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Jong Ie Nara logo
Jong Ie Nara Educational 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)

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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.

Contents

  • [Product & Value Proposition] Pioneer of Paper Folding Culture in Korea
    Jong Ie Nara's colored paper manufacturing process

    The company manufactures its colored paper by printing color, through a process called gravure printing, onto the paper that has been specially designed for craft purposes. The gravure method of printing, a type of intaglio printing, uses a rotating metal cylinder to engrave the color or image onto the image carrier, such as plain white paper.

    Jong Ie Nara credits its use of water-based instead of oil-based pigments to the superior stability of its colored paper. Using the water-based pigments and based on more than 40 years of know-how in coloring techniques, Jong Ie Nara’s range of colored paper boasts more than 200 different color options. The company says it manages more than 1,000 stock-keeping units (SKUs), each being a distinct item for sale, of colored paper.

    Focusing on the constant improvement of colored paper product quality since its establishment, Jong Ie Nara has collected quite a number of certifications and awards over the years. It was certified with the Q Mark quality certification in 1988 and received the highest grade in the government’s quality management scheme in 1991. It also won the bronze award at the Korea National Quality Award competition in 1993.

    Moreover, South Korea’s Small and Medium Business Administration in 1996 selected it as a promising export company, while the state-run Korea Technology Finance Corporation listed it as a blue-chip technology company in 2002.

    Further recognition at the national level for the quality of its colored paper was its selection in 2005 as a “maker of excellent-quality products” at a competition hosted by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises.

    A reindeer paper craft using Jong Ie Nara's colored paper

    Aside from its colored paper products, glue sticks account for the second-largest amount of the company’s revenue. Having entered the market in the early 1990s, Jong Ie Nara developed an air-sealing technology advanced enough to allow its glue sticks remain in good condition for five years, four to five times longer than the use-by dates of glue sticks imported from China and elsewhere.

    Its glue sticks are especially sought after by overseas clients, the company says, given this shelf-life advantage. As a result, Jong Ie Nara exports around 70% of its glue sticks to more than 50 countries worldwide, including China, India and those in Eastern Europe.  

    Most of the company’s products are currently manufactured at its factory in Chungju, North Chungcheong Province, built in 2014. Some 60% of the factory’s capacity is used in the production of its main product, the colored paper, while the glue sticks take up 25%. The remaining 15% of its capacity is for making other products in its range, such as modeling clay and color paint products.

    “We are diversifying into segments close to our current business, with the ultimate goal to become an overall leader in the educational supplies industry. Our acquisition of a color paint company three years ago is an example of such diversification,” said the CEO.
  • [Market Position] Adding Educational Content to Paper Manufacturing
    A grasshopper paper craft using Jong Ie Nara's colored paper

    It would be no exaggeration to say that Jong Ie Nara created the paper folding culture in Korea today. Culture experts and industry representatives say that the company is a true pioneer that nurtured and preserved the country’s cultural heritage of paper arts and crafts.

    The company started publishing books on the craft of paper folding from the late 1980s after launching a publishing house in 1988. The company’s books, among the first written on the topic in the Korean language, heralded a new cultural wave of paper arts and crafts in Korea.

    Jong Ie Nara's educational books on paper folding are now also widely available in English

    In 1989, the company founder’s wife Rho Young-hye started the Korea Origami Association to standardize the training of paper craft instructors and regularize events related to paper art.

    Just as her husband was working on the technical side of the business, she led its cultural side, establishing Korea Paper Culture Foundation in 2005 and working as its chief executive, while also taking on the chief editor’s role in the quarterly Paper Fold magazine.

    The company gained national fame in the 1990s, when public schools incorporated paper folding into the national art curriculum and when the state-run Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) began to frequently broadcast paper folding and craft programs on TV.

    The company representatives say that it was during that decade when Jong Ie Nara solidified its reputation among South Korean citizens as the country’s top colored paper maker. Many Koreans still associate paper art with Jong Ie Nara, as they grew up creating paper crafts using the company’s products.

    After successfully positioning itself as a leading brand, the company continued to foster the paper craft community both in Korea and abroad. According to the company, it has educated a total of 350,000 paper craft instructors so far through its cultural enterprises such as the Korea Paper Culture Foundation.    

    The company’s publishing unit also put out more than 3,000 books up to now on paper folding. In addition, Jong Ie Nara established 52 paper art and craft education centers worldwide, many of them in China and Europe, as a means to promote Korea’s unique paper folding culture and education to foreigners.

    The creation of Jong Ie Nara Paper Art Museum in 1997 is the company’s another endeavor to preserve and promote Korea’s long cultural tradition of paper making and crafting. The museum showcases more than 5,000 pieces of paper art, according to the company.

    Jong Ie Nara Paper Art Museum showcases a diverse range of paper arts and crafts

    In addition, Jong Ie Nara annually hosts Korea Paper Art and Cultural Exhibition, which aims to discover new possibilities in paper art beyond the tradition, with participants from all around the globe including France and the US.  

    The company is also actively participating in the global paper industry’s eco-friendly efforts, by only using paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). It will also make further social contributions in the area by reducing the reliance on plastic packaging, by researching ways to adopt alternative plastic materials on its product packaging.
  • [Competitive Advantage] 70% Share in High Entry Barrier Market
    Jong Ie Nara has kept its leadership position in South Korea’s colored paper market over the last four decades. Thanks to the rapid expansion of paper folding art and craft in the country in the 1990s, the company enjoyed an unprecedented rate of growth in that decade, at an average annual rate of 20%.

