‘Watch out, red lights are more a guideline than a rule here!’ shouted my friend while grabbing me by the arm. The delivery scooter wobbled, swerved awkwardly and picked up pace as it mounted the pavement in front of us. Pausing for a moment, we looked at each other and laughed. We were on a mission in search of the famous street food of Myeongdong Market. Tteokbokki, bibimbap and fish-shaped bungeoppang pastries were at the top of our list. It was my last day in Korea’s capital city and this encounter, I mused, was all just part of the charm!
Just seven days earlier, my colleague and I had stepped off the plane at Incheon Airport not quite sure what to expect from the city of Seoul. A top-down glimpse from our high-rise hotel room on the first night revealed a riotous infusion of colour depicting an ultra modern skyline. We couldn’t make out much else. What unfolded, at ground level in the days that followed was an instant affection for a city and its people pulsing with life and soul.
In many ways, Seoul is a city of beguiling contrasts. The juggernaut success of the capital city and indeed the country itself was, we admit, a little late to dawn on us. The more we explored, the more we came to understand why Seoul continues to skyrocket on the global stage. Striking a fine balance of progress while maintaining a high degree of sensitivity to traditional cultural habits, seems to be Seoul’s superpower. Design-wise, towering megastructures loom large, rubbing shoulders with traditional palaces and gilded temples. Lively neighborhoods, bustle with street markets, quirky coffee shops and chic boutiques while the formidable tech scene of high speed trains, digital bilboards and robot waiters all move to a backdrop K-pop beat.
We had been invited to attend the 2023 Luxury Retail Trade Mission to South Korea by the Department for Business and Trade and the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea. It was a privilege to be selected for this event alongside 18 other luxury British brands, which presented a fantastic opportunity to further RUSKIN’s expansion and presence within the APAC market.
After a near sleepless first night, we shook off the jetlag and dived straight in to a full day of market-briefing presentations. This was a hugely valuable positioning exercise to help contextualise our trip. We received an incisive analysis of local market trends from Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company, followed by fascinating introductions from Invest Seoul and Denby Pottery. Omnichannel logistics experts, LF Logistics, were kind enough to provide us with a delicious lunch and walkthrough of their wide-scale Asian-market operations, and we concluded with an introduction to the e-commerce giant Coupang. Off to explore the buzzing city, we were privately toured around glittering shopping malls to bolster our earlier market research.
Finally, we were honoured to round off our introductory briefings with an invitation to His Majesty Ambassador’s private residence at the British Embassy in Seoul. We enjoyed an evening of fine dining, networking and meeting with local buyers and distributors, where we introduced the RUSKIN collection.
We spent the following five days exhibiting the RUSKIN collection at the Seoul Living Design Fair. The in-person experience, which we have all missed so much in recent years, was invaluable. We were delighted to speak directly with savvy, discerning customers, highly engaged in investigating the textures of our materials while admiring the artisanal details. Every day working on the stand brought something different: new people, fresh ideas and engaging conversations, all of which kept our energy levels high as our brains fizzed with excitement.
The colourful spaghetti-like underground network in Seoul is a little navigate at first, especially without a word of English in sight. We quickly discovered that if you ask a friendly local, or better still, arm yourselves with Google Translate (especially the camera facility to hover over the menus) and a Korean won currency app, you'll be fine!
It was wonderful to experience the dynamic South Korean culture firsthand and to bring our handcrafted RUSKIN bags to this vibrant and innovative market. We are so grateful to the Department for Business and Trade and the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea for the warm welcome and for arming us with as much information as possible to make the most of our whirlwind week in Seoul.
With gratitude to our new Korean friends and followers, 감사합니다 / thank you. We hope this is the first trip of many to come.
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