For decades, high heels and pumps have been symbols of femininity and confidence. Many women, regardless of their nationality, love the look of high heels and wear them despite the pain they cause.
But it seems that is changing, as more and more working women are choosing comfort over beauty, ditching high heels and turning to sneakers.
Jeong Jin-soo, a 31-year-old company worker, has been wearing sneakers to work since February.
“You really can’t express in words the heavenly comfort you feel when you switch from high heels to sneakers,” said Jeong. “Once you start wearing sneakers you get addicted. You get less exhausted at work and plus you get to exercise at the same time while commuting, so it’s killing two birds with one stone.”
After Jeong arrives at work, she routinely takes her tennis shoes off and wears low heels she keeps under her desk to ensure her peculiar look doesn’t offend her clients.
Jeong is just one of many Korean women in suits who come to work in sneakers.
This growing trend has even generated a new Korean term undonyeo, which refers to an urban woman who wears sneakers to work.
The trend is noticeable on subways, at bus stops and office towns such as Gangnam, Yeoksam, Gwanghwamun and Yeouido in Seoul.
“Wearing sneakers with suits has become the norm in my office,” said Kim Eun-jin, a 28-year-old history instructor. “I actually started wearing them last year even before the undonyeo boom started. People passing me gave me funny looks and some were laughing out loud at my style at the time. Now I feel I’m not alone.”
Kim said she often saw women in sneakers taking short walks for exercise during their lunch hour.
The undonyeo trend is proven by sales figures of major retailers.
“April sales of women’s flat shoes, running shoes and sneakers went up 12 percent compared to the previous year, whereas sales of pumps and high heels went down by 4 percent,” said Park Min-a, a spokeswoman for Lotte Department Store. “I’m also one of the women who joined the undonyeo frenzy.”
Hyundai Department Store said its sales of flat shoes, running shoes and sneakers jumped over 10 percent in April year-on-year while pumps and high heels went down by 8 percent.
Sporting goods firms are aggressively strengthening marketing strategies to tap into a growing number of women in sneakers.
Hwaseung, which distributes sport brands Lecaf, K-Swiss and outdoor brand Merrell in Korea, is currently working on creating a shoe bag for women to carry various items including sneakers and cosmetics.
Meanwhile, the surging demand for sneakers and running shoes has forced retailers to sell less popular high heels and pumps at bargain prices, discounted at up to 70 percent in order to clear their shelves.
Lotte Department Store’s Sogong headquarters sold 16 brands of women’s shoes up to 70 percent off until May 8. Last year, only six women’s shoes brands joined the promotion.
Hyundai Department Store’s World Trade Center branch in southern Seoul will sell a total of 1 billion won ($876,040) worth of women’s shoes until tomorrow.
By Kim Mi-ju[firstname.lastname@example.org]