Korean Trends to watch in 2018: BEAUTIFUL TRASH 예쁜 쓰레기

This is part 3 of Korean trends to watch this year. Part one was about the ALONERS. Part two focused on UNTACT MARKETING. And according to the book Trends Korea 2018 another trend that will continue this year is the desire for ‘BEAUTIFUL TRASH’ 예쁜 쓰레기.

It sounds like an oxymoron but BEAUTIFUL TRASH is the stuff we are persuaded to buy because it looks attractive. It’s when we fall for placebo marketing and buy something to make us feel better. But we don’t actually need it or use it. And then we can’t even throw it out. Beautiful trash is NOT the declutterer’s friend!

That bright pink lipstick seemed a good idea at the time but now sits unused in the makeup box – it wasn’t cheap and the case is too cute to throw away. Shoes, adorable but uncomfy, hibernate in shoe cupboards. Object d’art fill every available space.

If you want some more examples Blogs on Naver and pics on Instagram show plenty of beautiful trash. This English subbed youtube video about using beautiful trash makeup has had over 1.8 million views.

Since the more beautiful and enticing the packaging is, the more likely we are to buy it, shops are selling more and more stuff destined to become beautiful trash. The bookshops are selling less books and more accessories and stationery. It seems even to sell a pen you need a cute plastic rabbit stuck on the end to make it more agreeable.

So all these pretty but unused things that we can’t throw out become ‘beautiful trash‘. I think we’ve all got some beautiful trash at home!


Even books can fall into this category.

Last year, Minumsa, who published the successful feminist novel Kim Ji Young Born 1982, collaborated with the ‘British Style’ fashion house Keith to revamp some classic book covers. At Kyobo bookshop sales rose of the  British classics with the new covers (including  Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice) which reached the bestsellers list. And 1,000 limited edition classics sold in 2 weeks.

Don’t judge a book by its cover is a piece of advice that nobody follows! But do the covers entice the customers to actually read the book as well? That, I don’t know!

book covers

But I don’t want to say books are trash because I love having lots of books around me. When I first moved to Japan, I was mesmerised by the adorable teeny-weeny bunkobon books in the local bookstores.

They were a big motivation for me to study Japanese. I’d pick one up and flick through the pages vowing that I’d be able to read it one day. I still have to buy at least one book when I go to Japan. Whether I read it or not is another matter! But I just love having them. That does leave me open to the accusation of being tsundoku, the Japanese word for collecting piles of books and never reading them! Well, if the books weren’t so adorable in the first place…


I’ve noticed a dramatic rise in ‘lifestyle’ shops in Seoul selling nicely packaged dishes, small plants, cushions, lighting, etc. So there are lots of opportunities for buying and selling beautiful trash!

Butter, is a home interiors brand with prices that start ‘at the cost of a coffee’. Take this duck shaped light. It’s not just a duck. Because when you lean it forward, it becomes a heart. ❤️


COME ON. THAT’S CUTE AND YOU WANT ONE. It’s cheap and cheerful object d’art. Still I don’t think decluttering guru Marie Kondo would be impressed. (I’ve got her book too)


I feel like I’m talking about the Kakao Friends and Line Friends characters all the time but  they really are in your face everywhere you turn. And now they are the faces of banking too.

In 2017 two online-only banks opened in Korea. First we had KT’s K bank and then Kakao Bank. So the battle began. K Bank is in partnership with Naver, Korea’s biggest search portal. And they use the Naver’s Line messenger.  Kakao Bank has Daum, the country’s second largest portal!

naver pay

And the main weapon of choice in this battle is… cute characters!

First we had the emoji characters to use for texting. Then the offline stores opened so we could go and buy the characters and have them in their ‘real life’ soft toy presence. Not to mention all the other memorabilia you can buy. (I’ve written before about cute AI speakers) And now these innocent looking characters are being used to influence our banking choices too!

Within the first month of Kakao Bank 2.2 million accounts had been opened. The bank offers all sorts of benefits including loans with lower interest rates and convenient and fast mobile banking. But one of the reasons given for the popularity of the bank was the cute bank cards …


The Kakao Friends debit cards went out of stock, with one million users applying for their favorite character cards.

The cards add a playfulness to money that the corporate and serious looking cards from traditional banks don’t have. Maybe they express the YOLO generation who value experience and lifestyle over money.

But when the card expires the question is will it be too cute to throw away?


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