Bringing Sustainability, Connection, and Simplicity into the Kitchen
Bringing Sustainability, Connection, and Simplicity into the Kitchen

"I think that when you’re doing something genuinely that you love for inspiration, the well runs really deep." 

- Eunice Byun

Step into the world of Material, where Eunice Byun, the co-founder and CEO, has created a go-to destination for today's home cooks. With accolades from renowned publications like The New York Times, Forbes, and Oprah's Favorite Things, Material has solidified its place as a leader in the industry. Eunice shares her insights on risk-taking, fearlessness, and the art of seizing opportunities. She also talks with Elizabeth about how her diverse professional background, from intimate apparel and beauty to advising startups and working at Revlon, has shaped her entrepreneurial journey. Eunice discusses her passion for sustainability in the kitchen, the inspiration behind the Material brand, and the essential tools every kitchen should have.

Shop Material Kitchen products here and use code PURELYELIZABETH for 20% off until July 31st!



    Elizabeth Stein 00:00
    Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO of purely Elizabeth. And this is live purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Eunice Byun, co founder and CEO of material that go to destination for today's home cooks. Since launching in 2018 material has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Oprah's Favorite Things and GQ's best stuff of the year. Eunice started her career at Goldman Sachs and helped launch and advise several startups in the consumer space and was most recently head of digital at Revlon. In this episode, Eunice shares all about her entrepreneurial journey with material including her learnings from her earlier career in the intimate apparel and beauty space. We talk about taking risks, being fearless and opening yourself up to opportunity. The importance of creating a product that has a true need and point of difference. Sustainability in the kitchen where she draws inspiration for the brand today and the essentials we all need in the kitchen. Absolutely loving my material products. If you want to try them yourself, use code purelyelizabeth for 20% off at Enjoy the show. If you haven't had the chance to try our grain free granolas yet, head on over to Walmart to now find them in the gluten free Healthy Living aisle in select Walmart locations our grain free granolas have crunchy clusters of nuts, superfood seeds and creamy nut butters, all baked with organic coconut oil and sweetened with coconut sugar. They are gluten free paleo and keto certified, use the link in the notes section to find clearly Elizabeth products at a Walmart store near you. Yes, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to have you on today and hear all about your story.

    Eunice Byun 02:01
    Thank you so much for having me.

    Elizabeth Stein 02:03
    So we always start with your journey. And for you, you really had quite a variety of a background before launching material kitchen. So I'd love to kind of dive into all those career steps along the way that ultimately led to material kitchen. And kind of take us back what was your first job out of college?

    Eunice Byun 02:24
    Well, my first job out of college was in finance, I worked at Goldman Sachs. And I definitely was one of those students who knew had just no clue about what I wanted to do. I was like, well, I should just probably try something. And finance seemed to be a really common thing that people went into at Northwestern. And I just gave it a whirl. And I think along the way, I just realized, I've never been one to fall in love with like a subject or an industry. I think for me, it was always about just a feeling. And that feeling was curiosity. So wherever I went, I think the second that I felt like it wasn't as interesting or I wasn't learning as much. It was almost like another door would open and I would just walk through it. So I love that. Yeah, I've had a very, very odd twists and turns through my career.

    Elizabeth Stein 03:21
    Were you always curious like that as a child? Or was that something you identified later on in your life?

    Eunice Byun 03:27
    I think I was always curious as a as a kid. I mean, I was the youngest on both my mom's side and my dad's side. So I had a ton of older cousins. I had an older sister. And yeah, I was just always that young girl asking probably way too many questions, coming up with her own ideas. But yeah, it was a bit of a sponge, too. I just always loved learning about things. And it could be, again, any subject matter. But I just found it all so fascinating and so interesting. But I was never like a master of one. I wanted to know a little bit about everything.

    Elizabeth Stein 04:01
    I love the idea of following those holes that are bringing you curiosity and like, as you said, opening the door and walking through which I think is such a wonderful way to live your life. But for a lot of people, they stop at the door with fear. So yeah. Can you identify something early on that allowed you to have to kind of be fearless and go after that curiosity, or is that something that's kind of shifted?

