Jong Ie NaraEducational Supplies
Jong Ie Nara is an educational supplies and publishing company that leads South Korea’s market for colored paper, optimized for paper arts and crafts, with more than a 70% share. It pioneered paper folding culture in Korea by publishing relevant educational books over many decades. It exports colored paper, glue sticks, clay products as well as color paints to more than 60 countries and eyes further global expansion by promoting paper folding and crafts worldwide.
Published: May 26, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)
Last updated: May 28, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)
The Cultural Architect of Korean Paper Arts and Crafts
Colored paper market pioneer exports Korean paper culture to the world
Jong Ie Nara was established in 1972 as a small paper mill by its founder and president Jung Do-hun and his wife Rho Young-hye, currently the chief executive of the Korea Paper Culture Foundation. “Jong Ie” means paper in Korean, while “Nara” means world or nation.
Before starting their own venture, the couple had long questioned why Korea, with its exceptional culture of Hanji -- traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry trees -- lacked high-quality colored paper. In founding Jong Ie Nara, they dreamt of making the world’s best colored paper to continue the country’s paper-making legacy and promote its art and culture abroad.
South Korea’s colored paper manufacturing process in the 1970s was far from automated. Rather, it was handcrafted by brushing paint onto white paper and drying it before being sold to customers. Not only was the quality of the paper low, but the process was expensive as it was done by hand. Another issue was a serious lack of variety in color and types of paper offered in the market.
Jong Ie Nara initially followed the industry norm, making its paper in a way not too different from the competition and with Jung himself delivering the products to schools on his bicycle. But the young entrepreneurial couple became convinced that there must be a way to manufacture the colored paper more efficiently and with better quality.
After near-nightly discussions spanning several years, they finally came up with country’s first automated manufacturing system for colored paper and began mass-scale production in the 1980s.
With the automation, Jong Ie Nara was able to significantly improve the quality of the colored paper made in Korea and also expanded the number of colors on offer. The company added variety and innovation as well, including the development of Korea’s first double-sided colored paper now commonly used in paper arts and crafts.
The company saw skyrocketing growth in the 1990s when paper folding became a national phenomenon, both at schools and at home, thanks to the government’s inclusion of the craft in the country’s art curriculum in 1992. Jong Ie Nara’s educational publications on paper folding and crafts further ignited the nationwide craze.
“I remember watching dozens of trucks just returning to where they came from, because we simply couldn’t meet the soaring demand despite running at our full capacity,” said current Jong Ie Nara CEO Jung Kyu-il, the son of the company’s founding couple.
Now in 2021, the colored paper maker has become one of the leading stationery companies in Korea. It exports colored paper, craft paper, glue sticks, clay products as well as glass art supplies to more than 60 countries around the world.
It continues to lead the way in promoting Korea’s paper folding culture overseas, including to China, and also acquired a color paint company three years ago for business diversification.
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By Gyeong-Jin Min; edited by Daniel Cho