[Herald Interview] Designer shoe brands diversify sales channels

By Seo Jee-yeon

GRI to open first multi-designer shoe brand shop at Lotte Department Store later this year

  • Published : Apr 15, 2014 - 20:58
  • Updated : Apr 16, 2014 - 09:51
To most modern women, shoes do more than merely cover one’s foot for protection.

“Shoes have become an important fashion item, in particular, for women who want to express themselves,” said Diana Kang, chief executive of GRI Korea, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“Riding on the trend, a growing number of Korean women are seen with growing shoe collections that are meant to match their daily outfits,” Kang said.

GRI is a Hong Kong-based international apparel and fashion accessories retail distribution company that established its Korean branch in August 2013 after its previous distribution contract with Samsung expired.

The rapidly changing perception toward footwear has offered a boon of opportunities for global shoe brands, including Nine West.

Nine West is a U.S. designer shoe brand that is loved by working women all over the world. It is also a flagship brand distributed exclusively by GRI all over Asia. 
Diana Kang, CEO of GRI Korea. (GRI Korea)

“GRI decided to directly enter the Korean market as it is seen as a trendsetter in the Asian fashion industry,” Kang said. With the entry of such a direct distributor, Nine West shoe prices dropped by about 20 percent.

The CEO said GRI would start out by focusing on the women’s designer shoe market, which is one of fastest-growing fashion accessory markets in Korea. According to the Korea Fashion Association, the nation’s shoe market was expected to grow 9.6 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year. 

The company believes Nine West sales will reach 100 billion won ($96 million) in the near future, up from the current 20 billion won.

Besides Nine West, GRI exclusively distributes two other international designer shoe brands to the Korean market ― Steve Madden and Easy Spirit.

In the latter part of this year, the company will introduce two more international shoe brands ― Enzo Angiolini and Carolinna Espinosa ― along with its in-house fashion brand EQIQ.

Overcoming the hurdles

Despite the growing demand for women’s designer shoes, daunting challenges lie ahead for Kang due to the wide diversification of retail channels and increasing competition.

“When Nine West debuted in Korea in 2002, department stores dominated the retail channel for designer shoe brands and, online shops were not a popular channel for shopping,” Kang recalled.

She first introduced the Nine West brand to the Korean market as an individual local partner for GRI. The distribution rights were then sold to Samsung in 2007, after which Kang took a break from the shoe industry.

“I saw two big changes when I came back,” she said. “First is the technology development, which has shifted the shopping paradigm to become online and mobile-oriented.”

Second is the explosive demand for fashion and lifestyle items that has generated many competitors.

“To become successful under such market conditions, it is important to diversify retail channels,” Kang stressed, indicating that she was willing to use the new paradigms to her advantage.

GRI recently aired its first commercial on CJ’s home shopping channel.

“We plan to open the first multi-designer shoe brand shop at Lotte Department Store’s Suwon branch in the latter part of this year,” Kang said.

The shop will benchmark GRI’s multi-fashion brand shop chain that goes by the name Central/Central in Hong Kong, she added.

Online marketing will be strengthened as well.

“If you can’t beat them, join them. We will find retail channels that we need and proactively team up with them,” she said.

Another big task is to win over customers who are turning to buying directly from overseas.

“In response, we will launch mileage and VIP membership programs for customers who buy brands that GRI distributes throughout Asia,” she said.

Herself a shoe buff, Kang has also launched a research project with a local university to trace and restore traditional shoe-making.

“The project is aimed at holding an exhibition of Korean traditional shoes at GRI shops in Asia,” she said.

By Seo Jee-yeon (