DOIN’MATHANG: A Look Into Seoul's Underground Streetwear Scene
When I think about Seoul and its fashion or streetwear scene, images of crazy kids posing for a blog article about fashion week explode in my mind. I enjoy seeing the extravagant styles occasionally, but I always feel that any sense of authenticity is distorted through the countless blog recaps.
You may see interesting and exotic style choices in each Highsnobiety and Hypebeast article, but these pictures are obviously distant from the real scene in Seoul and don’t accurately display the land’s real essence. So, who are the people behind this scene? Where are the underground movements and authentic vibes? Who can I get my hands dirty with while eating Korean BBQ and enjoying an armada of cold drinks?
For me, streetwear is still under the umbrella of “culture”, and you need real people and creators that you won’t find flaunting in front of the fashion week insanity. They either don’t want to be there, or they aren’t welcome (yet).
Fortunately, I found DOIN’MATHANG or better said, they found me. At the end of 2017, one of the designers wrote to me on Instagram and asked for my opinion on the new collection and sent some garms for me to try. I realized the moment I checked their Instagram that I had gained access to some genuine South Korean creatives and an interesting angle for a feature story about the brand and culture.
DOIN’MATHANG is a small label from Seoul that keeps its pace and style far away from the typical vibe you would expect in a city so invested in fashion/streetwear. The people behind the brand are still young and provide refreshing content in a scene that seems to be overrun by camera-happy bloggers.
I am very happy to introduce you to Jung Byung-Hwa, one of the brand’s designers, and his way of explaining the Seoul streetwear scene.
DOIN’MATHANG: A Look Into Seoul's Underground Streetwear Scene
Hey Jung, can you please tell us a little bit about you and your life in Korea? Where are you from and what are you working on right now?
Hello, Adrian. It’s an honour to have an interview! I’m 26 years old and live in Seoul, South Korea. Currently, I’m operating a brand, DOIN’MATHANG, with my partner, MJ. We are from provincial counties, but we moved to Seoul to operate the brand.
How did you and MJ find out about your shared passion and when did you decide to start a brand with him?
I went to the same university as MJ. When I first met him, he seemed lazy and wasn’t very interested in school. We had common interests in hip-hop music and clothing. Also, we could share stories because we were in the same university club. We were both very interested in clothes, so we decided to make our own. The first item we made was a camp cap, but we had no website and no one really knew about it. There is still some inventory left. I tried extremely hard to push the brand, but it was too difficult to operate the brand in Daejeon. Our university was there, but all the factories and nice stores were in Seoul. Plus, I wanted to live there. Haha. We moved to Seoul in 2016 without any preparation. There is a saying, “ignorance is brave”. That’s how DOIN’MATHANG began.
What can we expect from the streetwear scene in Korea? And more specifically, what does your life in streetwear look like?
The Korean streetwear scene is getting better. There are so many talented new designers and brands with distinct personalities. But, they are not well known, similar to us. If the Korean streetwear scene continues to thrive, I’m sure it will have a fresh impact on the global level. Hip-hop musicians and celebrities affected Korea’s scene. I think they are partially responsible for the onslaught of quick trends. Earlier this year, Rothco’s “color camo pants” were extremely popular, and we would see dozens of people wearing them every day. However, the trend has already disappeared. Trends are a very important element in street fashion, but I don’t intend to conform to them. I think the brand’s culture is more important than popular trends. I want to create a brand that is distinct instead of being sensitive to every trend. So, I didn’t go outside when I designed our capsule collection.
Man is bound to be affected too much by what he sees frequently.
If people talk about Korean fashion and streetwear, most of them will have the same Highsnobiety and Hypebeast fashion week photos in mind. But, there must be more, right? If you had the chance to show another aspect of Seoul’s fashion, lifestyle, and culture, what would it be?
Frankly speaking, I’m not very familiar with fashion week style. It’s accepted as a part of the Korean streetwear scene, but I don’t like it because it feels too extravagant for me. Korean street fashion is very diverse. If you have a chance to visit Seoul, I recommend going to the Jong-ro or Dongm-yo area. The older population resides there and it allows you to see Korea’s older fashion styles instead of new trends.The younger generation is addicted to fashion and doesn’t care for outdated clothing. We call these young people “back-breakers” because they want to get brand new items every season. It’s a terrible aspect of Korean fashion culture. But, it’s interesting to see trends come and go. Unfortunately, it is not easy to see the complexity behind this on the internet.
