“Way to her heart is through her purse”

November 13, 2013

Designer bag Kye is the latest trend among single Korean Men

Korean men are joining kye to buy their women designer bags, (Korea Times file)

Korean men are joining kye to buy designer bags for their significant others. (Korea Times file)

By Lee Kyutae

We’ve all heard about Korean ‘kye‘ (pronounced keh) and its problems. Kye is defined in American online dictionaries as “a private Korean banking club to which members pay contributions and  from  which  they  may  takeout  loans, usually  to start  small businesses.”

Well, now one more description should be added – “or for Korean single males to buy designer bags for their brides-to-be.”

One Korean single man in his 30s admitted to being a part of this growing trend and gave this explanation – “I couldn’t give you a good reason as to why I have to buy such an expensive designer bag, but I think it’s important for Korean women. It’s like – you only get married once, and when else can afford to get such an expensive show piece, you know?”

There’s some truth to that argument. On July 26 of this year, Professors Yajin Wang and Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota and their team published an interesting report: “Conspicuous Consumption, Relationships, and Rivals: Women’s Luxury Products as Signals to Other Women.” According to this report, luxury bags help maintain romantic relationships.

Korea Times file

Korea Times file

The researchers said that some women no longer acquire designer handbags only to improve their appearance, but to signal to potential women rivals that their partners are devoted to them. In short, pricey accessories serve as a kind of warning to other members of the same sex.

Thus, more men are trying to buy Gucci, Chanel, Fendi and other designer handbags that cost thousands of dollars to show their devotion and affection to their girlfriends or wives.

For men with modest salaries and male students without income, it is nearly impossible to find the money for such luxury items, however. Some get a second or third job in order to do so, and another way is to join kye.

Still, sales of these high priced designer bags appear to be only going up. According to one department store, as end of October, sales of Hermes (15.8%), Chanel (8.8%), and Louis Vuitton (21.2%) all went up from same time last year. Even in Korea, despite sluggish economy, higher-end stores at Lotte Department Store saw a 6.5 percent increase in sales as of Oct. 20, 2013 compared to last year, while those at Hyundai Department Store saw a 9 percent increase in the same period.

In Korea, flight attendants are causing another set of problems with these bags, as the Korea Customs Service revealed back on September that it has caught a total of 142 cases of flight attendant-involved “smuggling” valued at 538 million won ($500,000), from 2009 until August this year.