At first sight, one would think that they were in front of a “K-store” – a shop carrying Korean items.
A quick peek inside, however, reveals the extent of the deception, the opportunistic facade unable to mask the reality of the wares being touted within – Chinese knockoffs of popular Korean brands and products.
Welcome to the latest in Chinese copycat business, thriving in Vietnam’s shopping districts of late. According to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra), a multitude of shops operated by Chinese companies pretending to be Korean brands have popped up in Vietnam.
A Vietnam-based official with Kotra said: “In general, awareness of copyright protection in Vietnam is still in its infancy, so any claim to legal rights there is less likely to be recognised. At stake is the ripple effect on genuine Korean brands. That is, unfavorable reviews among Vietnamese consumers for these cheap Chinese knockoffs might generate negative sentiment for Korean brands in general down the road.”
Mumuso, Ilahui and Mini Good are among the prosperous brands mimicking so-called “K-brands”. Kotra estimates there are now 70 such shops trading in Vietnam.
Mumuso is a dead ringer for a typical Korean brand shop, replete with a .kr web presence and the letters ‘KR’ in its logo, and Hangeul (Korean script) on its signage and packaging. After debuting in the Vietnamese market in December 2016, Mumuso has expanded to 27 stores nationwide. Some, in tourists spots like Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker haven Pham Ngu Lao district, trade late into the night.
The Korean knock-off phenomenon reflects an underlying sentiment in Vietnam for now: rising anti-China emotions and an increasingly positive view of South Korea – largely driven by the success of Vietnam’s national football team at the AFC U-23 Championships last year, a ‘Cinderella team’ helmed by the ‘Vietnamese Hiddink’, who is none other than South Korean Park Hang-seo.
Mumuso proudly and boldly announces on its web page that it operates a number of chains in the Asia-Pacific region, including in South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, China and Malaysia, and that it is also planning to add more stores to its existing portfolio.
Another company, Illahui, also uses Hangeul and “Korea” in its branding. With its Vietnamese presence established in September 2016, the company’s web page features a female model wearing a hanbok, Korean traditional dress. Illahui also claims it is a famous brand in South Korea, but for South Korean consumers who are keenly aware of popular trends and hip brands, mention of the brand name Illahui typically draws a blank, according to industry sources.
Back in the bustling streets of urban Vietnam, one cannot pass by these copycat stores without hearing the catchy melodies of K-pop music, and once inside, shoppers invariably encounter a variety of items with descriptions in clumsy Korean, but of Chinese origin.
- Jerry M Kim writes for Korea Bizwire. Additional reporting by Robert Stockdill.