The Hidden Africa Touch in the “Korean wave”: K-Fashion and K-Beauty BACK TO THE ROOTS?

The Korean Wave (Hallyu; Hangul: 한류; "flow of Korea") is the growing global popularity of South Korea culture since the 1990s.

It was first triggered by K-dramas and K-pop across East, South and Southeast Asia during its initial stages,

Later, the Korean Wave evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon.

South Korea has emerged as a major exporter of popular culture, tourism and fashion which have become a significant part of its creative economy.

With no doubt South Korea has established its soft power with Korean pop culture in many parts of the world.

Fashion lovers and cosmetics addicts around the world did not miss the Korean surge. They have been surfing on the Korean wave since its beginning in the 1990’s.

Korean style is a hot topic in the Fashion world. Whether clothing brands or cosmetics, Korea has become a benchmark for many fashion and art enthusiasts.

The subject of Korean fashion has been studied from every angle by several sites and most important fashion and art review.

However, what has been noticed by many observers but not yet been talked about is the African element embedded in the Korean Wave, especially the Korean Fashion. Also worth noticing is that more and more products from Africa are present in Korean cosmetic which is quite a paradox since the end products are usually intended to *whitening* and fair skins which is a contrast with African black skin.

The purpose of this brief article is to look at some of the hidden and unlikely sources of inspiration of the “Korean Wave” having their roots in Africa.

How did the African influence come to Korea?

There is strong evidence of designs, patterns and colors characteristic of African culture in Korean fashion and expression. There are also more and more products from Africa present in Korean cosmetics.


  • The Afro hairstyle

Artists such as Gdragon leader of the Big Bang and Korean fashion icon wears the Afro hairstyle in his clip High High (ft T.O.P) or Michigo ( 미치 GO).

The “Afro” is a curly, dense hairstyle with a rounded shape.

This hairstyle also identifies African-Americans and their revendication of the African root, which is related to the history of Africa in general. The Afro style has both political and cultural symbolisms.

For the black population, the Afro hairstyle is a cultural affirmation in particular with the movement: "Black is Beautiful, “Black and Proud” with icons such as James Brown.

Gdragon is not the only Korean artist to have embraced the Afro style, there is also Rap monster (leader of the BTS) or the rapper Zico( leader of Block B).

  • The African Braids

The African braids are also very successful. Many Korean stars male or females adopt this hairstyle.

Braids are another important symbol of African culture in history. The braids can be worn in different ways, short, long, in the bun.... there are different braids for the different passage of life.

This hairstyle has been present throughout the evolution of African culture and has been propelled to the international scene through African-American pop.

Braids are a true ancestral art in Africa.

The braid has also been present for a long time in the history of Korea. During the Three Kingdom period (Beakje, Silla, Goguryeo) the braid was the basic hairstyle of young Korean men and women.


It was also a symbol of maturity, pride and strength at that time. Depending on the way it was arranged, it told if a person was married or not. This may be why the young Korean generation is attracted by the braid hairstyle in particular.

However, the styles worn today by Korean youth are the African signature braids style.

  • The Dreadlocks hairstyle

Finally, the dreadlocks. This African hairstyle also called, dread or locks was first documented in Egypt. It was done by intermingled hair that naturally forms when the hair is allowed to grow without any intervention (no brush used).

Personalities such as rapper C.Jamm or Singers Taeyang (Big Bang) were seen being inspired by this hairstyle. In addition it is not uncommon to meet young Korean with this unique capillary style.

The similar importance and significance given to hairstyle is a very interesting and unique encounter of Africa and Korea.



We see more and more design appearing incorporating the typically African fabrics such as the Kitenge, the Kanga and shigan.

These three very similar fabrics with vivid and shimmering colors are originally from the Great Lakes region (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda) and also found in West Africa (Ghana, Senegal, Liberia and Nigeria). Some people believe that they are also very similar to the batik of Indonesia.

The Korean brand “Ethrica” clothing and accessories and the “Jerrybag” bag brand are both users of these African fabrics as materials.


It is very important to note that “Jerrybag” creations have become a real success. It is difficult to purchase them at this time, because the products are sold out and out of stock.


Korean cosmetics are popular all over the world. Many of these products incorporate natural oils from African countries. Here is a small list of products of African origin that can be found in Korean cosmetics.

The most famous:

K Beauty.png
  • Shea butter: This product originated in West Africa has been used for thousands of years by African women for its regenerative, soothing, antioxidant properties. Shea butter is found in many products of Korean brand as Etude House, Face shop or Tony Molly….
  • Aloe vera: Cultivated in North Africa for these medical virtues for more than 500 years. It is highly appreciated for the treatment of skin infections (eczema) and to combat aging. It is found in the products of Nature Republic, Innisfree ...
  • Argan oil: Originally from Morocco, rich in vitamin E, known for its moisturizing and anti-aging properties. It is found in Etude House products…

less known :

  •  Cocoa: Originating in West Africa recognized for its anti-aging, anti-stretch mark and cellulite properties. It is found in product of Mediheal brand.
  • The baobab oil: A tree considered sacredly in Africa. Its oil is known for its anti-stretch mark, restorative and softening quality. This oil is widely used by the Korean brand Hongik skin.
  • Black cumin: Used for centuries by Egyptians, this oil protects the skin from aging, eczema, acne and is very nourishing. Used in J.One brand products.

We can see, therefore, a discreet but very distinct and important influence of African culture in the Korean fashion and comedies industry. With the Hallyu (South Korean cultural wave started in 1990), Korea has conquered the world and influenced many countries especially Asian countries (Thailand, Indonesia, China).

Does this Korean conquest open the door to the indirect influence of the African element and culture throughout Asia?



Many Koreans we have interviewed have acknowledged the authenticity of African influence in the Korean wave which very few people were aware of.

The first opening of Korea to the black influence was with no doubt through the African-American influence (hip hop – Rap- Basket ball – Football – baseball).

In reality by being inspired by the African-American influence, Korean artists and creators were in fact embracing Africa and going back to the roots without realizing it.

#Southkorea #AsiAfricafoundation #Africa #backtotheroots #fashion #cosmetics


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Yveline-Andrée KOFFI (Le Havre University, France)

Intern at AsiAfrica Foundation

Supervisor Dr Roland AMOUSSOU

Co-Founder & President of AsiAfrica foundation

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