VIDEO| Seoul Searching: Explore hip Korean neighborhood of Seongsu-dong

Photos by Chihon Kim
Photos by Chihon Kim

VIDEO| Seoul Searching: Explore hip Korean neighborhood of Seongsu-dong

by Chihon Kim
Stripes Korea

Seongsu-dong, located in central Seoul, is historically a semi-industrial district known for its handmade shoes and stylish cafes in repurposed warehouses and factories. Old print shops and small factories in this neighborhood have been converted into restaurants and art galleries, making it a hot spot for fashionistas and local shoppers.

In the 80s, shoe artisans from Myoeng-dong, another one of Seoul’s famous fashion districts, experienced a golden age, but soon sky-high rents would cause a mass-exodus of these small business owners to nearby Seongsu-dong. A tiny museum at the Seoungsu Subway Station traces this history and growth of the handmade shoe street after this transition.

Today, the importation of cheaper goods and consumer buying habits have changed the shoe business. As the shoe business declined, so did the foot traffic on the street, leaving behind shabby factories and dilapidated houses.

Seounsgu-dong is currently undergoing a revival as the city’s urban regeneration project and young artists are bringing new life to this area. Between the exit 1 and 2 of Seoungsu Station, “fromSS” and “SSST,” two of the area’s most symbolic shops, sit across from each other. SSST houses 11 shoe workshops as a joint market where you can get handmade shoes at affordable prices from around 50,000 to 80,000 won (about $42.25 to 67.60). SS houses 7 stores where you can see the skills of the seven experienced shoemakers offering the luxury of made-to-measure shoes setting you back anywhere between 180,000 to 400,000 won for a pair.

From Seoungsu Station, using exit 3 or 4 as a starting point, you will have access to over 500 stores handling various materials like leather fabrics and hardware for shoemaking. A stop here is a great option for those in the market for high-quality leather at good prices.

Down the street at JS Shoes Design Lab you’ll find Jun Tae-soo, the shoemaker known for making first lady Kim Jung-sook’s shoes for her visit to the United States in 2017 with President Moon Jae-in. Though the workshop uses the latest technology to measure clients for the perfect fit, the old way of crafting and creating quality footwear remains.

“I started this job when I was 13 and I’ve been working on it for over 50 years now, but it’s still difficult for me to meet all the demanding customer requirements,” said Jun Tae-soo. “The moment I make shoes that fit a customer’s feet well is the happiest time for me.”

Around the corner from the station, hip hop graffiti covers store fronts and alleyways, embodying the youthful, cool vibe the new generation of Seongsu-dong dwellers are bringing with them. The street is a really great place to see the coexistence of old and new while watching craftsmen still working on their wearable pieces of art.

Though the shoes here are slightly more expensive than you can get at a mall or a generic shoe store, the quality, attention to detail and the history might just be worth spending a little extra for a unique pair. And even if you’re not on the market for a new pair of kicks, this district offers plenty of restaurants, pubs and shops to spend some time exploring.

Plenty to see, eat at Daelim Changgo

As new entrepreneurs and leather goods’ craftsmen have begun to settle throughout this rustic neighborhood, so have new cafés and eateries mirroring the new tenants’ cool, hip aesthetic.

Daelim Changgo, a café-slash-gallery, is one of those that I happened to stumble upon on my walk around the neighborhood.

The location opened in May 2016 in what was once a rice mill built in the 1970s. Hong Dong-hui, the owner, studied Western painting in college and has a background in architecture and indoor design. You can see his handiwork in the Daelim Chango Gallery, including various sculptures, colorful lighting and interior garden.

From the exterior, the gallery and café look small, but once inside, the spacious interior is overwhelming. The café is divided into four different seating sections — two areas on the first floor with many art pieces and funky paintings in every corner. Another seating area is a tiny space between the first floor and the rooftop. For an escape from the bustling ground floor, head to the rooftop to enjoy experimental art work and a completely different atmosphere.

As for the food, you can choose from full meals such as pasta and wood-fired pizza, or you can go for a quick bite. For drinks, I recommend their sweet cakes or single origin geisha which are favorites on the menu. For drinks, I picked iced Einspanner for 6,500 won (about $5.50) to get my caffeine fix. The espresso topped off by a good helping of whipped cream was so refreshing. If you love tiramisu, then this dessert-like beverage is for you. If you’re not driving, they also have a great selection of draft beers and wines.

On my weekday visit, the seats were filled with young locals and foreign tourists there to enjoy the art. If this place is busy, Café Onion, Grandpa Factory or Zagmachi in the neighborhood would be alternative options to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and great drinks.

Address: 78, Seongsui-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul
Price range: 5,000 to 24,000 won 
Phone: 0507-1390-9669 
Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

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