Park Soo-kyung (’97, Physical Education Program), is the co-president of Gumha Chilbo, the biggest and oldest Korean enameling company established in 1967.
Company founder Kim Yi-doo’s first daughter and Park’s mother, Kim Sun-kyung is co-preside nt and a graduate of Yiyounghui, the executive training program of the Ewha Graduate School.
Kim’s four other siblings are in charge of making glaze, producing goods, marketing, and overseas sales. The founder’s first son, Kim Sun-bong learned glaze making skills with his father and is now a glaze expert certified by the Ministry of Labor.
Chilbo, or in Park’s words, “the art of fire,” is traditional Korean enameling. It was mostly enjoyed by upper classes in the Chosun Dynasty and made into queen’s hair accessories or pendents.
Enameling is a technique where glazes are backed into basic frames like gold, silver, copper, and glass at about 800 degrees Celsius. As the glaze melts, the bronze changes into unique colors. No two enamelings are the same.
Enameling was brought from China and spread through Korea to Japan, but the three countries developed the art in unique ways. In Korea, the technique disappeared during the early 1990’s. Gumha Chilbo’s founder Kim Yi-doo wanted to continue Korean enameling and learned the skill from Ko, the last enameling technician of the 1960’s.
“My father was very good at making accessories. He first started with biz when he opened his first shop, Gumha Sanghui, named after him and his wife’s last name, Kim and Ha,” said Kim. “In the 1970’s we started to sell chilbo, and it soon gained popularity in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.” In the economic heyday, they sold 20 boxes each box containing 2,000 products, to Japan.
The company now sells raw materials as well as complete products, conducts lectures on enameling, and promotes the traditional art domestically and internationally.
Park is in charge of education, domestic and overseas marketing, and glaze production while Kim takes up sales.
In 2002, Park, fresh from Ewha graduate school majoring in dancing education, was in Los Angeles to study English and wondering what to do with the rest of her life.
“My professor recommended that I get a doctorate. But I wanted to learn English and something new and unique, so I decided to learn dancing therapy in America. But it was when I was watching the World Cup that I found my real calling,” said Park. “The World Cup fever in Korea was all over the nation; some office workers even quit their job to support the Korea team. But I noticed that the people in the U.S. did not give much attention to the international arena even though their team’s match was going on.”
Park started to think about how much Korea actually meant to Americans.
“Back then, most Americans thought Samsung and Hyundai were Japanese companies. That shocking reality made me determined to launch a brand which truly represents Korea to foreigners.”
After setting her sights on chilbo, Park flew to Japan to learn about Japanese enameling. In 2004, Park finally came back to Korea and started her own business separately from her mother’s company.
“I began with an online shopping mall that started from my own room,” said Park.
When her first order was arranged online, Park and her only employee jumped up and down and hugged each other.
As Park steadily expanded her business, not only in sales but also in marketing and education, Park had to move her office to cover all her projects. In 2008, her mother’s company and Park’s merged as a family company inhereted over three generations.
Now, they are focusing on popularizing chilbo by shortening the production process and educating young students about enameling art.
“Co-president Park is focusing on industrialization of chilbo not only in accessories, but also in tableware, and interior decorations such as wall paper. We are looking forward to spreading the greatness of Korean enameling to both Koreans and foreigners,” said Kim Sun-kyung.
Park and Kim are currently aiming towards spreading the traditional art abroad. Last year, they held their first exhibition in Beijing and a second one will open this September.
Also, targeting the Shanghai Expo which will be held in May as the biggest expo in the world, Park conducted a promotional exhibition in Shanghai earlier this month.
Park has also made deals with numerous buyers including several in Japan and Dubai, for two years.
“When I meet with buyers, my strategy is not to tell them to buy my product directly, but to show them my personal everyday items such as my chilbo card case, and broach,” said Park. “We will focus on design this year by forming a design team. We will also try to share our pie with students we have educated so that they can stand on their own two feet. This will ensure that my company does not hold a monopoly in the field.”