Your Mind, Founder of independent bookshop Your Mind

Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul

Iro found Your Mind in 2009 online and in 2010 opened its offline bookshop where he continues to introduce works of small-sized publishing companies or publications made by the artists themselves. All the while he also publishes books related to illustration, comic, cooking and photography once every two months and hosts the largest event of the independent publishing world, the ‘Unlimited Edition–Seoul Artbook Fair,’ which has been going for ten years. Despite the countless independent bookshops that come and go, Iro manages to survive while holding on to its identity along with what he likes and what he’s good at. At this point we wonder what bookshops and independent publications all mean to him. We met Iro in Yeonhui-dong where he refines a new season for Your-Mind after moving from Seokyo-dong in 2017.

melmel chung

In 2009 you launched your online bookshop Your Mind and the following year its off-line shop. What triggered you to open an analog platform when all medias went digital?

On a random day in 2009, my partner Momomi and I were on the bus together and out of the blue we both agreed to open a bookshop and name it ‘Your Mind’ as long as no one was using the domain on the internet. If there was already a user, we were going to think of another name then. It all went very quickly and smoothly. At that time both Momomi and I were each making a thin book ourselves but couldn’t find a good place to sell them. Selling them directly on our personal websites seemed like pressuring our friends and distributing to cafes or bookshops didn’t seem right because our works were pretty weak and fragile. And we often witnessed them being discounted as a sample. So we thought gathering and introducing books with similar weaknesses and struggles seemed like a good idea and that’s how Your Mind began.

What does the name ‘Your Mind’ mean?

When Momomi and I visited certain shops run by individuals, we felt this sort of insular atmosphere. It was like feeling left out if one wasn’t able to agree with the owner’s taste. And we wondered whether this was a good attitude to run a place in terms of sustainability. Our shop will probably have that similar closed, ‘My-Mind’ vibe so we decided that at least the name should be more open. Not having to add the obvious ‘—books,’ ‘—book,’ or ‘—bookshop,’ was another good reason. It can incite one’s curiosity and also doesn’t limit itself to just books but allow further activities.

During the past few years, a number of unique, independent bookshops unlike the mega bookshops keep appearing. What sets you apart from them?

We present as many types as we can simultaneously but how it all adds up to Your Mind is very important. For this reason we not only run the bookshop but also publish, host Unlimited Edition, and work on our personal works. Engaging on a variety of activity usually bother each other rather than creating a synergy. For instance, around a month prior to the opening of Unlimited Edition, the shop becomes paralyzed. We’re not able to carry on perfectly but nevertheless, bringing all these works and activities together into one big mass is very important to us. They all add up and enable us to go on.

What do you consider most while running an actual bookshop?

The vitality of the space is critical. Once you start feeling bad with the lack of customers the space quickly becomes lonely, and soon the air becomes still and helpless. And finally it turns into a place no one would want to visit. Of course we stock new releases and that adds new breath but not enough to make people come again. That’s why we continue hosting events or new projects and pop-ups. Projects held outside our shop gives new energy as well.

You were located in Seokyo-dong for a long time and then in 2017 you moved to Yeonhui-dong. Did anything change after you moved?

The size became a little smaller and we limited the genres to our interests only. Back in Seokyo-dong we tried to cover as many independent publications as possible. Because by the time we opened, there were hardly any bookshops that did. Now we try to introduce visual-driven books with stories we can agree intuitively. In terms of the space, if the Seokyo-dong shop was a bit of a muddled DIY mix of Giljong Arcade, woodworks of Saemi, furnitures from Euljiro and IKEA, here we have a more organized look designed by Studio COM.


Is there a change in customers as well?

I can’t state the difference clearly but looking back on the early to mid days we had a lot of artists related to independent publications. The place was more like a community. Now we have a whole lot more of regular customers. Some are fans of certain artists or are curious of their works or just simply curious of our shop. It’s a whole variety. Today’s atmosphere is much closer to what I had always pictured. Curious customers and a freedom of consumption—it’s become an expanded scene.

What are your bestsellers?

We don’t have a specific bestseller since our books are sold almost equally. Jaseon Koo’s <Fox Book> and <Mom, You Know…> are our steadysellers.


Does your profit satisfy your economic needs?

