A few months back I wrote about K-Pop inspired NBA products, courtesy of South Korean apparel maker MK Trend. The NBA, in a shrewd marketing move, had given the Gangnam-based company permission to alter team colors as they see fit, so the products would have more appeal to South Koreans. So to scope out the real product, I visited Seoul last week and paid a visit to the flagship NBA store in Apgujeong—man, was walking inside a trip.
Bright, pastel colors, not unlike the setting of a typical K-Pop video, filled the store wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. The first thing that caught my eye was the floral gear, a Spurs jacket and Bulls tee that seemed like something Russell Westbrook would totally wear. Then there were the floral skirts (ok, also something that Westbrook could conceivably wear).
Many of the caps made no sense. Why do the Sixers have a leopard print? Who’s that cartoon character that makes up the Nuggets logo? And holy crap, what’s up with the Big Bird-like Wizard with the bowtie? Other more sane items look good.
MK Trend’s CEO, Michael Kim, told me his company teamed up with the NBA because he saw an opportunity to parlay the popular NBA brand into hot Korean products. “I wanted to create a line of lifestyle casual wear back a few years ago,” Kim says. “So I approached the NBA about a licensing partnership. I wanted to take advantage of the NBA’s image as a hip lifestyle brand.”
MK Trend approached the NBA in January, 2011. The league, always up for marketing opportunities in Asia, agreed to a deal, and MK Trend began selling NBA gear in its stores that summer. The products have been such a success that MK Trends doubled its stores to 62 in the three years.
The benefits have gone both ways. The league, of course, enjoyed the increased exposure of NBA products in South Korea, whose pop culture is highly influential throughout Asia. K-pop stars like Girl’s Generation, A Pink and actress Song Ji-hyo were seen wearing MK Trend’s flashy NBA gear on screen, in music videos and in the hit show “Running Man”, and that’s led to a boom in NBA gear around Asia—it’s not unusual to see random Korean, Japanese, or Chinese girls wear NBA jerseys or Jordans, even if more than a few of them couldn’t name more than five NBA players.
“I get many tourists from Japan and China coming into our stores, with a picture of K-Pop stars in an NBA hat, asking if they can buy the same one,” says Kim, who concedes that many of them probably don’t even watch the league regularly.
As anyone familiar with K-Pop know, it’s all about the image, and the NBA, by giving MK Trend permission to commit sports sin (can you imagine the reaction of Bostonians to a blue and orange Celtics tank top?) has become part of that culture.
Whether or not these funked up NBA gear are for you, it’s nice to have options. And the NBA store in Seoul has a lot more options than the NBA store New York. Click through the gallery above to take a look at some of the available gear.