Portrait by 7 Studio
The story is familiar: what started out as 120 T-shirts screen-printed by hand has now become a branded entity that exhibits products and art around the world.
For the Korean art-project-cum-brand Sonyon, the protagonists and their realm are what’s unusual. In the world of Sonyon (“boy,” in Korean), you are the main character, and you can populate your world with imaginary friends, purchasable in small boxes. Each box is decorated with an illustration of a new friend: friend #1 helps you with your homework, friend #3 is amazing at games, there are submarines, robots for rent—the list of friends is endless.
“We were trying to imagine a boy in the future,” says founder Kim Bo-min, “and all the things that boy would hold in his imagination.”
“People who dream would most enjoy the brand,” adds Lee Joo-eun, Kim’s business partner.
There is no typical Sonyon customer: kids in their teens, men and women in their 60s who are young at heart. “It’s for people who have a special place inside themselves that doesn’t age. You could say Sonyon is analogous to Peter Pan.” But without the Disney-fied sheen of eternal happines; Sonyon is still, after all, Korean. “When you walk around Seoul, you experience both happiness and sadness in the things you come across. Likewise, Sonyon lives somewhere between a happy place and a sad one.”
Sonyon actively shows its range of products at exhibitions around the globe, and the first thing that catches your attention is the powerfully bright graphics. Hand-drawn, monospaced typography gives the boxes a one-of-a-kind look. Kim explains the inspiration: “When I was young, we had state-run poster contests, where we had to use set phrases like ‘Let’s protect nature’ or ‘Be nice to others.’ The contests were template-ized, meaning the required characters were given blank boxes for people to draw them in the most creative way.”
Speaking of small, blank boxes, it would be a natural evolution for Sonyon to break into something more animated. “We’re working on it,” they assure us. Active imagination, indeed.