It's 10pm in Munjeong-dong, a fashionable neighbourhood in Seoul, and Vora Jeon, 34, is embarking on her nightly ritual: flowery Parisian tea, gentle European house music, and, most crucially, a sunset-inspired candle called “Rare Sky”. It smells of tulip, wood, and rhubarb.

“I love the kind of pink sky,” says Jeon, the CEO and creative director of Seoul-based fragrance company MOTE. “When I see that kind of thing, I feel really happy. I use that kind of candle when I want to refresh my memory of it.”

Across South Korea, there’s a growing emphasis on home scent.

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Candles are the classic housewarming or wedding gift. Pots of fragrance diffusers are tucked into lift corners and onto car dashboards, and displayed in office cubicles and classrooms. Diffusers perfume even the shabbiest public restrooms and taxis. Convenience stores often have fewer varieties of candy than of air-care products – candles, room sprays, car vent sticks, fabric sprays and diffusers.

Worldwide, home fragrance is having a moment. The global air-care market was valued at US$10 billion last year and will grow to US$12 billion by 2023, according to Allied Market Research.

With that growth, South Korea has become the largest and fastest-expanding air-care market, according to Taeho Sim, a Seoul-based partner at ‎management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The fragrance market totalled 2.7 trillion South Korean won (US$2.49 billion) in 2016, according to Sim. Candle products grew from US$55.3 million in 2013 to US$184.5 million in 2016. The country imported three times as many candles in 2017 as it did 10 years ago, according to data from the Korea Customs Service.

Shinsegae, a luxury department store, said air-fragrance sales increased 60 per cent year-over-year in 2015, while ubiquitous cosmetics store Olive Young reported that sales of health products like candles and diffusers jumped 90 per cent in the autumn of 2017 compared with the previous autumn.


“Such growth in the South Korean home-fragrance market is not just a short trend, but rather a long-lasting and permanent feature,” Sim said.

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South Korea’s youngsters have lost hope for the future

After years of breakneck economic growth, the South Korean economy is suffering from its worst consecutive growth years on record.

That has hit South Korea’s young adults particularly hard. It’s also one of the best-educated groups of youngsters in the world. Nearly 70 per cent of South Koreans aged 25 to 34 have a college degree or higher, compared with 40 per cent of American adults.

But that education hasn’t helped their prospects. Youth unemployment recently hit a 19-year high. For the past five years, it’s been around 10 per cent, though the overall unemployment rate is 4.6 per cent.

College graduates spend an average of 10 months job seeking after graduation, according to a survey by South Korean HR firm Saramin. This group has been dubbed the “770,000 won generation” because of their low incomes. (The minimum monthly income for low-income workers is 880,000 won, or US$800, but young South Koreans are making even less than that.)

While most of the South Korean youth don't fear for shelter, food or health care, there’s a declining sense of hope among youngsters. Nearly half of young South Koreans said in a 2015 survey that they don't believe they'll do better than their parents, while only 29 per cent expressed similar doubts in 2006. And eight out of 10 said they would like to emigrate out of South Korea.

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Unexpectedly, analysts say worsening economic prospects have fuelled an interest in home fragrance. Youngsters are looking for affordable luxuries.

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Cars, homes and lavish holidays are out of the question – so it's all about US$7 lattés in beautiful cafes and the “natural toothpaste craze”, which ushered in US$13 tubes of toothpaste.

The trend is called so-hwak-haeng, or “small but authentic happiness”, home and tech analyst James Kang of Euromonitor International Korea said. A more local phrase is sibal biyong.

 Sim of A.T. Kearney said those trends are clear in home fragrance.

 “Consumers find home-fragrance products more affordable and accessible compared to other luxury products, such as designer bags and clothes,” he said.

“Instead of buying a new house or new furniture, young Koreans can spend US$20 or US$30 on candles,” said SL Life CEO Jesse Kim, whose company distributes Aquiesse, a US fragrance brand, in South Korea. “Because of the long-term recession, people are stressed out. They’re looking for ways to alleviate their stress and have a healing moment.”

Here are some Instagram photos tagged 시발비용

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고스트#gucci 소소하게#시발비용

A post shared by 송도네일 , 딜라잇 네일 (@delight_nail) on Jun 21, 2018 at 6:49am PDT

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: #보상심리 #시발비용 4일빵의 마지막은 너무 빡쎘고, 석화는 맛있었다

A post shared by Hyemi_j (@happy_j.hm) on Nov 23, 2018 at 9:49am PST

Older South Korean millennials are driving the home-fragrance craze for a different reason

The most coveted brands in South Korea are Jo Malone and Diptyque.

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A standard Jo Malone diffuser costs 129,000 South Korean won (or US$118), which may strike some as a dizzying amount of money to spend on a pot of lime- and orange-scented liquid with some sticks poking out. But it’s indicative of another trend, one in which single-person households, along with millennials, are the biggest sector of the home-fragrance market, Sim said.

Home fragrance has a different tone among the various youth sectors in South Korea. Older South Korean millennials, 30- or 40-somethings who haven’t married or had kids, want to make their home a sanctuary space.

“Having home fragrances, which help one’s home to smell nice with a very natural and stress-reducing scent, has a strong correlation with this trend,” Sim said.

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백수생활중인나에게 주신 선물 #딥티크 #감사히잘쓸게요

A post shared by 천대장 (@1000zzang1000) on Nov 20, 2018 at 8:50pm PST

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:) 심플아늑

A post shared by 퓨리언니 (@phj174) on Nov 23, 2018 at 12:16am PST

The number of single-person households in South Korea increased from 23.9 per cent in 2010 to 27.2 per cent in 2015, Sim said. According to Statistics Korea, 38 per cent of women aged 30 to 34 were single in 2015, compared to 29 per cent five years ago.

“I am living alone even though my age is too high for that; I’m 34,” Jeon said. “Even though women like me are getting old, they don’t get pressure a lot like before. They just enjoy their own lives.”

Meanwhile, South Korea's fertility rate is the lowest in the world – even lower than Japan's. There is a variety of reasons for that, including the cost of childcare and the lack of career opportunities for mothers.

“We like pets more than babies,” Jeon said. Then, she added that candles are helpful for covering up the smell of a pooch or kitten.

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YOLO (or, 요로) is back

There’s a unifying thought among these two sets of young South Koreans, despite their very different economic prospects: a shift from focusing on the future to thinking about the present.

South Korean millennials have embraced YOLO, or “You Only Live Once” – yes, the phrase first popularised in 2011 by the Canadian rapper Drake.

“In the past, a future-oriented paradigm prevailed,” Kim Nan-do, a consumer studies professor at Seoul National University, said. “We saved a lot, preparing for tomorrow. Now, more people cherish the joy of the present.”

When it comes to money, YOLO encourages a completely different mindset than what existed previously in the country. South Korea has long been known among economists as a country that saves rather than spends – even Germans, the more stereotypical saving-obsessed country, save less money than Koreans, according to OECD data.

But, among younger South Koreans, that seems to be changing.

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“Unlike our parents’ generation, our younger generation cares more for themselves or they care for more this moment,” Jihye Lee, marketing manager at Seoul-based distributor Kumbi Cosmetics, said. “They are not worrying for their future.”

But the things that South Koreans used to buy have spiralled out of reach. The average home in Seoul costs more than US$600,000. As for having a child, after-school tutoring alone cost the country’s parents US$17 billion in 2011.

Luckily, even the priciest diffuser is a comparatively tiny US$118.

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This article originally appeared on  Business Insider .