It is no longer news that Chennai’s young adults are tuned in to everything K. What started as adoration for K-pop and its stars like the boy band BTS, soon turned into the voracious need to adopt the many aspects of Korean culture: food, cinema, language and lifestyle. The primarily Gen Z patrons of this movement are keenly invested in merchandise as well: something tangible that they can own. Unless bought online, it’s hard to source them, but Chennai is now making waves as the first flagship store of BT21 merchandise opens in VR Chennai, Anna Nagar.
When the immensely popular BTS created eight characters — Tata, Mang, Chimmy, RJ, Koya, Cooky, Shooky and Van — in collaboration with the South Korean creative studio LINE FRIENDS, back in late 2017, fans quickly lapped up the idea. Each of the characters are representative of the members of BTS, in some way or the other. And BT21, as they were called, became an instant hit. Character lifestyle brand Winterbear brings these characters to India, through their product line, and Chennai gets a first look. Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi and Pune are in the pipeline.
Winterbear’s , Niharika — all of 19 years old, a devoted patron to hallyu (Korean wave) herself — says without doubt that the target audience was primarily Gen Z. “We knew that the crowd in Chennai has so much love for all these characters, and Korean culture in general. This can be seen through the many fairs, events, restaurants…Chennai was a natural choice for the first store.” While in high school, Niharika was also an active part of K-pop communities in the city.
She continues, “We participated in a few cupsleeve events across India and in Chennai to understand the interest. A cupsleeve event is where fans celebrate their favourite K-idol’s birthdays and anniversaries. Songs are played, they dance together, they bring home-baked goodies…” After visiting South Korea and other countries that had similar stores dedicated to the hallyu, she realised that India is a potential market.
She elaborates, “These pop up stores will bring LINE FRIENDS and BT21 official merchandise for the first time to the country. Similarly, we have come up with a collaboration for our own line of apparel, unique to the Indian market, which will be launching in late April.” Niharika says that currently their main emphasis is on stationary: pens, books, files, and keychains. And, the crowd favorite are the stickers. “There are so many characters in BT21 and for each of these characters, we have seven or more sticker packs,” says Niharika adding that children would love them.
In addition to that, the store with a minimalist layout has apparels, mainly T-shirts and customised neck pillows, face cushions and plush toys.