking for More?
Top off your look with personalized hats from the Insa-dong branch of hat designer Luielle, where you’re sure to find the perfect handmade hat. Feeling particularly adventurous? Head to over to Seoul’s DIY fashion mecca, Dongdaemun Shopping Complex, to get your essential supplies. The rows upon rows of baubles, bangles, and beads will be a great resource when you’re in the mood to do it yourself.
•  Luielle 02-735-0309
•  Dongdaemun Shopping Complex dongdaemunsc.co.kr  266, Jongno 6-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul

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Nick Scherf : This American writer, editor, and fashion enthusiast has resided in Korea since 2010. Outside of his present role as In-House Editor for a leading national textbook publishing company, he enjoys travel, art, and pop culture. Inspired by Stefano Tonchi and Hilary Alexander, he believes the best style accessory is confidence.

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  1. I appreciate your article. It helped make my decision and was part of my research.
    I moved back to Korea a few weeks ago researched the available tailors extensively until I was satisfied. All of this research (including your site) led me to choose Manchester Tailor. My bottom line was to get as many fittings as I needed, get the suit made exactly as I wanted, and for a price point that was reasonable in comparison to the quality. The other tailors that I researched led me to believe that one of these factors would not be met. To ensure that I had my bespoke suit made exactly as I wanted I wore one of my Brooks Brothers suits that I purchased in the U.S. four weeks ago. That was what I wanted. They really nailed it, it was made exactly as I wanted, and met all my criteria. The suit with two pairs of pants was 550,000 won. They shortened the sleeves on two of my U.S. purchased sports coats for free and I then had a pair of pants made that went with each sport coat. They are exactly like my suit pants but are of course different in color. These two pairs of paints ran me 300,000 won. By replicating the stitching, lining, zippers, belt loops, etc as my Brooks Brothers suits I am sure that I added cost. I wanted quality, received quality, it looks quality, and I am very satisfied. Thank you once again for your article.

  2. What a wonderful, well researched blog post. Thank you for finding these gems. It should be on the top ten list of guides to visiting Korea.

  3. I just could not depart your website prior to
    suggesting that I really loved the standard info a person provide for your visitors?
    Is gonna be again incessantly to inspect new posts

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