Swarovski, an Austrian maker of jewelry and other crystal items, is one of the first luxury brands to encourage local consumers to design their own items.
/ Courtesy of Swarovski
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Walk around a department store in Seoul and it may seem like almost every other item is sparkling with crystals ― from jewelry, dresses and shoes to tea cups, chandeliers and even refrigerators.
``Anything that `bling blings' or glitters ― there's a more than 50 percent chance that it will be Swarovski,'' Sylvia Nami Oh, country manager for Swarovski Korea, told The Korea Times, at her office in Sindang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul.
Swarovski, the world-famous Austrian luxury brand, synonymous with crystal glass, is immensely popular for its jewelry and collectible figurines around the world, including Korea.
The Swarovski Group's total turnover in 2009 amounted to 2.25 billion euro ($2.9 billion), of which 1.77 billion euro ($2.3 billion) is from the crystal business, according to the company's Web site.
In recent years, Swarovski has been leading the do-it-yourself (DIY) trend in Korea with its ``Create Your Style with Swarovski Elements'' program. The Web site www.create-your-style.kr has attracted over 6,000 members since it was launched last year, but Oh admitted the crystal DIY market is still relatively small compared to the U.S. and Japan.
``DIY is a very special business unit for us because we're talking about supporting the hobbyists who enjoy playing and creating with crystals... We try to be the bridge for the hobbyists on our Web site so they can get information about the products, trends, where to purchase materials and crystal DIY kits,'' she said.
Aside from the Web site, Swarovski also introduced a Crystal Style book, which explains what crystal DIY is all about and includes simple instructions on how to make jewelry and accessories.
Last weekend, the company also held an exhibition featuring the winners of the first Create Your Style design contest in Korea. The contest proved to be a success, attracting over 320 entries of both professional and amateur designers throughout the country. Swarovski also conducted a special workshop on how to decorate an iPhone case, while four DIY jewelry companies held workshops on how to make earrings and necklaces.
The DIY market may still be overwhelmingly female, but the target market is for anyone who wants to be creative and wants to have their own personal style.
A growing number of men are also becoming interested. ``At some of the workshops, we've had some men who wanted to learn how to make crystal jewelry. During White Day (March 14), we had men involved because they wanted to make something unique for their loved ones. It's things like this where you can be creative and customize a gift, and the value will be so much more,'' Oh said.
Oh practices what she preaches, as she showed off her black cell phone decorated with Swarovski crystal elements. Even the black ring with a crystal on her finger is one-of-a-kind, since it was made especially for her by a staff member.
Swarovski has also been working in collaboration with many companies and designers in Korea, who have incorporated Swarovski crystal elements in their products. For instance, LG offers a Swarovski crystal-studded refrigerator, while Bean Pole handbags and Guess jeans have been embellished with crystal elements.
``We are adding value to their products. Instead of just selling loose crystal elements, we are offering our brand. We are also teaching them how to apply those elements and offering design support, trend services and even brand partnerships,'' Oh said.
While it may seem that Swarovski is already everywhere, Oh said there are still some opportunities in lighting, interior decoration and art that can be further explored.
Oh, who had previously worked for Nike and Walt Disney Company, strives to bring creativity and passion to her job at Swarovski.
``I like the creative part of it. I don't think you can ever get bored, which is very surprising because you're thinking of these small crystals. But with these small things you can work with them on so many other things,'' she said, with a smile.
Asked if she thinks there are challenges to being a woman executive in Korea, Oh said: ``I think there is always a challenge when you're working as an executive in any company, regardless of being a woman or a man. You have to look over the entire operation and on top of that try to bring creativity and to work with different customers... But there are also advantages (for a woman) especially since this (job) involves creativity, fashion and beauty.''