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[Weekender] Let the shoes do the talking

Kwon Ji-won, 33, who works as a human resources manager at a local consulting firm, is the certified shoe-buff at her office.

“I prefer shoes to other fashion items as a form of expressing myself,” she said, introducing herself as a high-heel maniac. “Anything that has a high heel, I am all for it.”

Aside from the stilettos, her collection runs a wide gamut from sneakers and sandals to ballerina flats and thigh-high boots. The price tags also are as diverse as her collection: Some are more than affordable, while others would put Carrie Bradshaw to shame. 

“I wear different shoes every day, depending on what I am wearing or the mood I am in that day,” says Kwon when asked to explain why she needs so many pairs. 
Flat Apartment cofounders Seo Kyung-hee (right) and Yie Kwang-sub pose with their shoes at their store in Sinsa-dong, Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Flat Apartment cofounders Seo Kyung-hee (right) and Yie Kwang-sub pose with their shoes at their store in Sinsa-dong, Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Like Kwon, the number of fashion-conscious consumers who consider shoes as an important fashion item is growing in Korea, boosting the market for designer shoes.

“The rising demand for designer shoes is linked to the huge growth of the so-called fashion tribes in Korea ― people who are eager about chasing the latest style trends regardless of gender or age,” shoe designer Seo Kyung-hee, co-founder local women’s shoe brand Flat Apartment, said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Flat Apartment is one of the emerging women’s design shoe brands in Korea. Seo launched the brand boasting of unique and minimalistic design with her friend and shoe designer Yie Kwang-sub in 2010. 

The signature design of Flat Apartment shoes is the tip that turns up, inspired by the shape of traditional Korean shoes called hwahye. In the market, hwahye are better known as “flower shoes,” due to their likeness to flower petals.

“I was surprised to see not only Koreans but also fashion lovers overseas find our designs appealing,’’ Lee said.

Flat Apartment shoes are distributed through multi-fashion brand shops like Comme des Garcons in Korea, Japan and China. This year, the brand will knock on the door of Hong Kong and Singapore.

“Customers who like our shoes share our design values,’’ Lee said.

What this means is that just like the two designers who launched the Flat Apartment brand, those who buy from Lee and Seo have little interest in killer high heels.

“What they are looking for are shoes that are modern-minimalistic and with progressive designs that are not extreme,’’ Lee said.

The designer shoe market ― the women’s designer shoe market in particular ― is one of the 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 from the previous year.

Footwear industry experts forecast that designer shoes will gain more popularity as youngsters use shoes as a new form of communication.

As top British shoe designer Rupert Sanderson said at the 2014 Footwear News CEO Summit, “Let the shoes do the talking.”

By Seo Jee-yeon (