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Online shopping at National Museum of Korea yields surprise finds

High quality, unique items attract young shoppers to museum shop

A screen capture shows the “Aechun’s Garden“ calendar, based on paintings of Aechun Shin Myeong-yeon, a literati painter of the Joseon era. (Twitter)
A screen capture shows the “Aechun’s Garden“ calendar, based on paintings of Aechun Shin Myeong-yeon, a literati painter of the Joseon era. (Twitter)
On Monday, a tweet about a traditional Korean painting-inspired calendar sold on the National Museum of Korea’s website went viral.

“The calendar is so pretty and the garden painting on it becomes more and more complete by flipping through each month. It is like enjoying a different piece of art every month,” the Twitter post said, accompanied by a few pictures of the calendar.

Designed based on paintings of Aechun Shin Myeong-yeon, a literati painter of the Joseon era, “Aechun’s Garden“ became an instant hit and soon sold out on the National Museum Shop website.

“Surprisingly the calendars were sold out within 1 1/2 hours after the tweet was posted,” the designer of the calendar, Kim Min-ji, said on her social media account. Kim on Thursday also announced that she has decided to produce additional calendars and will soon reveal the sales schedule on the National Museum of Korea’s platform.

This is not the first time that National Museum of Korea merchandise has gone viral this year.

In July, the museum shop started selling Goryeo celadon-inspired smartphone cases and AirPods cases, which spread across several social media platforms in September. According to Mimidar, the company that designed the product, over 10,000 products were sold via the National Museum Shop during the first week of September.

A Goryeo celadon-inspired smartphone case and AirPods case created by local company Mimidar are sold on the National Museum of Korea’s website. (Mimidar's Instagram)
A Goryeo celadon-inspired smartphone case and AirPods case created by local company Mimidar are sold on the National Museum of Korea’s website. (Mimidar's Instagram)
The National Museum of Korea says its merchandise started getting attention, especially that of young customers, some three to four years ago. The success is attributed partly to the mix of merchandise on offer -- items created by local designers along with products created by the museum. The phone cases and the calendars were both designed by small companies.

“Twice a year, we select local designers’ items that can be sold in our shops,” National Museum Shop official Kim Mi-kyung told The Korea Herald. “We have a theme related to items in the museum each time. For instance, this year the National Museum showcased lots of paintings, so that was the theme for the second half of the year’s selection.”

She added the selection process takes into consideration the quality of the product and whether the item is worth commercializing. Each applicant submits how their profit would be shared with the museum shop as well.

“So, the amounts that they share with us are all different,” Kim added.

The popularity of the National Museum’s goods is also a godsend for the museum, as it cannot rely solely on ticket sales due to the pandemic. On Dec. 8, the National Museum of Korea had to shut down its facility to prevent the spread of COVID-19, following previous closures in February, May and August.

“Our sales also decreased during the first half of this year like all other local businesses. But during the second half, sales improved a lot through the online channel. We estimate a 10 percent increase in our overall sales this year,” Kim said.

The museum shop official added it is planning to inject more money into technically improving its website and improving its logistics chain.

“We are also shipping items abroad. Although there are not many orders yet, there were some orders from countries overseas, such as the US.”

Asked to recommend an item as Christmas and year-end presents, Kim said many of the products that were promoted for that purpose have already sold out.

From the remaining items on its online platform, Kim recommended the “Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple Site: Reflection of Our Hearts” exhibition catalog.

“The concept of the catalog is meditation. It is small so people can carry it around. Also, the contents are focused on comforting people which seems adequate for people that are going through difficult times due to the pandemic.”

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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