Each and every Korean knows the excellence of Hangeul and feels proud of it. However, it is not so common that the Korean alphabet is used as an element of design in goods for which patterns come first. Joo Ki-yoon, CEO of Art Fever, which is releasing a line of Hangeul-patterned bags, says that it is important to create goods that appeal to people for their design aesthetic, not just on the basis of patriotism, and to produce Hangeul-based things that appeal to not only Koreans but also foreign consumers.
Launching bags emphasizing the beauty of Hangeul as forms and patterns
Online marketing and offline sales through curated shops in the United States and China
Preparing other projects to promote Hangeul design overseas
Would you tell us about Art Fever’s Hangeul campaign and the story behind the Hangeul bags?
Art Fever is a platform for discovering and supporting talented artists and promoting arts and culture business. We develop and sell goods that emphasize design, publish art books, and hold exhibitions and expert talks. I’d been thinking for a long time of creating goods that use Hangeul in their design, but every time I referred the thought to in-company consultation, the majority of our staff ruled that it was premature. We decided to put it aside until we came up with concrete concepts, and this time we put it into practice. The project produces and sells bags with Hangeul designs, and we use the profits to develop Hangeul fonts and distribute them free of charge. We wanted to show that Hangeul designs can be more than simply beautiful.
Many designers say that Hangeul is not suitable for designs, although it is a scientific and superior alphabet system. What are your thoughts on this view?
For Koreans, Hangeul is read intuitively. So, when “사랑해” is printed on T-shirts, people would think it awkward, if not funny. I think this kind of response results from the lack of serious consideration of Hangeul utilization among designers. Some people try designs incorporating Hangeul, but they usually use only a few consonants. In that case, the letters don’t make sense and the significance of Hangeul design is not fairly conveyed. We had a couple of principles for Hangeul designs on our bags. First, the Hangeul text of the designs should make sense. Secondly, it should look good even in the eyes of those who don’t understand Hangeul. We wanted our designs to appeal to consumers abroad. Calligraphy artist Kang Byung-in played a big role in creating patterns out of Hangeul. Since he is an artist who works in both traditional and contemporary calligraphy and design, he fully understood our intentions.
You have used lines from poet Na Tae-joo’s poem “I, for You.” Would you tell us why?
The meaning of the Hangeul text used in our designs is important, and we thought it would be best if we came up with some lines that anyone can appreciate. Many of our staff recommended using a beautiful poem, so we selected lines from Na Tae-joo’s well-known and greatly loved poem. It was a result that purely reflected the view of the general public. I have heard that these lines originally didn’t have a title, as they were part of a larger serial poem, but they became popular on the Internet and someone gave them title “I, for You.” You could call it an example of communication and collaboration between the poet and the readers.
Before you released your bags in the market, you called for funding from online supporters. How did that turn out?
Donating funds is, in effect, making a reservation for purchase, and calling for funding is a means of publicizing our products with the expectation that the news would go viral. Our price wasn’t very low, so we were anxious about consumers’ response. To our relief, lots of people were on board, and funding was completed in no time. We are soon going to begin sales online and offline. A lot of people appreciated our intentions to use Hangeul designs, but even more people said our bags looked good. Our goal is that more people will buy the bags for their design and aesthetic than for patriotism. We especially hope we can make bags that appeal to young consumers with a strong desire for self-expression and to see them lead a fashion trend.
How do you plan to do overseas sales? We understand Art Fever has previously made inroads into overseas markets. What was your impression then? Were there any difficulties?
In China, we are going to sell our products at shops in big cities like Shanghai. For Viet Nam, we are coordinating with an entertainment firm on how to promote our bags. In the United States, we will try sales through offline shops and online stores. We are discussing with Amazon and other sites about online sales. From previous experience, we have learned that we should take a step-by-step approach to prevent problems, even if it takes time. For instance, we know that it is crucial to work with trustworthy partners; we once suffered losses although we sold our products because we could neither figure out how many were selling in the foreign market nor manage our inventory properly. To find good partners, we have to meet people and see the local situation with our own eyes. International travel is hard these days, but we plan to do it step by step.
Would you tell us about the projects you have in mind to share Hangeul designs and make the Korean alphabet known abroad? What are your future plans? If you have any wish for the KF, please don’t hesitate to say it.
Art Fever plans to present at least one new Hangeul-designed item every year. Our bags will be followed by jewelry pieces featuring Korean letters. What matters most is that our products should be pretty and stand on their own merits and appeal. If we succeed in doing that, we can create a fad that will lead to production of similar goods, and an increasing number of people would consider Hangeul letters as attractive design elements. If an organization like the KF that has public confidence and global networks supports publicity efforts, it will be much easier for Hangeul-lettered goods to advance into markets worldwide. Prominent figures representing Korea might carry Hangeul art bags when they meet foreign audiences. They may also create opportunities to display such goods in places exposed to huge numbers of people. I look forward to seeing greater interest in the global publicity of Korean cultural products.