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Industry

Shop Visit :: RAWROW

by , July 14, 2016

We last heard from Seoul brand RAWROW nearly two years ago, in the form of a five-question interview and a Drive By review of their R Bag 302. I recently had the chance to visit the brand in their design studio and talk shop. Here’s what I learned…

A few months ago I was chosen to visit South Korea (my first time), to attend an international convention in the country’s capital of Seoul. Although I had a jam-packed schedule, I reached out to some Korean brands in hopes that we could find a mutual time to sit down and talk shop. After what seemed like three dozen emails exchanged with Inhye Kim, the director of international sales, I was finally able to meet her and founder Wee Hyun Lee at their flagship store and design studio HQ.

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The Brand

The first thing to note is the store is located in the artsy and trendy collegiate neighborhood of Hongdae. It was just three stops from my hotel, north of the Han River and west of the main portion of the city. I’ll admit, I got lost and the only way I was able to find the store was because a local man out on a walk with his family insisted on escorting me to the store. RAWROW sits on top of a hill, about 50 yards from a busy street below. Despite being just a short distance from the hustle and bustle of students from Hongik University and tourists from abroad, the store and studio are surprisingly quiet.

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I made my way upstairs and met with Inhye and Q and after catching my breath, we started discussing the brand. What was made clear from the beginning is RAWROW continues to embody their theme which is apparent in their name. The raw in RAWROW is meant to invoke a sense of simplicity. I mistakenly thought the brand was focused on raw goods or raw materials but Inhye steered me straight.

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We discussed their best selling line – The Rugged Series. To date, six different styles have been released (ranging from backpacks to totes) and they are all made with thick canvas coated with polyurethane for stain and water resistance. In addition, they have a Microfibre line and the Rope Series. The former is the first bag from the company and continues to evolve with different colorways and designs each season. The Rope Series is targeted to consumers who want to carry lighter bags and is available in gray, beige, and navy.

“What was made clear from the beginning is RAWROW continues to embody their theme which is apparent in their name. The raw in RAWROW is meant to invoke a sense of simplicity.”

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In addition to the bags that launched the brand, RAWROW has been diversifying at a quick pace. What really caught my eye is their footwear line. A year ago, they launched R SHOE, in which they apply their minimalistic design aesthetic to the shoes, which draw inspiration from Wingtips and German trainers. The shoes all feature Vibram Outsoles for comfort and durability, vegetable-tanned leather insoles which mold to your feet and absorb moisture, and a waterproof and breathable upper to keep your feet dry in drizzling conditions. I thought the kicks looked amazing and I think it was a smart move on their part to go with such a classic silhouette.

“In addition to the bags that launched the brand, RAWROW has been diversifying at a quick pace. What really caught my eye is their footwear line.”

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A good brand knows how to hustle and RAWROW is no different. They’ve collaborated with magazines, Bradley watches, and even did a project where they interviewed professionals (from a barber to a barista) to learn what they look for in a comfortable shoe. I was surprised to learn that in April 2015, they were invited to Facebook headquarters to open up a pop-up shop. This was all due to an employee who somehow got a hold of one of their bags and was a big enough fan that they insisted the brand get an invite. The reception by visitors was overwhelmingly positive. As I left their studio to visit the store, a team of employees was hand-packaging their latest product – titanium eyewear. Talk about featherweight!

“…in April 2015, they were invited to Facebook headquarters to open up a pop-up shop. This was all due to an employee who somehow got a hold of one of their bags and was a big enough fan that they insisted the brand get an invite.”

The brand was founded four years ago and until now has not been focused on international sales. However, there is an official US store now, which carries about 60% of the inventory of the total line that RAWROW produces. Locally, the brand has six stores, is in 50 concept stores, and is carried by 17 online retailers. In addition, RAWROW occupies floor space in four major department stores in Seoul.

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The Store

On the first level of the white brick building, you’ll find the RAWROW flagship store. The interior design of the store is very much like their brand – simple but effective. It’s minimalism at its finest, with concrete floors and bare walls.  In the center you’ll find their complete range of shoes and they are flanked on both walls with all their bags.

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In the back is a classic white neon sign of their brand, not to be mistaken with their logo which is a simple dash. I couldn’t help but notice some premium window and floor space given to Bellroy. When asked, they said that Bellroy is really popular in Seoul and a best seller in their stores.

“The interior design of the store is very much like their brand – simple but effective. It’s minimalism at its finest, with concrete floors and bare walls.”

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Additionally, I also saw other brands such as accessories from Jason Markk, Danner, and Fjällräven, and watches from Bradley Timepieces. When I asked how they determined who to carry they admitted that they just carried brands that they needed to order to use on their personal wares. That seemed like a pretty good way to run a store if you ask me.

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In parting, Q told me that as they approach their anniversary, he wanted the brand to mature and transform. This could manifest itself in new designs, products, colors, or collaborations. Whichever it is, I am pretty excited to see what one of the most interesting Korean brands will come up with.

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