Gentle Monster’s jaw-dropping store approach

Korean eyewear retailer Gentle Monster is creating jaw-dropping retail executions across Asia and beyond.

Recently, Inside Retail Asia showcased the Shanghai flagship of this edgy eyewear newcomer. The images accompanying this story are of the equally unique Beijing flagship store, located in the Sanlitun retail precinct.

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Each Gentle Monster flagship features a completely different design format, inspiration and execution – it is the utmost opposite to traditional retail chains’ cookie-cutter store design approach as is possible.  

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“I wanted the products to look as if they were being exhibited,” explains Hankook Kim, founder and CEO of Gentle Monster. And so the in-store concepts have become something of a calling card for the brand.

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As Australian retail consultant Brian Walker observes in a column on disruptive retailing, every retail store in their ecosystem is completely different; from ‘Platform’ in Hong Kong; designed like a train carriage, to ‘L’Artisan’ in Shanghai and ‘Secret Apartment’ in Beijing.

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“Each store is a three-dimensional still life, with its own back-themed story.”

Gentle Monster was founded in 2012 after a chance meeting between Kim and Korean serial entrepreneur Jae W Oh at an English summer camp in Seoul a year earlier. Oh took a liking to Kim and invited him to come up with a concept worthy of his cash.

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“When I first began looking into eyewear and researching the market, I found that it was a very union-controlled industry that was not explored as an artistic form,” Kim said in a recent interview with The Business of Fashion.

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And so a brand was born. Kim identified an opportunity to create oversize spectacles for Asian consumers, for whom having a small face is a compliment. “There were no competitors for oversize glasses, which make heads look smaller.” Asians also require eyewear with a low bridge. “Eyewear was all about the Western facial structure.”

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He found a factory in Daegu abandoned by Luxottica who shifted production to China, and another plant in China where he could produce acetate frames (illegal to manufacture in Korea).

Gentle Monster’s rise has been swift. In 2014 the brand achieved revenues of US$40 million, predominantly in Korea and China. That figure grew four-fold to $160 million the following year, with figures for 2016 not yet revealed.

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The brand’s frames range in price from a little over $200 for an entry-level pair, to $500+ for something more exotic. Like its stores, its frame designs are often unusual – or even “strange” as The Business of Fashion observed.  

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Flush with success of its eyewear range, Gentle Monster is now deciding which other categories to expand into.

“Gentle Monster started out as an optical company, but the goal is to make it a creatively disruptive corporation,” says Kim. “Brand really is the genuine tool.”

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