What kind of subcultures can we find in Seoul and how hard is it for an outsider, travellers or tourist to find access to these scenes?
Nowadays, hip-hop culture is very popular in Korea. It’s no exaggeration to say that Korea is in the middle of a hip-hop craze. The hip-hop show, “Show Me The Money”, is a massive deal. The show has made countless people famous and changed some lives completely. South Korea’s subcultures are evolving. Similar to other countries, there are subcultures composed of skateboarders, b-boys and graffiti artists. The general public doesn’t support these groups, but Seoul is more active than other local cities so you see people who are interested in similar things. You need to remember that I came from a provincial town. When I worked at a skateboard shop in Daejeon, I used to smoke all day because no customers came in. Haha.
Let’s talk about your designs! When did you start designing clothing and why?
That’s my favourite question to answer, but it’s also the most embarrassing. Let me start by taking a step back in time. As I said earlier, I’m from a rural area. Furthermore, I have never learned about fashion in a professional environment, and I wouldn’t describe it as a natural talent.
My parents hated street fashion when I was younger and they always asked me to dress neatly. I bought a pair of skinny jeans, which were very popular at the time, and my parents cut them up in front of me. But, I didn’t give up my interest in fashion. As time went by, I eventually met my current partner MJ at school. I had a lot of conversations with him because we had similar interests in life and fashion. We complained there were no brands we liked currently. So, I started designing because I wanted to make clothing I wanted to wear. But, I didn’t know anything about designing and I didn’t think it would be hard to make a brand.
So what is DOIN’MATHANG? When did it start and what is your idea behind the brand?
We interpreted it as “I’m on the way towards my goal”. We thought the idea behind the brand was similar to our lives and we decided to choose it as the brand name. Simply put, DOIN’MATHANG is our attitude about life.
Compared to the highly complicated and sometimes beautiful, weird designs we see on these Seoul Fashion Week recaps, your collections seem very laid back and cozy. So, what is your interpretation of Korean streetwear and why is it cozy?
South Korea is described as an internet paradise. As far as I know, South Korea is the number one place for internet usage, and it’s overflowing with information. Korean streetwear is very diverse because people have access to such a large amount of fashion-related information, but people still follow trends. Even though it’s hard to accept, it’s fun to see if you’re open to it. Haha.
We pursue “cozywear” because we think it’s cool to be comfortable. In this sense, the attitude of the wearer is included in our products. People shouldn’t be concerned about what they can or can’t do in certain garments. Clothing should be worn. That’s why we care about our product’s durability. Cozywear is achieved through your physical comfort and attitude while wearing the clothing. Clearly, cozywear is not something we make unilaterally.So if you wear our goods, go everywhere you want. We don’t want you to worry about anything.
Some of your designs seem to have a western, 90s vintage vibe going on. Is that something you were aiming at especially?
In the beginning, we were influenced by old school 90’s fashion. I wanted to convey a defiant message that says “no matter what happens, I’ll do my thing”.
So what inspires you and the mottos behind your capsule collections?
I’m always inspired by our current situation when preparing for the season. The messages we are subjected to are the messages we want to translate through our clothing. It’s better if the audience can empathize and relate to the ideas. The latest capsule “MY RACE, MY PACE” was a direct result from Korean culture and the ideas surrounding us. South Korea is a country where the herd mentality is extremely prevalent. It’s very common for people to give up their interests and passions in an attempt to make a living. They will devote themselves to information they don’t care about so they can work at a big company. It seems to be a series of choices that are irrelevant to one's own will. For these reasons, most people have a similar lifestyle. But, people who live in different ways tend to be less confident about life. Young people face this reality in South Korea, and we have a hard time because of it. It’s time for young people to fight back against the outdated Korean idea of success.
I really like the idea and wording of your 4th capsule “Ready To Fail“. This is a refreshing approach in this fast, consumer-driven society where everybody is trying to reach the top of the mountain immediately. What was the idea or inspiration behind it and how important is it to make mistakes and fail?
Again, our experiences have melted into a message. In fact, there was a mistake in the fourth collection, and it had to be scrapped. It was an invisible flaw, but we redesigned the garments and the collection was successfully produced through a different manufacturing method. The experience was a big failure for us, but the production process became more organized with a greater focus on quality. Of course, when I make mistakes, I get angry. But, I think there is no next step if we get possessed by emotion. It’s important to view failure as a surmountable incident that happens before the next level can be reached. Despite what others admit, they often crave higher levels of achievement. Abstract creative endeavours, unlike money, can’t be measured. People involved in art, clothing, architecture, or music rarely feel satisfied. Even if the outcome is successful, it could be a failure for the person who made it. Success is ultimately a series of failures.
