Under the corporate motto, “Truth and Peace, Wisdom and Love, Creation and Changes”, Youngsook Lee, the President of Youngwoo T&F Lead, has secured the company’s global competitive edge of inspirational , high-end, and marketable textile, especially union clothes. For the past thirty years, with her firm business philosophy of ‘Trust and Fidelity’, Lee is the head, mentor, and fine artisan who has sublimated the nature in fabrics that people can be fully content with. Her vision for creating innovative products and a unique sub-culture of the Korean textile industry has made her the ‘True Dream-Weaver’, a woman who has become a positive influence for the industry, fashion trends, and people of the world.
The following are excerpts from an interview she gave with Asia-Pacific Business and Technology magazine:
As you know, the fashion industry in Korea is getting world attention. Where you think the industry will go from here in the future in Korea?
It’s a big thing for me to predict the future of the fashion industry as such. But I can give you my take on the future of the Korean fashion industry. So far it has been working in a relative shadow. However, I believe that since all the world trends such as k-pop, Korean well-being food, culture, and fashion are now converging, the textile industry can be part of the emerging sunshine of this movement. ‘YOUNGWOO’ also has been preparing to come out in the open and face the light with a firm belief that the uprising of the textile industry is the cornerstone for a trend-leading country.
About 10 years ago, Korean textiles was one of the biggest industries of this country, and then suddenly there was greater competition from China. More and more importers started to leave Korea and moved there. So, in such a highly competitive textile industry market, what’s YOUNGWOO’s main strength to compete with China or other emerging markets?
Yes, 20 or 30 years ago, Korean textiles was booming, but when the Chinese textile explosion occupied the low-end textile markets in the world, it affected the world’s textile markets to some extent. However, after the initial shock, Korea has discovered a unique way to survive and secure its global competitive edge of sensational, high-end, and marketable textiles with an affordable price. And our motto of “high-end quality products with affordable price” is something that the entire world is taking note of.
In European countries, it’s challenging to set up an affordable price zone due to their high production and maintenance costs for all the factories and employees. Meanwhile, Japanese textile manufacturing has been experiencing a fall in production as they drastically cut back on textile R&D and manufacturing. And while China has a manufacturing power with low production and maintenance costs, it is still a developing nation in R&D and technical aspects. These circumstances put Korea in such a unique position; today Korea is one of very few countries that are able to design and produce innovative and high-end products using the latest technology with very affordable price. It is definitely a key for Korea to become mainstream in the world’s fashion and textile industry. It is not efficient and professional when one company tries to take the entire market from low-end to high-end price zone; I believe that the company’s power is coming through when it focuses on its strength and character. In such way, I’m optimistic that YOUNGWOO and Korea as a country will keep a certain healthy portion in the world market.
Then what is the strength of the Korean textile industry in general and YOUNGWOO in particular? What’s the vision of YOUNGWOO?
‘Color’ and ‘sensitivity’ are important aspects of a fashion and textile trend. As ‘Five Traditional Colors of Korea (yellow, blue, white, red, black)’ displays the light (white), darkness (black), and nature’s three primary colors (red, yellow, blue), Korea is definitely a nation of color. For instance, Korea’s foods such as bibimbap and gujeolpan (platter of nine delicacies) and traditional clothes (han-bok) contain these five traditional colors in perfect balance. Also Korea’s great sensibility comes through all cultural, historical, and social aspects; han-geul (known as the most scientifically well-built language), han-ok (Korean traditional housing style), pansori (Korean traditional songs), and so on. These natural strengths of Korea definitely have affected the Korean textile industry as well, and there is a great possibility for Korea to catch up with European counterparts and become a trendsetter.
Earlier consumers had been following trends set by the industry. But from now on, people’s thoughts, their vision and the level of their life style are beginning to take the lead in setting these trends. So communication between the textile companies, the fashion companies and the consuming markets is the key for success. And this is why YOUNGWOO takes communication, harmony, and faith as the most important keys in our vision, believing that even a company can be a step towards world peace.
How big is the fashion industry in Korea, and how do you see the Korean fashion industry playing out over the next ten years?
Korea’s fashion industry nowadays exceeds 40 trillion won (US$3.6 billion) in overall value. When I experience dealing with most Korean brands, they generally use Korean textiles, using foreign countries’ textiles (especially Italian) less than 10 percent. As Korea has such developed fabric manufacturing techniques and R&D know-how, Korean fashion brands naturally utilize more of Korean textiles. So the origin source material such as wool, cotton, and yarn will be continued to be imported from other countries, but manufacturing processing will be taken care of in Korea.