Yes but very narrowly.(laugh) We worry about other small bookshops but I don’t go around telling people to ‘never run a bookshop’ based on my sole experience. It’s tough, painful, has lots of shortcomings but it’s certainly rewarding and joyful as well and we all have different aspects don’t we.

‘Iro’ is not your real name. How did that come about?

There’s a region called ‘Iro’ in Donghae, Gangwon Province. I accidently came across it on the map and the name was nothing like the ordinary region names but more like a person’s. The pronunciation was nice as well so I picked it up and decided to use it as my stage name. The reason for this is because having to use my given name seemed pretty ironic when I’m in control of whatever I do, such as naming my shop, publishing my own book or curating and distributing others, deciding where I work and so on. I’ve always wanted to give myself another name once I start this job and that’s when I found it.

When did you first publish your own book? And why did you?

It was around 2006. I only made 20 to 30 copies which I sold on my personal website. To me a book as a medium felt very close and natural. I wanted to release my writings and contents somehow and being the internet-friendly generation, I considered the web on one side and the actual paper on the other.


Do you continue to write personally?

Yes I continue to write on various subjects. When I work on a book I usually go to another publisher instead of publishing under Your Mind. Everything we do pivots around the bookshop, the publishing and the Unlimited Edition but that can be quite insular. If we were to publish our own books then we’d be isolating ourselves in our desert island.


What’s book to you?

It’s the ultimate ‘three-dimensional structure’ for expression. That’s why we include posters, postcards, badges alongside our books, believing those goods are also ways to express one self. We live in the days where only the indispensable are consumed and I think these three-dimensional structures stand as a crucial keyword. Books, DVDs, CDs, badges, all these are actually needless in the aspect of practicality. But to me, the culture of producing useless things is very important. These sit somewhere in your space and will pull you out of the world of usefulness from time to time. And at that point, I think books play the core role.

In 2009 you launched an event platform for the independent publishers, ‘Unlimited Edition’ which has now become very significant. What triggered you to run this in the beginning and what drives you?

The start point was the nature of the books we cover. Most of them refuse to stand out against fancy artwork or design. Majority of them lack profiles or websites that provide information on the author/artist. It’s actually only an act of joy to exclude the basic elements of a book rather than to shy away. Unlimited Edition came about when I thought there should be a platform for them once a year, to gather together and prove that ‘we’re not hiding.’ The name is grand but we didn’t want to start too big and hollow. It’s much better to have people and energy jammed in a small place so we began small. If someone tells me there’s a long line waiting outside, it feels like they’re all here for me, which is a big motivation.

Once you add the ‘independent’ on music, publishing or studio the meaning alters. As a person who runs an independent bookshop and works hard for it, how would you define the word?

To my opinion, ‘independent’ means to stand aside from the frame a certain industry defines. Depending on the various elements that define this frame, like the capital assets, system, staff, the type or theme of book, design, quantity, sales method, the view of independent publishing can change. It’s not easy to state it clearly, it’s rather quite complicated. Some may agree with the books we sell as independent publications, but some could think otherwise. For instance, if one doesn’t consider heavy and well-designed books as independent publications, then books such as <Post Seoul> is far from being that. But if others consider books made by small groups independent, then <Post Seoul> becomes that.

We notice a variety of collaborations in the publishing industry and we imagine Your Mind isn’t free from those collaborative proposals.

Actually, we tend to reject most of the proposals. We only have a few sponsors for the Unlimited Edition and we stay that way. We believe collaborations leave no benefits for both parties and once we fear the project may harm our core structure then we refuse to do it. I do not consider opening a branch as an option either. Because I know I won’t be able to control the expansion. Collaborations are also in a way an expansion so most of the time we’re defensive. And for the same reason, when we’re the ones to propose, we try to figure out the best way to deliver our thoughts as clearly as we can.

Have you ever thought about the end of Your Mind?

I think about it all the time but actually I already experienced the end when I left Seokyo-dong. No one, including ourselves, knew we’d be running the bookshop for ten years, giving 3 or 4 years as maximum. The end will eventually come someday and that’s probably when we all decide that the offline bookshop no longer functions as our core task among the other works we do. But I’m a really slow person so I’m not sure when I’d make that extreme decision.(laugh)