A Quality-Over-Quantity Business Model Defines Eunice Byun's Kitchenware Brand, Material

The co-founder and CEO embraced her love of connectivity over a shared meal—which she learned from her family—when she created her brand.

eunice byun of material kitchen
Photo: Courtesy of Kirsten Francis

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

For Eunice Byun, the co-founder and CEO of Material Kitchen, a meal has always been more than the sum of its ingredients: It's a direct connection to familial life. "My parents owned a restaurant growing up, so I spent most of my childhood there peeking into the kitchen and taking in all the sights and smells," she says. "From a young age, I loved everything about the kitchen—the cacophony of sounds, the creativity, the hustle and bustle, and the drama (my parents' restaurant had this big, ominous-looking wok that sat atop a massive flame)." And since food served as her family's love language, she learned the impact of connection forged over a shared meal early on.

Creating a family of her own ultimately sparked the idea for her kitchenware brand. As she and her husband prepared to welcome their first child, they realized that the "not-so-spacious setting" of their New York City apartment didn't quite provide enough room for baby essentials or their wedding registry items, which mainly included kitchenware. "We had no need for the 32-piece kitchenware sets," Byun says. "I also realized that I didn't even like all the stuff—but, somehow, getting married meant I needed to upgrade my kitchenware."

This experience prompted two questions: Why hadn't she chosen to invest in kitchen items before the wedding? And why had she not selected better items—things she actually wanted to use every day? Instead of searching for quality goods, she worked with her dear friend, and now co-founder, Dave Nguyen, to explore creating them together.

material kitchen kitchenware
Courtesy of Material Kitchen

A Solid Partnership

Byun and Nguyen's business collaboration led to Material's launch in March 2018. Before joining forces as co-founders, they walked similar career paths, something that helped inform their joint venture. "Dave came from fashion, working at Valentino and Chanel; I most recently was in beauty, heading up digital at Revlon," says Byun. "We love that we both come from industries where people connect deeply with brands they identify with—and we wanted to bring that level of connectivity into the kitchen."

Thanks to the help of their loved ones, many who also happen to be professional cooks, they were able to jumpstart their business. "They helped us think through products they couldn't live without—as well as things they wish could be improved," says Byun. "We then met with and interviewed a number of industrial designers, as we knew from the onset that we wanted to be closely involved with the design process." From there, they found their sourcing partner at a trade show; the professional had over 20 years of kitchenware manufacturing experience and served as one of their earliest investors.

Eunice Byun

One of our core tenets at Material is substance over stuff. We'd rather design one really great product versus try and sell someone four decently good things bundled together into a set.

— Eunice Byun

Sharpening the Business

Every piece Byun's team makes reflects their key mantra: "One of our core tenets at Material is substance over stuff," she says. "We'd rather design one really great product versus try and sell someone four decently good things bundled together into a set." The cooper core, five-ply construction of the brand's cookware, like Material's The Coated Pan ($95, materialkitchen.com), allows it to stand the test of time. The same goes for their knives (from $50, materialkitchen.com), which are made from three layers of Japanese steel (one layer of high carbon steel and two outer layers of stainless); they balance performance with ease of use and care.

"We design everything in-house, as we find it allows us to be more precise and intentional throughout the process," says Byun. "We can obsess over a detailed change as small as 1mm and incorporate community input and feedback more seamlessly." All materials are sourced with sustainability in mind, such as the woods—which are FSC-certified—and the recycled plastic, which can be found in the Material reBoards ($35, materialkitchen.com) and reBowls ($25, materialkitchen.com).

As for some of Byun's favorite pieces available right now? The Material "The Bap" Bowl ($45, materialkitchen.com) and "The Breakfast" Bowl ($50, materialkitchen.com) from the brand's ceramics line. "They are made of different blends of Korean soil and hand-finished so they have the most beautiful texture and look to them," she says. "I love these two sizes because they are multi-functional—perfect for snacking, but also storing little odd ends throughout the house."

material kitchen the coated pan
Courtesy of Material Kitchen

Forging Community

More than anything, Byun hopes to create connectivity through her brand, just like her parents did via their restaurant. "We love hearing from our customers that they will go so far as to travel with Material (we've all stayed at an AirBNB somewhere with terribly dull knives!)," she says. "We also love the community we're building amongst food lovers, home cooks, and design aesthetes. It's incredible to see how far-reaching good design is!"

Entrepreneurial Endeavors

When creating your own business, Byun says it's important to build a community with fellow entrepreneurs that goes beyond the surface. "Not simply at a networking level, but more relational," she says. "The people you can commiserate with, celebrate with, ask specific marketing questions to, and bounce ideas off of." Since entrepreneurship can get lonely, finding your trusted network is a must she says—for your mental health and the health of your business.

Byun's future endeavors include expansion, starting with more categories in the kitchen. She and her team have already launched a kids' capsule, and they're looking forward to more debuts in the near future. "I'm excited to continue to dream up [areas] we design into," says Byun. "We're also now at Nordstrom across the U.S., and I'm looking forward to more in-person Material moments."

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