How It All Started
Boy band phenomenon BTS has flooded the world with the next tide of the Korean Wave (Hallyu), the global spread of Korean entertainment and culture.
Named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time magazine in 2019, BTS is just the tip of rising talent coming from Korea.
Korean cultural consumption abroad is also bringing global k-culture fans to Korea in droves. Among them is Gissella Ramirez-Valle, who wanted to explore Korean culture and the hidden talent at its roots.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Gissella studied cultural anthropology in her undergrad and came to Seoul to study ethnic and gender relations at Ehwa Woman’s University in 2011.
Gissella took Korean language classes on the side, and befriended local Koreans to get a better understanding of the culture and to find out what’s happening beyond the typical scenes.
Mutzine was founded first online as a blog to bring these cultural finds to the English-speaking masses. In Korean ‘mutzine’ means ‘cool’ and its concept was to highlight Seoul’s ‘mutzine’ artists, events, and current creative trends.
Gissella continued to collaborate with her network of local independent artists and Mutzine debuted its first annual print magazine issue in 2016.
Since then, two more issues have been published and its covers can be found on stands in local Korean bookstores and worldwide in New York, London, Berlin, Paris, and Singapore.
Print production and distribution takes a lot of work.
Producing the magazine involved finding the right talent to showcase and targeting topics deep.
“A lot of writers reached out to us, but we found that many didn’t have enough experience to write about the topic.”
Mutzine then reached out to writers immersed in their fields. One article, “Politics and Fashion Converge in South Korea” was written by Se-Woong Koo, co-founder and publisher of Korea Exposé, an online magazine specialising in Korean politics, society, and culture.
International distribution of Mutzine was also a challenge.
“Global interest in Korea is growing. Even though demand for Mutzine was broadening internationally, the resources involved in shipping and commissions taken were a burden.”
Mutzine is now targeting the sales of their magazines from their online shop.
The popularity of its content has also brought with it ‘suggestions’ from its readers on topics, mostly those wanting more on k-pop.
“We have to negotiate how much popular culture to include. We don’t want to be a fangirl magazine. Mutzine will continue to stay true to its roots and we hope our audience will figure out our real motivation.”
Mutzine is motivated to bring together a community where many people, local and foreign, can share their thoughts.
One thought on Gissella’s mind is the high volume of international students who want to continue their stay in Seoul beyond their studies, but are struggling to find a reasonable way.
“Korea caters to tourists with tax-free incentives, but lacks options to get people to stay long term. Maybe through dialogue with the local community we can express our needs. We’ve developed great bonds here, and we’re not leaving tomorrow.”
Mutzine hosts monthly events around the city, most focusing on bringing in local artists to discuss their craft, but they’re moving towards creating spaces that foster constructive dialogue to bring change.
To make an impact, Mutzine is looking to expand their team beyond interns to form solid partnerships between local and international residents, a combined voice that can rise to touch policy.
Many Korean artists leave the country to expand and diversify their craft. Mutzine aims to keep local artists inspired by collaborating with international artists in a space where both can call home.