The subscription box market has been booming in recent years. Subscription boxes are a great way to learn about new companies and products on a regular basis without much effort. For the most part, the Korean subscription boxes out there focus on snacks, kpop and cosmetics. But there is one subscription box company that is taking the subscription box concept a step further by offering a fun monthly mix of products and digital content that also includes products by local Korean artists, entrepreneurs and even indie bands. If you are passionate about Korea, you may already know founders Cory May and Marie Frenette through Youtube. At the end of January, I had a chance to meet with Marie and learn more about their subscription box company Korea, Curated.
Could you introduce yourself?
Sure, my name is Marie Frenette. I am Canadian and studied business and entrepreneurship in Canada and moved to Korea ten years ago. My time here in Korea has mostly been spent preparing myself to be independent and functional in a Korean business environment. I came here as a teacher, but spent a lot of time studying Korean and eventually left my job to focus on my Korean studies full time. Then I started my marketing career at the Korea Tourism Organization and have mostly focused on promoting Korea and Korean companies since then. And just this past year I was able to finally start my company LaunchSUM, and launch our subscription box service Korea Curated.
Korea Curated is a service created by myself and my fiance, Cory May. Cory is quite active on Youtube and spends a lot of his time creating videos for Korea lovers around the world. It’s really amazing how many people he is able to reach, how many thank you letters he gets. Anyway, Cory and I often talk about what kind of life we want to create together. And the conclusion is always that we want to continue sharing Korea with people around the world, and we want to be able to be independent and creative.
You know, there are so many amazing aspects of Korea that can’t be shared just through video. Of course, big corporations have the money and power to enter overseas markets directly, but there are really great products that are created by independent artists and businesses who don’t have the skills or means to reach overseas audiences. So we decided to create a monthly subscription box service that showcases products created by those kinds of special independent artists and companies. We also create special videos to accompany each box, explaining where the products come from, who made them, how to use them, and why they are relevant to Korean society. We also include products from big corporations like snacks and cosmetics but for us it is more about getting exposure for the lesser known but equally impressive companies.
Subscribers sign up for the box, and we select the products and send it out to them monthly. We ship worldwide, and the shipping is included in the price of the box. Although it is a subscription, they can cancel any time before the next box if they need to, but our reviews have been really positive. People seem to be really excited about what we are doing. In the last box, we featured a company that created L-TOY, this really cute stationery that folds up into animal boxes like origami. We also included a chestnut hand warmer, a book from one of my favorite English language publishers of Korea books, Seoul Selection, and of course snacks, ramyeon and other goodies. Our January box video even had a short cooking segment so that our subscribers could see how to prepare the ramyeon. Poor Cory filmed the entire thing by himself while cooking. A truly multi-talented man.
Is there a story behind your logo?
Lucky for us, Cory graduated from what was the Corcoran College of the Arts and Design in Washington, DC. He is really skilled in everything from oil painting to design and as you know, video production as well. He worked for days on various logos, but something was missing. So many Korean companies try to make themselves look foreign, using foreign design and a lot of English. But we wanted something that was very obviously Korean but not so traditional that it looks outdated. I guess he had an “Ah!” moment and went searching for some traditional Korean patterns. He started arranging them in a box shape, to symbolize our business model and added some nice color and pretty soon we had the Korea Curated logo you see today. It was so interesting to sit next to him and watch it all come together so quickly.
How do you choose the items for the box?
Well, the first criteria is that we have to like it. We don’t put anything in the box that we aren’t personally a fan of. Of course, we prefer quality and are more about handmade than mass manufactured items (although it is kind of hard to avoid completely), and also the character and passion of the people creating the products is also very important to us. We like things that are distinctively Korean, whether traditional or more modern, and whenever possible made in Korea. We love products that feature Korean writing. So many products in Korea these days have English or even French on them. Those kinds of things can be bought anywhere, so we tend to stay away from those. We also listen carefully to our subscribers. So far, we have had only positive feedback, but they also give us ideas for future boxes. They are truly supportive.
Who was the first subscriber?
