In spite of the economic depression that is sweeping the whole world, Korean consumption of luxury goods seems to remain unaffected. According to statistical data released by the Financial Supervisory Service and luxury brand corporations, Louis Vuitton Korea and Ferragamo Korea earned 168.9 billion won 55.3 billion won each, recording increases of 39.4% and 15.6% respectively. Koreans are buying up luxury items more than ever before. Even Seoul National University students are not free from this luxury boom. It is not unusual to see students carrying luxury handbags from Louis Vuitton or Gucci on campus. These items, while no doubt of fine quality, are obviously much overpriced relative to their design or function. Then what are the reasons for buying these items, what explains the boom, and what do other students think about this tendency?
Two causes can be attributed to this trend. One is social, one is individual.
First, there are a few social causes. The first cause is Asia’s rapid economic growth. According to Radha Chadha and Paul Husband, who co-wrote Luxplosion, Korea’s rapid economic development over the last few decades created confusion among consumers. Unlike Western developed countries, Asian consumers were not slowly introduced to the world of luxury items but were suddenly given the power to purchase such items without having yet established a firm foundation for a healthy spending culture. This leads to irresponsible addictions to luxury items even in times when such items cannot logically be afforded, such as in times of financial crisis.
The second societal reason is Korea’s distinctive cultural background. Unlike many Western peoples, East Asians emphasize the feeling of belongingness and the feeling of homogeneity. Even within East Asia, Koreans especially attach great importance to these feelings. So, if a Korean notices that many people carry luxury goods and he or she doesn’t, he or she may feel unworthy or ostracized. To maintain one’s identity as being part of the group that is leading Korean culture at the time, even those people who would not usually purchase overpriced items may do so.
There are also a few private causes for buying luxuru brand items. The first is luxury good’s high quality. An anonymous source (09) said that it is evident that luxury goods are of higher quality than standard market itmes. They are more durable and comfortable. He said, “If you can use luxury goods for a year and more comfortably while you can only use normal goods for three months, it is rational to use the former.”
Another reason is luxury goods’ great design. Most of luxury goods are not throwaway goods but able to be used for a long time. Therefore, it is important to take the goods’ design into account so that they do not go out of fashion too soon. Also, because companies of luxury goods can afford to employ more competent designers than normal companies, the design they create are publicly appealing.
However, some students view this trend negatively. They believe that buying luxury goods is a waste of money and students who buy such items are showing off or fabricating their social status. That is, if people who can afford luxury goods buy them, they are showing off their wealth, and if people who can't afford them buy them, they are fabricating their status. “If people don’t know that he or she is carrying Louis Vuitton or he or she is in an isolated island whose inhabitants are ignorant of luxury goods, he or she will not use them even if it’s durable as there’s no one to show his or her luxury goods off to.” said Park Hyun-Yoo (College of Humanities, 09).
written by: Yeon Dong-hyun