    Eunice Byun 04:31
    It's actually a really interesting question. I never thought about maybe what inspired it and as you were asking the question, I think where my my mind went immediately was just being the children of of immigrant parents, quite honestly, because I think there's this feeling that you have at a young age of kind of being caught in between two places. Because, you know, my parents immigrated from Korea. I grew up in San Diego, California and I think there was almost always this sense of trying to figure out where I fit in and trying to figure out, you know more about my identity. And I think because of that, you try out a lot of identities and you try and explore like, who am I like, am I? Am I Korean? Am I American? What does that mean? What does it mean to be both? And so I think a lot of it was, yeah, just trying to see what felt right. And I think, because of that, it was easy for me to try on different things, because I didn't feel rooted in that moment. in just one, one part of my identity, I think there was just a lot of exploration that was happening at a young age.

    Elizabeth Stein 05:39
    That's so interesting. And it certainly has served you really well. So as you got out of finance, and between then, and starting material kitchen, what were some of those moments of career that like really drew you in and where you got inspiration? And ultimately, that really helped navigate to where you are today?

    Eunice Byun 06:04
    Yeah, I think I collected so much along the way. And and that's why I love that it wasn't a linear path, it was full of twists and turns in lots of different industries,

    Elizabeth Stein 06:14
    especially for anyone listening who's graduating who is nervous that they don't know what they want to do, like, totally okay to have so many different paths.

    Eunice Byun 06:22
    Yeah. And I actually love that I think it's not celebrated enough, I think people should try on all these different things. Because, again, I've collected so many learnings from each job, even though they're in such disparate industries. And so I went from finance into intimate apparel, I mean, what an odd jump from, you know, reading the Wall Street Journal, to then thinking about every single thing about undergarments, and it was that made and form. And I think what I loved about that role was I was brought on to kind of help incubate new ideas. And so for me, as someone who never could pinpoint that I had an entrepreneurial spirit, it was almost like incubating new businesses with a big safety net underneath. Because I didn't have to think about fundraising, or I didn't have to think about all the I can just so many struggles of being an entrepreneur, I was able to do it within the confines of this amazing American heritage, American heritage brand. So I was there for five years and got to experience a lot. Just knowing even about like, what merchandising is or what is a good supply chain look like or even look at a p&l. I mean, those were all such valuable things. I think that I draw upon a lot now today,at material. And then from there, I jumped into the startup scene here in New York pretty early on, and I got my feet wet and never necessarily thought I myself would be a founder. But I just loved the idea of being in the same room with people who thought expansively and thought bigger. And if something didn't exist, they wanted to create it. And so I think that rubbed off on me a lot. And then I had my first daughter. And there was a real life moment of Ooh, like, I don't know if I can stay in this world right now. Because it felt at the time honestly, it felt really unsupportive of being a mother of a young child. And there was this, I think, a little bit of this mentality of like, you drink the Kool Aid, and you have to, you know, spend 24/7 With your startup, it was almost kind of like a fraternity sorority scene, right of like, you have to be there all the time wearing the hats that have your startup name on it. And it was just like a lot. And so I took some time, and I just started freelancing a little bit. And I think that's where I felt a little bit more confident in my own ability to chart my own path. And then I got a call to go actually jump back into corporate America as the head of digital for Revlon, in the beauty space. And I thought, if there's ever a chance for me to go learn about kind of storytelling, everything that's happening in the beauty space, with digital being, like, the most exciting space to be in at that point in time, I was like, this was a great time for, for me to get my feet wet, and explore category that people are so passionate about, because quite honestly, right before I took the job, my co founder, Dave, and I had started talking about material. And so I was like, gosh, it'd be so cool to go and, and you can just learn about like this stickiness factor that was happening in the beauty space at that time, and figure out how does that get parlayed a little bit into the home cooking space, so it all fit together. But it was like all these disparate puzzle pieces that felt like they ultimately needed to come together in order to create what ultimately became material.

