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Fashion in China and South Korea(2015 – 2017)

“We all know the international fashion cycles. Two main collections are being launched twice – spring/summer and fall/winter every year…You can say such a cycle is completely grounded on a commercial logic and business mode of operation…[To me, fashion] is about ordinary people, about the renaissance of the virtues of traditional Chinese craftsmanship, grounded in reality, and to our everyday life…I’m pretty resistant to purely commercial designs. Design is…an outlook to the world…for exploring our inner and genuine thoughts.”

(Ma Ke, renowned Chinese fashion designer, founder of Useless [Wuyong])

“I wish there were many options in Korea because now I think I don’t choose fashion. Fashion chooses me . . . One fashion item trends in all of the shops, the entire Internet, all merchandise, all advertise one item, one size.

(Yuh, Female fashion consumer)

My ECS research looks into both fashion production and consumption in China and South Korea. I examine the social construction of ‘fashionability’, with reference to the concept ‘cultural mediators’ that foregrounds agency, negotiation and the contested practices of market actors in cultural production. It zeroes in on the cultural mediators’ attitudes and positions in the two markets by drawing on in-depth interviews with 25 industry veterans. It shows that the mediators in South Korea and China increasingly occupy hybrid occupational roles and social positions across industries and sectors yet achieve limited success in countering the status quo of Western fashion through mediation. The analysis contributes to the literature with acategorisation of seven mediation practices that shape the valuation of fashion products in two ways. This categorisation illuminates how cultural mediators make reference habitually to the broader social and cultural contexts to co-construct cultural-aesthetic objects.

 

Meanwhile, there is a bourgeoning literature on consumers’ increased power through the prosumption process and its evolutions and manifestations in various industries, markets and social contexts. By extending Ritzer’s reconceptualised idea of prosumption beyond the Global North, my research analysed fashion consumers in China and South Korea, whose countries shared rapidly rising economic status and cultural significance yet underwent different sociocultural trajectories. Using focus group interview, we investigated how these consumers interact differentially with the existing social structure, cultural values and other emergent social agents, and the extent to which they are able to exert an influence on the production of symbolic fashion. My study explored prosumption’s vicissitudes and limits as a theoretical concept, challenging its universality across different cultures, political-economic models and product categories.

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