superchat seoul: seung-jae yeom

© 1984 - seung-jae yeom in front of the 1984 store

this past decade south korea's capital seoul has seen an accelerated transformation into one of asia's leading cities. an economic powerhouse with growing global significance, the affluence has helped to create an advanced and continuously evolving lifestyle and retail infrastructure that's now often compared to tokyo by outsiders. foreign brands continue to flock to seoul and open up flagship stores that compete with an increasing number of homegrown labels of quality. local retailers cater to a clientele that's savvy and loves to spend, and seoul is home to a number of interesting multi-brand stores. one of the newest to open is 1984, a lifestyle store with roots in the publishing industry. located in the city's buzzing hongdae area, it intentionally exceeds the usual perimeters of retail and aims to be a meeting place of contemporary culture as well. superfuture talked to 1984's director seung-jae yeom, asking him about the store, korean urban culture and his views on seoul. 

how did the store come about? it has roots in publishing but why was it decided to extend operations to lifestyle retail? the store was established due to the rapid expansion of digital media which has tremendously affected the publishing Industry here in south korea. 1984 was originally a company that published books with the slogan 'the book is the root and culture the result of it'. the company simply wanted to expand the categories that relate to culture and lifestyle and also expand to products that can be naturally related to the customers' needs. as you know, the customers' need is changing all the time, so by opening a store the company aims to connect with them on different levels. the publishing company is managed by three family generations, and currently publishes international literature books. hee-mang is the mother company that owns 1984, and one of the family members, mister yong-hoon jeon, manages the 1984 store.
what was it like to be involved in establishing a store from the ground up? what were the challenges and goals, and what’s your daily routine like? i've actually worked in the fashion industry for the past eight years, doing pretty similar jobs at different companies. my activities mainly included introducing international brands to korean consumers and working with new entry brands that fit the competitive korean retail market. my job as a director here at 1984 is very much the same. 
do you have a specific vision outlined for 1984? our vision has stayed the same since we started. we let people know about the beauty of publishing books and support various culture and lifestyle elements through our 1984 retail space. i do everything on my own, from very basic office chores to buying, sorting out customs duty, sales and other administrative tasks. i think i work around 11 hours a day but i wouldn't call myself a workaholic! 
was there any particular reason to set up shop in hongdae? the hongdae neighbourhood plays a pivotal role in seoul's youth culture and that's a well-known fact among all koreans. that's why we thought it would be a perfect place to open up shop to communicate with consumers. we've actually received very positive feedback from them.
so, what’s the general profile of the 1984 customer? hongdae is home to many universities. in fact, the name is short for hongik daehakgyo or hongik university and it's one of the best colleges in all of south korea. as a result there are lots and lots of young people around here in their early 20s to late 20s, and we happen to aim that specific age group. however, after only three months of running the shop, our target consumer turned out to be much more diverse. we now also welcome teens and shoppers in their 40s and even 50s. i think that the fact that we also manage a café has got a lot to do with that diversity. 
which brands does the shop carry? we stock a variety of items, from cosmetics to homewares and stationery, books and magazines. the brands that we stock, include cowshed, aesop, best made co., coloni, weck and azamaya.
we're interested to know how you would rate seoul and its inhabitants from a fashion and lifestyle perspective? on a scale of 1 to 10, i'd say a 6. there's still a lack of understanding of fashion and lifestyle by most koreans. it'll be very interesting to see how these will develop and fit into korean culture and what the future holds in this respect.
outsiders often say that seoul is the new tokyo. do you agree or do you think there’s a distinct difference between the two cities? ha, seoul the new tokyo? i think there are many differences between the two. first of all, tokyo urban life boasts a myriad of different cultures that has taken root quite organically. seoul on the other hand lacks that diversity, and if a new cultural penomenon does arise, it isn't widely adopted for it to thrive for a longer period of time. unfortunately, trends in seoul tend to fade as quickly as they spread. i think that's because korean society is far less culture-conscious and therefore doesn't value it as much. i occasionally visit different foreign cities and many times i encounter interesting concepts and come to the conclusion that seoul simply wouldn't be able to sustain them. the city needs to catch up big time on a cultural level before it could ever compete with tokyo, but then again, it obviously also has its advantages.