Teni Bakare decided to move to South Korea and work as an English teacher after falling in love with K-dramas. Her hobby during her time there was taking street style photographs. In this interview, Teni discusses what she has learned after a year-long survey of Korean street fashion!
Interview Gissella Ramirez-Valle, Photos Teni Bakare, Art Shay M
Teni! It's nice of you to take time to chat with me. I know you're preparing to move back to the UK, so it must be a busy time for you. Why did you end up in South Korea anyway? Did something in particular attract you to the country?
Teni: My interest in South Korea started after watching the drama Coffee Prince in 2009. What really got to me was all the eating, the food looked so good! Afterwards, I really wanted to learn the language and experience the culture and I realized the best way to do that would be to come to Korea.
Ah I see. That's the Hallyu effect!
Teni: (Laughs) That's right. After finishing university in 2013, I applied to the EPIK program and was placed in Hayang, a small village just outside of Korea's third largest city, Daegu.
How did you feel about being placed in Hayang?
Teni: I was seriously disappointed being placed in Hayang - I'm a city person and assumed I would be placed in Seoul! But beggars can't be choosers. I do feel like it was a bit harder finding fashion people in Daegu because my Korean isn't good and fashion related events are not as prolific as they are in Seoul. It took me a while to find my feet and connect with people in Daegu, whilst I already had friends in Seoul that had the same interests as me.
Daegu Street Style
How did you get interested in taking street fashion photography?
Teni: My interest in fashion really started to develop when I started working for Topman in 2011. I started learning about trends, different cuts and materials. As my interest grew, I started following some Korean street style blogs on Tumblr. Shortly before coming to Korea, I started working in fashion marketing for an online select shop called UTTER Couture. I took some street style shots for their website. It was good practice since I had decided that I really wanted to do street style photos when I got to Korea.
Do you think those Tumblrs gave an accurate impression of typical Korean fashion now that you've seen things for yourself?
Teni: I think seeing things in real life has been more accurate for me. I think you also have to take into context that most photographers are based in Seoul. It's a lot more diverse in Seoul in terms of the fashion, and the further away you get, the more similar people tend to dress until you get to Busan.
Busan Street Style
It seems as though the mainstream Korean population is very well dressed. How do you go about selecting your subjects?
Teni: Yup, a lot of people here dress nicely, but I see a lot of people with a similar kind of nice. I guess there's nothing wrong with that. They know that if they wear A, B and C when they walk out of the house they will look good. Unfortunately for me as a photographer, I want X, Y and Z. I have passed a university on a bus before and I saw almost everyone wearing the same striped shirt the same way!
A lot of the time when you take a picture of someone it's because you love their style, it may have nothing to do with trends. Even if you're looking for trends, you wouldn't want each picture on that concept to look the same so you'd try to find people who mix things up a little. I think in that aspect it's still reflective of what the fashion scene out here is like.
Since you have shot in Daegu, Busan, and Seoul, have you noticed any particular differences in style between each city?
Teni: I feel like people's personal style in Busan is more relaxed than in Daegu or Seoul. I would say it has something to do with the different atmospheres. Busan just seems like such a chill place!
Seoul Fashion Week SS15 Street Style
You attended some Seoul Fashion Week SS15 shows. How was that like?
Teni: Seoul Fashion Week SS15 was the best ever. I had so much fun. But I think that's because I also had the opportunity to represent IFBK and work as a buyer for UTTER Couture. The atmosphere was amazing, the sun was shining, people were smiling and seemed to have genuine fun with their fashion. I would definitely say that the people made SFW great.
Have you been to the London shows back home? If so, was there a difference in atmosphere?
Teni: I went to London Collections: Men AW14 last year before I came out here, I guess you could say that the atmosphere was less fun. I did love the shows that I went to and I had a great time and met a couple of interesting people. I think at that time I had less of an idea of what I wanted to do and why I was there. I did have more fun shooting street style there though. Shooting street style was much more fun than seeing the shows.
What's the main takeaway from your year-long experience in Korea?
Teni: My experience in Korea has instilled a sense of confidence in myself and my skill-set. I am now a better communicator. I've become more assertive and can pretty much talk to anyone now. Approaching random people on the street will do that to you. I feel that it was an invaluable experience as it taught me to be more self-reliant and I also learned a lot more about myself during that year.
What will you pursue once you return to the UK?
Teni: I'll continue to work for UTTER Couture. We are an online retail store that uses our site as a creative platform for emerging designers. We don't just sell their clothes, we promote them and design a whole service around each designer we support! Our aim is to build a network of creatives, from designers to photographers, so that these people can network with each other and form their own partnerships and creative projects. We recently took KIMMY J on board and are currently in the process of talking to more Korean designers.
I'm curious. What ended up being your favorite Korean dish?
Teni: I could not for the life of me get enough kimbap! There was a lady near my house who made the most amazing kimbap. It always tasted lovely. Especially the beef and tuna flavored ones!