Magazine B – Issue 96: Busan
Amid the waves of numerous brands sweeping the globe, Magazine B shares its perspective on well-balanced brands and uses print media to demonstrate the timeless values of individual brands. Defining a well-balanced brand by four standards—beauty, practicality, price, and philosophy—Magazine B offers unique insights and in-depth analysis of one well- balanced brand in one issue every month.
Welcome to the 96th issue of B.
Back in 2018, when B revisited Seoul, the capital city of Korea, to put out a second edition, we talked about what city would be the best for the city issue besides Seoul. Many of our editors—including me—thought of Busan, the second largest city in Korea, and Jejudo Island for its breathtaking natural landscapes. Five years later, we wound up doing an issue that features Busan. Of course, we were drawn to Jejudo Island because it embodies the idea of rest and relaxation, but truthfully, we were more curious about Busan’s many faces beyond the beaches and tourism. I myself visit the coastal city every year and always feel like moving there whenever I go, so it is obvious that the port city 400 km south of Seoul has some kind of magnetic allure.
Each time I arrive at Busan Station and taxi to Haeundae to get settled in—I’ve done this so many times I don’t dare to even try to count—I find myself mesmerized by the landscape of the piers as I look out the car window. Not until rows of shipping containers and towering cranes catch my eyes do I feel like, ‘Ah! Finally, I’m in Busan.’ It feels like passing through immigration. Maybe because of the unique layout of port cities, I have always assumed that Busan was bigger than Seoul. Maybe it is the impression that you can only get from the second- or the third-largest cities. Apparently, it is the norm that the nation’s largest city—the capital city in an administrative and economic sense—naturally chases ideas like “global standards” and “cosmopolitanism.” Despite the never-ending changes in architecture, culture, and commercial districts that seem to pop up overnight, capital cities always feel rather mediocre when all things are said and done. That might explain why I have recently heard globe-trotters grumbling that there is nothing special out there. Everything is already in Seoul.
But Busan has staved off this rather imminent phenomenon of standardization. Of course, the city boasts a good number of flagship stores by global brands, inventive and fancy restaurants, and uniform- like styles that hipsters wear, but these elements
do not shape the visitor’s impression of the city. Rather, Busan’s cultural elements—embedded in the clothing, food, and architecture—forge a distinctive locality in its raw state, emerging through the cracks between the well-developed infrastructure that is essential for a big city to survive. The essence of Busan that B captured for this issue also centers on the people, the products, and the companies that add contemporary twists to local tradition. From Momos Coffee’s Jooyeon Jeon, who triumphantly sprang up from the local specialty coffee scene and on to the global stage; and Balansa, a fashion brand whose contemporary chicness is no less superb than Seoul- born rivals; to Gentz Bakery, which strives to retain a sense of “Koreanness.” All these players generated cultlike followings locally and received offers to expand to Seoul. (Usually, it happens the other way around.) In a city where not even one of Korea’s top 100 companies has its headquarters, it is a feat that locally grown creativity translates to business acumen, resulting in phenomenal success.
The potential of Busan, I opine, lies with innovative small business owners, though they are wildly outnumbered by their counterparts in Seoul. Indeed, the Busanites B met say that the city’s potential is in the hands of the people who grew up in Busan, far from Seoul and close to the door to the outside world. Busan has constantly grappled with internal and external forces due to its geographical position and historical events, like outsiders coming and going, refugees from the Korean War rushing in. Even still, it seems that Busan has the most fertile soil to cultivate new contemporary ideas. This may be why I as a land dweller, born and raised in Seoul, always envy people who live near water—and where they come together, in Busan.