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South Korea's Chameleon Eyewear Brand – Gentle Monster

By Guan Tan

The centrepiece of Gentle Monster's latest store in Singapore.
Gentle Monster
The centrepiece of Gentle Monster's latest store in Singapore.

It was last year when questions like, "Is brick-and-mortar obsolete?" punctuated fashion publications. Consumers seem fatigued by the old-fashioned shopping experience and were turning to e-commerce instead. Physical stores were forced to reinvent themselves to cajole their shoppers back. 

A year has passed and we're witnessing new retail concepts sprout. The crux of these stores is to amalgamate vastly dissimilar activities, creating new retail experiences along the way. There have been cafes married to car dealers, home interiors in fashion boutiques, in-store artisans working on product customisations, a cafe-restaurant-art workshop retail space, and most commonly, art galleries. The latest to pull this trick in Singapore is perhaps, South Korean eyewear brand, Gentle Monster. 

In the past, stores favoured standardised interior furnishing and design across the globe. It all points to cementing customer loyalty and familiarity. Now, they are straying from it. Gentle Monster, for instance, banks on "newness", says their spatial designers Somi Shim and Wonho Moon. 

The brand doesn't seem to worry about consumer loyalty. To Shim, perhaps all things new is the winning formula.

Gentle MonsterInside Gentle Monster's latest store, or what the brand dubs 'showroom' in Singapore.
Inside Gentle Monster's latest store, or what the brand dubs 'showroom' in Singapore.

The current retail landscape is "in the midst of [change]," she adds. Fashion and accessories brands like Gentle Monster are finding their way in the dark. Shim proudly admits, "We have started seeing other brands try to mimic our concepts but they are not able to." Gentle Monster has an in-house team dedicated to conceptualising their flagship stores. "The response has been good, especially for the Singapore store. A lot of customers have told us that they really like the store concept," space designer Moon adds.

Now that shopping is a visual feast, it definitely sounds exciting for the jaded consumers. Yet, there lurks a major problem – waste.

The 6-year-old eyewear brand has 14 flagship stores around the globe – seven in South Korea, one in New York, four in China, one in Hong Kong, and one in Singapore. 

Every single store speaks a distinct artistic language – interior and facade. In Daegu, South Korea the store currently mimics a posh launderette. In Busan, South Korea, an underground dungeon maze. In Hong Kong, a colonial train station. Other stores may have art installations of art pieces – like in Singapore, disparate structures inspired by cinematographer Ron Fricke's film. 

The store facades are, on average, completely refurbished "once a year," space designer, Shim announces.

When asked if the frequent store overhauls incur much waste, Shim did not reply.

Here in Singapore, in 2016 alone, material waste like metals came up to 7,300 tonnes. Glass stands at 57,600 tonnes, and wood, 119,100 tonnes. Plastics, however, top the charts at 762,700 tonnes. 

The South Korean brand raked in US$160 million (S$216.9 million) worth of revenue in 2015 alone but does not have a corporate social responsibility or sustainability agenda on their website. 

Like how fashion and accessories brand integrate reliable manufacturing partners into their startup process, maybe it's time that waste reduction partners are included. Waste reduction is a concerted move, and it takes leading brands to set the chain reaction in motion. 

Brands may be eager to go all out to earn recognition, discussing how they have the most trailblazing ideas. Yet, in an increasingly sustainability-literate market, this is a pressing dialogue to have.