As anyone who hikes regularly here in Southern California and elsewhere knows: Koreans love to hike. Middle-aged Koreans are often seen offloading from giant chartered busses in multitudes normally reserved for Sunday morning church services, donning satellite dish-sized visors and wearing Burberry/Dooney & Bourke pattern lined “banchan” vests (a nickname for the vests equipped with a multitude of little pockets), geared out for all-day hikes in the nearby Angeles Forest mountains. Many of hikers have discovered these older folks can keep a humbling pace, especially while climbing up to higher destination peaks, with the Korean genetic propensity for a low center of gravity (aka, short and squat), a hearty constitution, and their stubborn pugnacious attitudes making them the hiker-poled equivalent of a Jeep Rubicon.
The Korean hiker’s mentality makes total sense when considering the country of Korea is a mountainous region of Asia, with hiking, foraging, and the pursuit of mountain air all cultural passions which came over with the generation of immigrants who moved to Southern California from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. For decades, Koreans have headed into the Southern California mountains not only to hike, but also to seek the mountain sides for namul – greens, fungus and roots – the foundation of various Korean seasoned vegetable dishes (mustard greens, bracken ferns, mushrooms, and other wild edibles which are pickled and preserved to later grace family dining tables throughout the year).
Fast forward to 2014. Tapping into the country’s overlapping traditional outdoor spirit and the KPop generation’s love of fashion, California-based The North Face released an exclusive Korea-only White Label Collection. Fashionable for sure, functional…maybe. But the more tailored fit and seasonal patterns of the White Label Collection undoubtedly diverge away from the usual frumpy cuts, colors, and prints which can normally make shopping for outdoor wear a toss-up between choosing Duck Dynasty inspired attire or the boxy and yawn-inducing catalog often found at REI, L.L. Bean, and other outdoor outfitters. At the least, The North Face makes a stab at bringing outdoor clothing somewhere closer to the realm of flattering, and I have to admit I wouldn’t mind a few of these Instagram-ready outfits for Emily and I for our more casual exploration and adventures.