    The company has managed to post sustained growth results into the new millennium as well, with its sales growing at an average annual rate of 2-3% over the last two decades. The company’s revenue in 2020 also reached 30.6 billion won ($27.5 million), recording a 1.3% rise from the 2019 figure despite the spread of COVID-19.  

    A noteworthy achievement last year was that its operating profit more than doubled from that of 2019, recording 2.4 billion won ($2.2 million). The company explained that not only the last year’s sales of colored paper was particularly high, but also its decision to adopt a new manufacturing execution system (MES) and improve the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system during the pandemic proved effective in increasing the profit margin.

    Jong Ie Nara expects stable growth in the domestic market in the next few years, as it is confident that no new entrant could threaten its leadership status in the colored paper market.

    “The colored paper market has a high entry barrier with an estimated initial investment of at least 5 billion won ($4.4 million) to set up a manufacturing facility of our company’s size, as well as complications in opening up new distribution channels both in and outside Korea,” said the company’s CEO Jung Kyu-il.

    Jong Ie Nara's manufacturing facilities in Chungju, South Korea

    According to the company, its manufacturing facility in Chungju annually produces more than 1.5 billion sheets of colored paper. The company spokesman added that its advanced paper-cutting technology gives it another strong edge over the competition, assuring uniform size and thickness essential for paper crafts.  

    Jong Ie Nara’s colored paper uses a type of paper slightly lighter than typical everyday office printing paper. Its paper sheets weigh 60 grams per square meter whereas the same-size office printing paper weighs around 70-80 grams.

    While colored paper made by its competitors in Europe and other parts of the world also use heavier paper weighing 70-80 grams per square meter, Jong Ie Nara says its product is the one that provides the ideal weight and thickness for paper arts and crafts.

    In addition to the specially designed 60-gram paper, Jong Ie Nara continues to put ceaseless efforts in consumer research, product R&D as well as industry-academia collaboration to scientifically analyze and develop colored paper products optimized for paper arts and crafts.  

    The company highlighted that another example output from its endless endeavor is the newly launched Le Papier D’Amour, a special product for paper folding experts and that translates to “the paper of love”, which has received a wide acclaim in the paper art and craft community.

    Jong Ie Nara also plans to grow market share in clay, glass art and color paint segments, which it has entered more recently, by launching aggressive marketing initiatives and developing related educational and recreational content.
  • [Growth Potential] Spreading the Culture of Paper Folding to the World
    The company is exporting the culture of paper folding arts and crafts to different corners of the globe. While Japan and the US have their own practices of paper folding and paper crafts, they are largely for recreational purposes, unlike South Korea’s education-oriented practice spearheaded by Jong Ie Nara.  

    Jong Ie Nara has established a local office in China and kicked off a paper folding education project in the country’s Wuhan city last year. It plans to launch another series of educational programs in China in collaboration with public institutions in the cities of Chengdu, Shanghai and again in Wuhan.

    Jong Ie Nara's special education seminar on paper folding in Vietnam

    The educational supplies company has also been active in training and stationing paper craft instructors in different parts of the world by hosting overseas seminars and boot camp sessions annually.

    The company says that paper arts and crafts are poised to grow rapidly in Asian and Middle Eastern countries with a per capita GDP of at least around $15,000-20,000. Jong Ie Nara has a systematic capability to provide paper folding education projects and social contribution programs on a turnkey basis to local governments and public institutions overseas.

    The company’s late focus is on demonstrating remedial effects of paper folding for various types of diseases including Alzheimer's and developmental disorders. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting the soothing emotional and psychological benefits of paper folding, there are limited number of scientific studies on its medical capabilities.  

    Jong Ie Nara notes that multiple sectors including microbotics, airbags as well as space stations have already been applying the geometric features of paper folding in their designs.  

    “The number of studies on the educational, remedial, and other scientific effects of paper folding and crafts are on the rise. These attempts will fuel a whole new global boom in the practice of paper folding just like in Korea,” said the company CEO Jung Kyu-il.

    Jong Ie Nara's paper folding event in the US

    Building on the coloring technology accumulated over the last decades, the company will continue to develop painting supplies for private art studios, or ateliers, that are growing in numbers as painting is recently becoming a popular hobby in Korea. Another item to be launched in the market is an art education kit that includes paper folding and craft elements.  

    Internationally, the company says it will continue to expand to new overseas markets with its representative educational content on paper arts and crafts.
  • [Corporate Governance] Second-Generation Family Management on Track
    Jong Ie Nara maintains its original identity as a family-run business. The company is wholly owned by the founder and president Jung Do-hun and his family members. Jung is the largest shareholder with a 45.99% stake, while his wife Rho Young-hye owns 23.86%. Each of their three children has 10.05% of the company’s shares.  

    Jong Ie Nara has now entered the second phase of family management, with the founding couple’s son Jung Kyu-il recently becoming its chief executive after having gained many years of leadership experience within the company.

    The family is also regularly donating a portion of its stock dividends to its cultural enterprises, the Korea Paper Culture Foundation and the Jong Ie Nara Paper Art Museum, as a part of its long-term social contribution initiative.

By Gyeong-Jin Min; edited by Daniel Cho (min@hankyung.com)