Korea may not be renowned as a global fashion hotspot, but as EunHyuk Lee from Kasina explains, that’s all set to change. For twelve years Kasina has been the vanguard of an emergent Korean street style. Being so tantalisingly close to Tokyo means that Korea quickly inherits the hottest Harajuku trends. But now a more assured Korean identity is emerging, one with its own home-grown fashion sense and sneaker smarts. In recognition of Korea’s growing street scene, Reebok enlisted Kasina to design their own Pump for their twentieth anniversary celebrations. We caught up with EunHyuk Lee to get an insider’s guide to K-style.

Congratulations on your work with Reebok for the Pump 20 project. It must’ve been nice to be asked to join in?
I truthfully never expected to work with Reebok for the Pump20 project. I am very happy to be a part of Reebok’s original sneaker line.

Sneakers have long been associated with Japan, but not many of us would know much about Korea when it comes to streetwear. Tell us about your store and how Korea fits into the rest of the world as far as influences go.
I do agree that Japan has the most power in the Asian sneaker market. Two years ago the Korean sneaker market was dependent on how the Japanese sneaker market was doing. For example, Japan-exclusive Nikes were way more popular than USA exclusives. Also, Japanese brands like Tas Mania, Ubiq and Visvim were very popular too. If new brands or trends became popular in the USA then they went to Japan first and then Korea. So basically Korean Street fashion or sneaker culture was directly imported from Japan. But there are many people in the Korean street scene who try to make their own culture and style. Kasina opened twelve years ago as a little skateboard shop. Of course, I was a pro-skateboarder and I always dreamed about having my own store. I guess I did make my dreams come true in some way.
When I opened up the skate shop there was no market for street brands. It was only for sportswear brands (Nike, Adidas and Reebok) and casual brands (Polo and Tommy). But Kasina created the category of street fashion in Korea and developed it very quickly. I don’t want to say that Kasina is the leader of Korean street fashion… it’s more that we have kept the same style for more than ten years. That’s why Kasina is the biggest company in Korean street culture. The Korean market doesn’t have much clout internationally… probably because the size of our market is smaller than Japan and other countries. But I can tell you that it’s getting bigger and Korea has the potential to become a blue-chip international market.

Do you have many Korean brands in the store? Are there any that could be successful internationally?
I have some Korean brands in the store. There are no Korean brands that are internationally successful. But many of these brands were started less than two years ago. There are many brands that have the potential to become successful overseas. Convernat (www.convernat.net) and Liful (www.liful.net) are the two that have the most potential. Kasina will start our apparel collection and footwear range in the near future. We are planning to start off with footwear first. There are no Korean brands who actually have a sneaker line… I want to be the one who starts it. We will probably launch our sneaker collection around Christmas time… hopefully we get a chance to introduce our collection in your magazine!

Do you have any home-grown stars like Kanye West or Pharrel who are influential in your world of fashion and sneakers?
There are a lot of celebrities who lead Korean fashion. Like Bigbang, 2NE1, MC Mong, Dynamic Duo and Drunken Tiger. They are not directly influential in my world of street fashion and sneakers but they are the ones creating broad trends in Korea.

What do your customers think of Pump technology?  Are they excited that you have created a shoe for them?
Since there was originally a lack of marketing and PR for the Pump in Korea people might not know how the technology works. But I’m sure they are excited that Kasina has worked on the Pump. Come on.. who wouldn’t like their own collaboration sneakers? Reebok is working on a pop-up store for Pump20 at one of our Kasina stores. And they are planning to have some big marketing behind it. So I think it will be a good chance for customers to get to learn more about Pump technology.

Now, the first thing we noticed about your Pump was that it’s very bold and very red. Did you have that colour already locked in when you visited Reebok HQ for the design meetings?
Red and blue are the standard colours of Korea. Also, the Kasina logo is red too. I wanted to use red in a simple colorway that is easy to match when you actually rock it.

I also wanted to ask… In Western culture, red stands for fire, anger, danger and love, amongst other things. Does red have the same meaning in Korea?
In some way, it’s similar. But red usually doesn’t mean anger. It’s more like passion…

And finally, what is your favorite Pump model of all time?
My favourite Pump model is ARC collaboration. It was clean and fresh. Who can ever come out with the idea of using tennis ball material on the whole body was a genius!

Translated by SJ

Make sure you check out our complete Pump20 coverage!

Yo! Reebok Pump Up,  Air Out!: The Greatest Story Never Told

Reebok Pump Designer – Paul Litchfield

Dee Brown – The No-Look Dunk Interview

DJ Senatore – World’s Greatest Reebok Pump Collector