(News Focus) Design fair helps foreign firms tap Korean market
By Kim Deok-hyun
GOYANG, South Korea, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- The annual Korean design fair, Design Korea 2016, drew crowds of photo-snapping visitors last week, together with a growing number of foreign exhibitors trying to make inroads into the Korean market.
In one corner of the sprawling exhibition hall, Deesawat Industries Co., a Thai furniture company, showed off its latest products with innovative designs, making its first appearance at the 14th fair.
"We are a company which is doing an outdoor furniture business for more than 40 years," said Jirachai Tangkijngamwong, director of marketing at Deesawat.
Deesawat's outdoor lounge furniture collection (Photo courtesy of Deesawat)
Deesawat's products, such as a beautifully crafted teak wood table and a couch designed to allow humans and pets to share together, are already being sold in the European and Chinese markets.
For Jirachai, the design show was an ideal venue to get Korean consumers' response.
"We want to test if our design matches the taste of Korean people or not," Jirachai said. "Each market has specific requirements in terms of design. So, to be able to enter the Korean market properly, we need to study the market."
Visitors look at innovative design products at Design Korea 2016 at KINTEX in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Nov. 11, 2016. (Yonhap)
Next to Deesawat's booth, a Spanish design consultancy, Mormedi, displayed its concept of next-generation retailing.
By analyzing a consumer's gender, age, height, body type, skin tone and hair, the Spanish company's retailing system shows all suitable items on offer at both at the physical store and with its online service.
"There will be no need for the customer to remove clothing; a natural interaction with real-time displays allows the client to fit clothes virtually, share images in real time on social networks with friends and collect the purchase in store or opt for home delivery," Mormedi said in a statement.
The Mormedi booth was greeted by a group of Korean university students who major in industrial and product design.
A Chinese Yiwu design center's booth at Design Korea 2016 at KINTEX in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Nov. 11, 2016. (Yonhap)
Deesawat and Mormedi were among dozens of foreign firms which set up their booths at the design fair.
An official at the exhibition's organizing committee said the number of foreign firms participating in the annual fair has been on a steady rise.
"Foreign firms appear to have increasingly let their products be designed and tested in the Korean market," said an official who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to media.
The five-day fair ended on Sunday under the theme of "Design Korea, Beyond Asia," with a total of 317 domestic companies and about 40 foreign firms showing off about 1,500 products in five categories -- home and living, furniture and interior, clothes and fashion, leisure and health, and stationery and toys.
KT Corp. shows off services using Internet of Things technology at Design Korea 2016 at KINTEX in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Nov. 11, 2016. (Yonhap)
During the fair, KT Corp., the nation's biggest Internet service provider, displayed its latest services using Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
IoT, which allows everyday appliances to link to the Internet, is seen as one of the major technological developments of the Internet and a new revenue source for telecoms firms.
"In a world where industrial, economic and social systems change at breakneck speed, the role of design is expanding like never before," said Chung Yong-bin, president of the Korea Institute of Design Promotion, one of co-organizers of the exhibition.
Award-winning traditional Korean hanbok are on display at Design Korea 2016 on Nov. 11, 2016. (Yonhap)
"We are moving away from a quantity-driven society to one that emphasizes integrity and quality. With this change, design will play an even greater role in terms of both hardware and software," Chung said in a statement.
"Korean design is recognized as having almost reached world class and is at the center of global exchanges in the world market. Through collaboration with online and offline business markets in China and other parts of the world, Korean design is building a strong network to further expand to global markets," Chung said.
In August this year, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said it will invest 40 billion won (US$34.2 million) by 2020 to improve the country's industrial design capability and develop higher value-added products.
Under the scheme, 100 potential firms will receive a full package of research and development on design, sales channel and marketing in order to encourage them to focus more on design-led product development and sales.
An additional 30 billion won will be set aside to introduce a short-term R&D voucher that directly subsidizes local companies making instant investment into design R&D projects within 6 months, the ministry said.
Buyers from 18 countries, including majors such as Japan's biggest retailer AEON Co. and an association of Chinese merchants, have registered for the show.
Organizers expect that export deals worth 80 billion won will be negotiated at this year's exhibition.