Clothing is one of the three most crucial factors of living; after housing and eating, clothing may take third place, but it is very different from the other two. Clothing is all about sensibility and confidence. Fashion is not only distinguished by what we can wear or what we cannot wear, but it’s more about how one can confidently and naturally digest the style or how one can sensibly express oneself through them. As Korea is defined as one of the uprising countries in all aspects, the rise of people’s confidence and sensibility definitely can be an impetus for the Korean fashion and textile industry.
What are the main strengths of YOUNGWOO in terms of technology, fabric and marketing?
First, with regard to technique, YOUNGWOO has developed and secured a competitive edge in union cloth production; unlike cotton, union cloth is very different and a difficult section for people to approach because it’s all about controlling harmony between different types of yarns and fabrics. Sensible changes in combining yarns’ color, style, type, and character drastically affects the final fabric product. It is almost like handling fire and water at the same time. These techniques can’t be achieved in a short time since it is all about history and know-how, and that is YOUNGWOO’s first strength - the know-how and techniques that create all types of sensational union clothes.
Secondly, in terms of fabric, as I mentioned earlier, ‘color’ and ‘sensitivity’ are important aspects of a fashion and textile trend, and YOUNGWOO has great strength for color. Based on Korea’s traditional cultural colors, which is based on representative colors from nature, YOUNGWOO has transferred a large range of colors to fabrics. In this whole range for fashion fabrics, we continuously research and develop new and customized colors based on characteristics and trends of each nation and brands.
Lastly, for marketing, we haven’t executed any special marketing or branding method until now. The marketing solely depended on our guaranteed high-quality products and management system, such as fast delivery, the lowest defective rate, and the highest AD supply rate. However, as we want to step up to the next level, we have created a Strategic Planning Department in our company to thoroughly examine and analyze the current position and strategy and to promote YOUNGWOO’s brand value and marketing system.
You seem to have product lines for women’s wear. Do you handle other types as well? How much percentage is for ladies and for men?
Although we have been mostly dealing with women’s wear, our product lines are much broader over all-type fashion wears and even interior products. Nowadays, textile is without distinction of sex or age; even fabrics for lady’s wear can be used for men’s jacket and shirts, and also for children’s outwear. And fabrics for sportswear are already used for all types of clothing. Therefore, we are not trying to impose a limit on each creation’s possibility.
What’s YOUNGWOO’s new ‘Global Communication’ strategy? How does it work?
It is our strategy to reach out to good people and good textile companies in every country of our interest. By building and developing relationships with them under a systematic structure, we envision creating one strong path to markets of each country.
As we get to meet those local companies and people all around the world, it will lead us to reach out to the wider market, promote our brand name and value globally, and establish business union harmony.
Why did you create this Global Communication strategy?
YOUNGWOO T&F LEAD is known as a sound textile corporation that infuses a boost to the fashion and textile industry based on its artisan spirit and efforts for inspiring and trend-leading textiles. YOUNGWOO now aims at trend-setting and harmonious communication beyond simple products for sales.
The ‘General Chain system’ is usually dispatched from the headquarters; therefore if the country’s native market does not manage the branch, it is hard to research and accurately analyze the local trends and marketplace.
Secondly, exporting products through individual agents has its limits; it is impossible to promote a brand image when an agent distributes the products under his or her own company name. Although YOUNGWOO has developed many inspiring clothing textiles such as steel types, memory types, nylon/cotton two ways, viscose, cotton/wool/silk mixture, and high-end cotton fabrics, because of the limits of sales systems and an absence of the strategic brand promotion division, YOUNGWOO and ‘Korean textile corporations’ has been hidden under the shadows.
Through the Global Communication Project, YOUNGWOO would like to come out in the light and become the bridge that connects Korea’s fashion and textile industry to the world. YOUNGWOO Global Communication sets up one official distribution channel and transparent transaction mode in each country. Then it continuously promotes the global standard for the product, quality, and brand value while it adopts localized sales systems under the supervision of a representing native or a company. In this way, YOUNGWOO will be able to fully understand each country’s cultural and sentimental value to research and develop customized colors and textiles.
YOUNGWOO Global Communication well-represents our business philosophy and the company’s motto – ‘Truth and Peace, Wisdom and Love, Creation and Change’. We believe that this will enable us to connect and build harmonious relationship between companies and nations as it is not about monopolizing the market but co-cooperating to create new sub-cultures in the fashion and textile industries.
This is a very good strategy for promotion, but at the same time, isn’t this putting too much stock in one company, as only one company will be selected in each country to represent YOUNGWOO?