Our first subscriber is Nada from Kuwait. She is a teacher in her late twenties who has loved Korean culture and language for nine years now. She discovered KBS World by channel flipping one day, and was addicted to Korea ever since. She is very active on instagram and found us there while browsing Korea-related hashtags. She said she subscribed immediately, and I still remember the moment we got the alert in our inbox. After months of preparing, it was really amazing and affirming. Yes, there are people out there who love Korea as much as we do and want to experience Korea on a deeper level. And thanks to Nada, we began to test out a Muslim-friendly version of our box, which we will be launching officially soon.
What types of people subscribe to your box?
It is amazing the variety really. One of our subscribers is an English teacher in Korea who wanted to share Korea with his family, but doesn’t really like shopping. He signed up for a 6 month prepaid package and asked us to send it to his family directly. Another subscriber is a Korean woman who married an American and wants to expose her five year old son to Korean culture in a fun way. A few of our subscribers follow Cory on Youtube and were really excited that there is another way to interact with us and get cool products every month. Nada, who I mentioned earlier, just happened to stumble upon a Korean drama and the rest is history. Some come to Korea often, some dream of coming one day. They really have a wide range of backgrounds and motivations for subscribing. I am loving getting to know them.
Can you share any of your ideas for future boxes?
Some things will happen sooner than others, but all should happen eventually. First of all, we want to work closely with companies to help our subscribers get access to new products as they launch in Korea and also help those companies to communicate better with overseas supporters.
We know some really cool companies that create products inspired by Korean street food. We are planning on creating a few boxes that have a bit of a street food theme with those products, and of course creating a special street food video to go along with the box. Another thing that will be coming up soon is a collaboration with well known artists like Goolygooly. He is hot in Korea, but also sought after by international fans and publishers. I was lucky enough to help him with a book project last year, and he thinks really highly of what we are doing with Korea Curated. We are also excited to explore outside of Seoul for regional specialties. For example, I met a company that grows their own sweet potatoes and creates dried veggie snacks out of them. How cool would it be to go down there, film the farm and the founders and be able to send our subscribers a pack to taste for themselves? We want to do things like that.
Another thing is the idea of collaborating with our subscribers and local Korean companies to create original products. Right now, most Korean products are created with a domestic audience in mind, and of course, that is what makes them so unique. But imagine the possibilities that could exist if we have a constant dialog about needs and desires of Korea lovers from around the world and work with Korean companies to create products based on that?
There will also likely come a time where it will be feasible to open Korea Curated retail stores in major cities overseas. I can imagine some special space Korean artists and companies to visit and showcase their items while interacting with fans. I know there are quite a lot of places to buy Japanese goods abroad, but not so many Korean ones.
And lastly, since many of our subscribers have been to or are planning to visit Korea, so we would also like to add some special subscriber perks like discounts on tours, restaurants and hotels to make their time in Korea even more special.
What are your greatest strengths?
Cory and I are both very active on social media. People know who we are and that we are very genuine about what we do. Everything that we have experienced up until now has come together to create Korea Curated. This isn’t just a business to us, it is our life. People know that. It’s not just about moving product, it’s about moving hearts and creating a genuine connection between passionate people, regardless of their nationality.
In some ways, as foreigners we will always be outsiders. But after the combined experience of 13 years living here we are more passionate and knowledgeable about Korean culture and language than most Koreans. So I like to think about us as “outsiders on the inside”. That gives us a very special perspective. We don’t take anything for granted. We know how special the little things are and know how to present them to our subscribers in a way they appreciate. I think that is our biggest strength.
Are you eager to get your hands on a Korea, Curated box now? Marie and Cory have two boxes to give away to UnitedKpop readers! To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is:
- Share this article on your facebook wall. The quickest way is to share our facebook post; or you can share the link yourself! [be sure to tag @UnitedKpop and @koreacurated, and make sure your post is public so we can see it]
- Like UnitedKpop and Korea, Curated on facebook
The winners will be chosen by Korea, Curated; and will be shared be revealed on 29th February via both facebook pages.
Follow Korea, Curated on social media:
Promoting South Korea, Jasmine has worked for the Korea Foundation, British Council in Korea, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
She also leads the Seoul hub of Sofar Sounds, an indie music initiative that brings gigs to intimate spaces around the world.[/su_box]