Hyungji Group chairman Choi Byung-oh [Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]
In a recent interview with Maeil Business Newspaper, Choi Byung-oh, the chairman of South Korea’s fashion group Hyungji, reflected on the challenges faced by first-generation leaders in the Korean fashion industry and expressed his hopes and expectations for the next generation toward the global fashion market.
Starting 42 years ago as a wholesale dealer of women’s clothing at Seoul’s Gwangjang Market, Choi has steered his company from a modest 3.3 square meter store to a comprehensive fashion enterprise with eight affiliate companies and 23 brands.
“The frustration and sense of responsibility weighed heavily on me upon hearing remarks questioning why Korean fashion companies couldn’t emulate Uniqlo’s success. As part of the first generation, we dedicated ourselves to diligent work during the industrialization era, building businesses with grit, but our endeavors didn’t quite translate in the global market,” Choi said. “The landscape is evolving now, and I firmly believe in the capabilities of the second generation to navigate this shift.”
Despite the success, Choi expressed some regrets, notably missing the target of growing the company to a projected 3 trillion won ($2.32 billion) by 2014 due to lax management. He acknowledged this shortfall, emphasizing the transition to a capable second-generation management structure within the company. He believes this shift will present new opportunities and reflect the company name ‘Hyungji’?to rise like a flame.
Addressing the shift from traditional street retail-centered fashion to online platforms, Choi recognized that the industry is changing. He also noted the demographic shift toward an aging population, asserting that, despite challenging economic times, traditional retail still has potential and a focus on cost-effectiveness and product quality remains crucial.
“With nearly 30 percent of the population comprised of individuals in their 60s and 70s, we’re witnessing an aging demographic trend. Amidst the challenges of steep inflation and economic turmoil, there’s a growing opportunity for street stores. They exude confidence in their ability to offer cost-effective products while maintaining high standards.”
Hyungji is also undergoing a digital transformation and streamlining operations to minimize inventory and increase profitability. But Choi emphasized that as the domestic population declines, relying solely on that market is not viable. He stressed the importance of going global, taking advantage of the increasing global interest in Korean fashion and Korean companies’ potential to rise to the level of global giants including Uniqlo.
“Our path eventually leads to global expansion. The world’s increasing fascination and appreciation for K-fashion could birth a Korean equivalent of a company like Uniqlo. It’s not just Hyungji. Next-generation leaders at major fashion players are adept and are poised to create a new legend in the industry.”
Choi, who is an example of a self-made success story, emphasized his dedication to the principle of Noblesse Oblige, and aims to be viewed as an exemplary figure. He also conveyed his aspiration to be deeply committed to business ethics and social accountability.
By Kim Hyo-hye and Minu Kim
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]