Our selection criteria for those companies are very unique. When we are selecting the company, it is not about whether they are top in their country or whether they are selling the most volume. Rather, it’s more about when all of our own specific needs are matched. So the selecting process will take care of those general concerns.
But isn’t it still too risky to put all one’s faith in one company? In countries like Singapore or Hong Kong, Is it possible to have one representative company because they are highly connected markets? And in bigger counties like India or China, one company cannot have access to all regions…
It is much clearer and simpler for me to have only one path for each country in every aspect. And I believe that if both companies have faith in each other, together we can change the textile industry into a much more systematically organized dual entity. For instance, the Chinese company.
that we have now selected already has their own regional branch for many major cities in China. So it is still possible to go through that main path and distribute all over China. Contrary to what most people may think, the textile industry is actually a small world, so I believe YOUNGWOO Global Communication definitely has room to grow.
Please name some important countries where you already have an MOU or where you are planning to have one.
There are number of countries that we are trying to work with and some of them we have already signed MOUs. We have already signed an MOU for China and Taiwan, and we are already in touch with companies in Italy, France, Russia, and Germany. With Japan, our Japanese partner has already been working with us. And we are now in the process of planning and developing for India, the United States, Brazil, the Republic of South Africa, and so on.
Many Koreans find it difficult to do business in China. According to recent media reports, many Korean companies are coming back from China and they are relocating to Southeast Asia. What do you think of this?
Yes. There is some paradigm shift in the textile industry. Many Korean companies are shifting their base. Now they are going to Southeast Asia, and India might be their next destination.
As you know this year is the 40th anniversary of India-Korea ties. How do you view this relationship between our two countries? Are you happy with the direction of the relationship?
In some ways India and Korea have lots of similarities. From sharing the tragedy of national division and bearing the agony of confrontation, these two countries have always been longing for ‘peace’ and ‘harmony’ from deep inside the national soul. Because of this similar historical path, both have peace-aiming cultures and thoughts embedded in every aspect.
India’s groundwork for peace raised a figure like Ghandi, one of the great world leaders and symbols for peace. Such hope for peace, harmony, and independence will be what truly becomes the base for cultural and economical communication and exchange between our two countries. YOUNGWOO believes that working with India will be one of the triggers for world peace. Isn’t it amazing that both countries’ Independence Day is on the same date of August 15th?
What vision does YOUNGWOO have for trade and economic relationship between India and Korea?
The trade and economic relationship has been steadily built up. Especially after India opened its economy in 1991, trade volume between the two countries has approached about US$20 billion, and Korea has acceded to India’s fifth largest investing country. But even though there was vigorous commerce activity, it was mainly concentrated in automobiles, electronics, general consumer goods, and chemicals. Other sectors have not been fully explored yet. Fashion and designing is one of them. Because India has such broad and various aspects in social, economic, and political culture, it is not easy for Korean businesses to get fully into the Indian market and set up a global branding. But as demand of India’s fashion market grows, I believe that there is a huge emerging possibility in the relationship between these two countries, and the textile industry is an unlimited mine carrying diamond gemstones.
What vision and plan does YOUNGWOO have for India and India’s fashion Industry?
YOUNGWOO believes that there will be an exponential increase of interest of the world in fashion trends in India, and it will eventually lead to high-end fashion textiles in the Indian market. When I read KOTRA’s research in 2010, it mentioned how consumers in India have begun to emphasize values; they are consuming more of ready-to wear apparels instead of tailored clothes, and prefer well-known or luxury fashion brands. Also, as the working women’s population and their income has been increasing, the women’s clothing market in India has broadened, and it occupies 70-75 percent of the sales of a typical department store. Plus, the research noted that India is a growing young market, as 81 percent of its population is under 45 years old, and even high-priced products (in the range of 70-90 US dollars) are well received in the marketplace.
All of this has led to the increase of ‘private brands’ (the house brands that retailers create) in such retail stores as Shopper Stop, Reliance, and Pantaloon, which have begun to distribute their own design clothing lines. So the retailers are trying to develop their own fashion brands as well, which means that the market competition gets even fiercer, and the influence of retailers is growing larger than the power of manufacturers.
Based on these changes in India’s fashion and textile markets, I believe that the influential strength of Indian retailers and distributors can be well-mixed with YOUNGWOO’s strength in innovative textile R&D and production to reinforce the world fashion and textile industry
Is there anything else you wish to add as a closing statement?
People and faith are my assets, which proves that I have built this business based on a genuine and truthful mind and philosophy to build trust with buyers and people all over the world. So most of the companies I am dealing now are based on a minimum five year relationship and in many cases for up to as much as thirty years. I believe that we can become as how we envision and believe in ourselves in order to serve our people in complete faith.
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