Studio KŌ: A Shop that Sells Korean Artistry
Under the warm sunshine of Los Angeles, Ibi works day and night with one goal: to spread the true beauty of Korea. Ibi Yoo is the founder of Studio Kō, an online lifestyle select shop selling Korean artisanal crafts. Her products share a message that even lifestyle goods that we use daily, have equivalent beauty to art pieces in galleries.
You have a variety of products that range from ceramics created by young artists to traditional objects crafted by master artisans.
Ibi: I wanted to create a space that embraces both the new and the traditional Korean lifestyle. By displaying artisanal products that can be utilized in our everyday life, I am confident that I am sharing the organic beauty of Korea.
What urged you to start an online boutique shop based in Los Angeles?
Ibi: There are many shops in the US that do an excellent job curating and selling Japanese home goods. Even if it’s the same product, the value of a product changes depending on the storytelling and illustration. When I moved to the States in my early twenties to study, it was sad to see that there was no place that portrayed Korean craftworks with delicacy. This motivated me to gather ideas and thoughts together, which has brought both Studio Kō and me this far. Looking back, I think it was my fate.
I heard your husband was a big influence too.
Ibi: My husband was born in Korea and then adopted to the US at a young age. I always wondered what would be an effective way to share Korean culture with my husband, who was less conscious of Korean culture. That is when I realized that I too, was in the dark about Korean history and traditions. I became more and more confident that I had a calling for this work during the beginning stages of the development of Studio Kō.
For the brand name Studio Kō, I heard you were inspired by the Korean word Ko which means nose(코), and also something old (古).
Ibi: It is odd to think about the relationship between smelling (nose) and something old, but the name Studio Kō is rooted in my personal experience. As I was planning for my new business, I came across a nostalgic scent that reminded me of my grandmother. I heard that all other senses go through a process of sagittal before the information reaches the cerebrum, but the sense of smell skips this process and directly sends memories and feelings to the brain. It was the day when I was reminiscing about Korea that Studio Kō was born.
“It is important to tell the birth story of a piece. People take
interest in a story with an interesting background.”
How do you approach customers, especially those from non-Korean backgrounds, who have little knowledge of Korean craftsmanship?
Ibi: I balance my inventory with both traditional Korean goods and more modern pieces. If I only sell traditional work, those who are unfamiliar with Korean culture may overlook Studio Kō as a souvenir shop. I want my customers to see that even products with strong Korean characteristics can fit right into one’s home.
Something unique about Studio Kō is that you share information such as Hangeul (Korean alphabet), Korean holidays, Korean food, and more even though they are not directly related to your sales.
Ibi: Rather than only displaying the product itself, I wanted to narrate the unique story that each piece carries. People take interest in a story with an interesting background. That’s why I try my best effort to share each artist’s stories and the background behind each piece. My satisfaction comes when people truly appreciate Korean beauty, rather than when my products sell well. There is a saying that when you live abroad, your sense of nationalism grows, and I think that happened to me too.
Do you have a best-selling piece?
Ibi: The Chungja pieces are very popular. I think it’s the unique color that people are attracted to. Furthermore, all pieces are sold out at some point. I really do think each piece has its perfect match.
Do you have a certain standard when it comes to selecting a new brand or artist to work with?
Ibi: I focus on balance and harmony. I examine if they kept the traditional aspect while also adding modern elements. When it comes to the selection process, I first request a meeting with them. In the process, I get a glimpse of the artists’ personal stories and worldviews. I believe that the piece itself is important, but what the author has to say plays a crucial role in the selection process.
I’ve noticed that you carry some unconventional pieces as well. For instance, the Studio Kō exclusive ‘ᄏᄏᄏ' (Korean version of LOL) pasta bowl.
Ibi: When I visited Icheon, South Korea for a business trip, I came across Hokyung Yon’s unrefined and natural, yet beautiful buncheong pieces. Ever since then I have been working with the artist to create a piece that has a personal touch for everyone using it. The ‘ᄏᄏᄏ’ series and the ‘Made in Korea’ vase are pieces that all Koreans, Korean Americans, and even foreigners can empathize with. I think unique pieces like these can connect different generations together.
You must also have unforgettable customers as well.
Ibi: In the early days of Studio Kō my clientele was focused on customers who were familiar with Korean culture. Four years in, now I also have many clients who are unaware, yet curious about Korea. Recently, I’ve had the privilege to work with Apple TV+ drama <Pachinko>. I packaged Kyunglan Yeo’s ceramic pieces to gift to the producers of Pachinko along with the international viewers of the drama.
What does your typical day look like?
Ibi: I work from my home studio in LA, where I can see palm trees through my window. The mornings usually consist of checking orders and emails. If new pieces from Korea arrived, I have a photo shoot of the products. In the afternoon, I meet with Korean artists via Zoom, discuss potential collaborations, etc.
When working from home, how do you set boundaries between work and personal life?
Ibi: Both my husband and I worked from home even before the pandemic. At first, it was very difficult to separate my personal life from work. As time passed, we decided to use furniture to create separate spaces for work and daily life. Setting our work hours from 9 am to 6 pm also helped us find a balance. When dinner time comes along we urge each other to stop working (laughs). We also started cooking a lot more after the pandemic, which naturally allows us to stop working at dinner time.
Where is your favorite spot in your house?
Ibi: I would say the kitchen and dining room area probably because I spend the majority of my time there. I enjoy cooking, and I displayed pieces I personally adore which also leads me to the kitchen & dining room area. As the owner, I buy and resell products that I myself am attracted to. 80-90% of the time, I purchase products from Studio Kō for my personal use as well! Looking at my cupboard filled with Korean artists’ plates and cups gives me a sentimental and happy feeling about my home country.
What is it like being a Korean business owner in a foreign country?
Ibi: I think being a business owner requires great patience and responsibility wherever you live. dealing with uncertainty from inconsistent earnings was difficult, and I still struggle with my shop's vision frequently. Even though I had doubts in the beginning stages, I decided to proceed with my decisions. This is also why I am so thankful for customers who purchase our products multiple times. I named these customers ‘Studio Kō Collectors’. Every time I think of Studio Kō Collectors and their collection of Studio Kō items, I am motivated to work even harder.