March 20, 2023
SEOUL – In Netflix’s hit drama “The Glory,” the mother-in-law of the main villain, Yeon-jin who led the bullying against protagonist Dong-eun in high school, dressed her newborn granddaughter in a red Gucci onesie.
Even though the baby would grow out of the clothes in a matter of weeks, she swaddled her grandkid with luxury clothes, saying, “You need to stand at a different starting line to get ahead of others.”
While not to the extreme of the fictional character, the same belief that what one wears shows one’s power and status is partly behind South Korean’s obsession with high-end fashion goods.
In 2022, Korea’s per capita luxury consumption was as high as $325 last year, the highest figure in the world, according to a report by Morgan Stanley.
Luxury brand items, which were once thought to be exclusively for affluent middle-aged individuals, are now being coveted by young Koreans, particularly those in their 20s, irrespective of their income.
A study based on transaction data of its L.Pay mobile payment system and L.Point membership points showed consumers in their 20s had the highest increase in luxury purchases between 2018-2021 — 70.1 percent — followed by those in their 50s (62.8 percent) and 30s (54.8 percent).
And now, luxury select shops are curating for an even younger clientele.
On a recent Thursday, a number of kindergarteners were trying on Burberry’s signature trench coats and Moncler padded jackets at a shop selling premium children’s clothes in Cheongdam-dong, often considered the “Beverly Hills of Seoul.” The price for both outfits ranged between 1 million and 1.5 million won ($762-$1,143)
A 39-year-old female customer surnamed Kang who bought her 7-year-old daughter the Burberry trench coat for a birthday present, said, “Adults’ luxury brand craze has passed down onto young children.”
“My daughter and many of her friends know very well about luxury brands probably because of K-pop stars’ luxury brand endorsements. They enjoy showing off their luxury products on social media.
“Some parents might think buying luxury clothes for children is a little excessive, but I think the more expensive the clothes are, the higher the quality,” she added.
The growing popularity among children — and their big-spending parents — for luxury brands has driven up sales of kids’ designer clothes.
According to Hyundai Department Store, the year-on-year increase in sales of luxury children’s clothing has been on the rise, from 29.5 percent in 2020, 45.5 percent in 2021, to 35.4 percent in 2022.
The spread of luxury items among kids have also spurred a market of mini Chanel bag lookalikes and toddler clothes in similar Chanel designs.
A search with “Chanel kids bags” on Naver, Korea’s largest portal site, returns a long list of online shopping malls selling leather or tweed handbags that resemble Chanel products, which typically cost between 30,000-50,000 won.
Responding to children’s avid interest in luxury brands, some art classes at local kindergartens introduced DIY activities where they learn to make fake Chanel bags out of paper. Similar ideas are shared on online communities of kindergarten teachers to incorporate iconic designs and patterns of luxury bags that kids like into various DIY activities.
One user who shared a picture of a paper Chanel bag that one of her students made as a gift to her parents on Parents’ Day wrote, “both children and parents really liked the bag as if it’s real.”
Some experts are concerned over young children’s penchant for luxury items, and the effects it has on their mental health.
“The so-called ‘flex culture’ on (social media) in which people boast their wealth via lavish consumption led to the current luxury craze among kids,” said professor Park Myung-sook at Sangji University’s child welfare department.
“If children become obsessed with luxury items due to peer pressure, comparing themselves to others, they could be under extreme stress. Meanwhile, they are likely to build bad habits of judging others based on looks or making irrational decisions on shopping as they grow up.”