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Golfers in Korea fork out to flaunt their fashion on the green

Part of the 2022 Spring/Summer (S/S) collection from Philipp Plein Golf, which made its worldwide debut from Korea back in March [PHILIPP PLEIN GOLF]

In Korea, people who play golf not only work on their form, they work on their fashion as well.

Ever since the hubbub surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic started to die down, people have been scurrying to both online and offline stores to grab themselves some golf merch, especially clothes and accessories.

OKmall, a local e-commerce site, revealed last week that sales of golf goods increased by 122 percent last month compared to the same period last year.

Sales of golf accessories like hats and belts skyrocketed by 446 percent, golf clothing by 148 percent and golf shoes by 59 percent. Of the golf clothing, women’s clothes jumped 324 percent, while men’s increased 130 percent.

Mustit, another domestic e-commerce mall, also said that products in their golf category were sold 17 times more in the first quarter than in the same period in 2021.

Golf merchandise was in high demand from January to March as golfers prepared for golf season, which typically begins in the spring, Mustit said in a press release. In March alone, sales rose 26 times that of March 2021.

Both OKmall and Mustit gathered that the popularity likely stems from the fact that social distancing regulations have been lifted, leading more and more people outdoors.

Beanpole Golf's summer outfits [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

Beanpole Golf’s summer outfits [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

It may come as a surprise that golf wear is so conspicuously sought after, considering there aren’t a huge number of golf courses in the country. According to the Korea Leisure Industry Institute (KoLe), there were 541 golf courses in Korea as of the end of 2021 — only taking up a rough 1.4 percent of all the golf courses in the world.

Seo Cheon-beom, head of KoLe, told the Korea JoongAng Daily that the sudden popularity of golf in Korea has been skewing toward the younger generations lately — particularly women in their 20s. In 2019, the typical 20-something female golfer went to a course on average 1.3 times a year — the number increased to 16.3 times in 2021.

Other factors, Seo says, include the fact that golf is a difficult sport to master, which continuously attracts golfers to the course in hopes that they will see better results than before. Indoor golf, in which players golf with a screen simulator, also plays a big role as it has become more popular in Korea, more readily familiarizing the sport with the general public and leading them to the current fields.

So despite having a relatively low number of golf courses, the entry barrier for learning the sport seems to have lowered. Seo said that in 2021, for the very first time, Korea surpassed Japan in its number of golfers, with 5.64 million in Korea and 5.2 million in Japan.

Looks from Basquiat Brooklyn, which launched last April, as part of CJ ENM's Basquiat fashion brand series. [CJ ENM]

Looks from Basquiat Brooklyn, which launched last April, as part of CJ ENM’s Basquiat fashion brand series. [CJ ENM]

Last April, CJ ENM launched a premium golf wear brand called Basquiat Brooklyn as part of its Basquiat brand series, licensed under the neo-expressionist American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). During a press conference earlier this month, Hong Seung-wan, creative director of CJ ENM, said that recent trends have shown a significant increase in women and young golfers in their 20s and 30s spending on expensive golf clothes.

This is because these consumers want to avoid blending in with others and strive to establish their own sense of style, Hong said. Basquiat Brooklyn, which differs from its other golf attire brand Basquiat Golf in that Brooklyn is produced in limited quantities and has a heftier price tag, is not even sold in regular online malls or home shopping channels, to create a high-end brand image.

Basquiat Brooklyn’s T-shirts range around 200,000 won ($154) to 300,000 won, while pants are priced around 300,000 won.

“Basquiat Brooklyn focuses on vertical marketing,” an official for CJ ENM’s commerce sector told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “The brand opened a pop-up store at The Hyundai Seoul [in western Seoul] and only sells its products through niche platforms, like [domestic online retailer] Musinsa Golf.”

KUHO's S/S 2022 capsule collection for golf clothes [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

KUHO’s S/S 2022 capsule collection for golf clothes [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

Other big-name companies have also been diving into the golf attire scene, like Samsung C&T Fashion group’s KUHO and Shinsegae International’s Philipp Plein Golf.

KUHO first launched golf attire in its Fall/Winter (F/W) 2021 capsule collection, but after seeing most of it sell out, the brand decided to continue dropping golf clothes and came out with a Spring/Summer (S/S) 2022 capsule collection in February.

Back in March, Philipp Plein Golf, a subsidiary of the Swiss fashion brand Philipp Plein, founded by the 44-year-old fashion designer, made its worldwide debut in Korea. It opened its first offline store at the Gangnam branch of Shinsegae Department Store in southern Seoul.

Another reason Korea is emerging as a fashion mecca for golf attire is because of how golf is perceived in Korea.

“While the United States and Europe are not as keen on styling themselves with golf uniforms, the situation is different in countries like Korea and Japan,” Hong said.

“In Korea, golf is perceived as a pastime that typically attracts people of a higher social status,” Seo said. “People want to look good in front of others, and when you hear people complain about how tired they are and that their shoulders hurt from golfing all the time, it’s in fact a subtle way of bragging. So when you golf, people tend to think you’ve become upwardly mobile.”

Another look from Philipp Plein Golf's 2022 S/S collection [PHILIPP PLEIN GOLF]

Another look from Philipp Plein Golf’s 2022 S/S collection [PHILIPP PLEIN GOLF]

“In order to do business, you have to look good, and to look good, people seek out luxurious designer clothes. This is why in Korea they say, ‘The more expensive golf clothes are, the better they sell,’ ”Youn Hae-sook, fashion critic and author of numerous books including her latest,“ Fashion Museum, ”said.

However, this doesn’t directly mean that the sales volume of golf clothes is indefinitely high, either. Back in 2021, due to the pandemic, it was difficult to attract new players to the sport and to golf stores. In essence, now that social distancing measures have lifted, compared to 2021, golf clothes are finally seeing growth this year.

“And when we say golf clothes are high in demand to young people, especially females, they’re not just worn when they’re on the green,” Youn continued. “The younger generation are more flexible with fashion choices; they cross over different types of styles. They want to stand out as individuals, which is why they choose to mix and match golf garments even in their normal, everyday outfits.”

These can serve as fashion statements and are not necessarily donned as a full set from top to bottom. For example, Beanpole Golf, a brand under Samsung C&T Fashion group, styled its summer season golf apparel with culotte pants and tennis pleated skirts.

Beanpole Golf's summer outfits [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

Beanpole Golf’s summer outfits [SAMSUNG C&T CORPORATION]

According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), there were more than 16,000 golf courses in the US alone at the end of 2021. That’s more golf courses nationwide than Starbucks or McDonald’s and approximately 42 percent of golf courses in the world.

“Golf wear is currently trending in the US too, compared to 2020 and 2021,” Youn said. “But it’s the stance that’s so different. Koreans have this tendency to show off their expensive clothes and how they’re playing a pricey sport on social media. Likewise, golf clothing brands have started to implement marketing strategies of luxury brands — selling in small quantities for high prices.”

BY SHIN MIN-HEE [shin.minhee@joongang.co.kr]

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