Since your 3rd capsule, you have been using the logo seen on your recent tracksuits. What does this design mean?
Our basic logo is encompassed in a circle. In South Korea, people often ask me what “DOIN’MATHANG" means. Thus, we devoted ourselves to designing a logo that conveys the brand name visually. Does it look like that? Haha.
To explain, there is one path and rising-lights. Just like the brand name, DOIN’MATHANG, we expressed a message that if you go your own way without giving up, you will see a good outcome. The big logos from the third collection were actually just patches from the first collection. The logo is composed of wine, navy, and orange. There is no particular reason, those are just our favourite colors.
Who are the people you want to design clothing for? Who should wear DOIN’MATHANG?
We don’t design goods for anybody else, and we don’t want a specific group wearing our clothing. Of course, I prefer my style, but I don't want to force others to wear the clothes. Some will wear our clothing tight, and some will wear it loose. We just hope whoever wears it is cozy, but we still pay attention to details and quality. I think this is a courtesy our customers deserve.
Is it frustrating to see the media only cover the mainstream fashion shows in Seoul and not invest any real interest in South Korea’s other brands and movements?
If I say I’m not dissatisfied, I’m lying. Who wouldn’t want to get attention and become famous? But, I don’t think that’s my goal. Obviously, it would be nice if the media was interested in the brand’s movement. I always want our brand to look fun and I try to do that. If other people think we’re funny, they will definitely want to join us. We want to have fun with different people and stay true to ourselves. Eventually, the media will want to join.
So what needs to happen for more magazines and media outlets to look deeper into Korean streetwear and fashion and start talking about brands like DOIN’MATHANG ?
I think an open mind is required. Just because the brand isn’t mainstream doesn’t mean it’s tasteless and low-quality. There are countless old brands that disappear strictly because they are not mainstream. I’m sure there are great brands we never got a chance to learn about. I don’t think any brand can become mainstream from its start.
So does fashion week take away from the real scene, or do you still consider it a positive?
I still think positively about it. The excessive styles I see in Fashion Week are not my favourite. But, I don’t think negatively about them. The style you see in Seoul Fashion Week may be the “real scene” to someone. I don’t deserve to criticize it because I don’t like the style. I think it’s an important element of Korean fashion and I respect it. Sometimes it gives me fresh inspiration.
How do you and your friends feel about fashion outside of South Korea? Are there any foreign brands you really like?
We are very interested in foreign brands. There are so many cool brands in the world! I like various items from countless different companies. Japanese brands are especially interesting to me. I went to Tokyo for a trip, and I saw almost every store in Harajuku and Shibuya. All the shops were nice and the clothing was impeccable. Among the places I visited, the SOPH. store in Harajuku really had its own vibe. It carries F.C. Real Bristol, a brand I love for its jackets. Also, Visvims’s “Lhamo” jacket is really interesting even though I wasn’t able to see it personally.
This is another story, but have you ever been to the RRL store in Harajuku? The place is really fantastic. Everything in there is perfect. The products, interior and small props combine to form a fantastic environment. In addition, the employees are very cool.
So compared to other countries, what is special about trying to make a brand in South Korea?
I think it’s important to even attempt making a brand in South Korea. Most people give up before trying because they fear the future. Research has shown it takes regular office workers 13 years to own a home in Seoul. The time frame is higher than New York and Tokyo. Due to this environment, it may seem foolish attempting a creative venture. I have many friends around me who are hesitant for various reasons. I always tell them to try but, the idea is not easy for them to grasp.
What brands do you look up to right now from South Korea? Are there any brands you feel are doing great right now?
Ah, that is a hard question. There are so many brands I like. I enjoy learning about different brands, and my wallet inevitably gets lighter. Anyway, if I have to choose a brand I really enjoy, I would say Mischief. It focuses on women and reinterprets vintage archives from various cultures. The brand has a very distinct character. I think it’s going to maintain its own unmistakable characteristics for a long time, which is a great asset. Also, the clothes are very cool. Sometimes Mischief’s clothing makes me want to be a girl. Haha.
Thank you very much for your time and answers!
You are welcome, B.