    Elizabeth Stein 09:41
    I love that. What an amazing journey that you had on your way to starting. What in the Revlon beauty space really, maybe surprised you or was like one of your biggest takeaways that you took into launching material. Because there I feel like that so much even with food that there's so much to look at In beauty, whether it's packaging, whether it's communication, but would love to hear?

    Eunice Byun 10:05
    Yeah, I think it was just the power of the voice of, of one individual right and and then that's something that I think really changed how marketing works, because for so long it was a brand, kind of talking to one big segment of customers. And when digital and when all these individual voices started to rise, it was no, each brand needs to figure out how to speak to many different voices and to engage with them on a more intimate personal level. And I think, Gosh, you saw that so much in the beauty space early on, where someone could just start talking about opening up their beauty cabinet, and you know, starting to name all the things that they loved in their beauty cabinet. And all of a sudden, that person became someone that you wanted to hear from and listen to, because they were talking so much more personally, it wasn't a script, it wasn't something that someone had told them. You know, these are the four points that you need to say. And I think that created such personal attachment within the beauty world. And that was something we were really craving in the home cooking space was just this idea that people could be connected to the things and the objects in their home. And so we drew up honestly a lot from the beauty world and just relying on voices and experiences to really be our mouthpiece versus a kind of standard marketing campaign.

    Elizabeth Stein 11:25
    Alright, so let's get into what drew you into creating material kitchen and getting into home cooking. And have you always been really into cooking?

    Eunice Byun 11:35
    I have and it's funny because I thought it was normal stuff that I did when I was younger. And now when I talk to people, I'm like, Oh my gosh, that was so normal. Like I was probably 10 or 11 when I would come home from school. And I remember cooking myself full on snacks like it could be for somebody I had a artichoke phase where I was really into steaming artichokes and coming up with different dips for it, which is bizarre, but it was prepping artichokes and learning kind of what to do with it. Or I would come home and make like Japanese yaki soba and I would chop all the vegetables and I would sauteed all but again, totally not normal for 10 or 11 year old. That's pretty impressive. Yeah, but I loved it. And I don't think it was until I had my first daughter where my husband and I talked about it a lot. We're like, well, we used to go out to all these restaurants in the city. And then at some point, you're like, oh, no, I'm not going out as much. And I started, I need to start cooking more at home. And I think there was a realization of, I didn't feel inspired by a lot of the things in my kitchen, and my co founder, Dave and I, how did you know one another? Just New York. I mean, I feel like we had a meet everyone has like a mutual friend in New York, and you just meet and we became fast friends, because he was in fashion. And we just loved food. And we love design and just started hanging out. And really, I think talking about a lot of inspired things together. And I think that's ultimately what brought us together to, to really found material. But it was just this feeling of I wish there was more in the kitchen. You know, I wish I didn't have so many things from my registry that I don't actually like and probably Wait, who's telling me that these are the things that I should have in my kitchen? Right? And why do I have them and I think also just wanting more wanting more quality, wanting more thoughtfulness, I just, I hated how much almost like built in replenishment there was in the category because I would look down at my stuff and be like, I bought that like a year ago and it looks terrible now like why does it actually stand up? And what Why am I always feeling like, either it has to look bad, or I have to go replace it. So I think there was this sense of my needs just weren't being met by the kind of traditional kitchenware industry that had been doing things the same way for such a long time. And I think recognizing there are so many other people like me that we're getting into home cooking and being like, I don't need as much, you know, and actually, I want more from a sustainability perspective, I want more inspiration in just the way that the designs look in my own space. So that was kind of where we got started. And it was about five years ago.

    Elizabeth Stein 14:13
    So I'd love to hear a little bit about how you got started as I think about being a food brand. Not that it's easy, but certainly easier that you could make a couple of whatever your product is you can sample it at an event you can you know, easily give out a mixer or a cookie or this or that. You're not whipping up a knife in your New York kitchen and giving that out. So what were what were those early days like,

    Eunice Byun 14:37
    oh, gosh, it was a lot of trying to get people to honestly like visualize or think about some of the objects we were designing. It was a lot of

    Elizabeth Stein 14:50
    what was the first product or first couple? Yeah,

    Eunice Byun 14:53
    our first product was a collection called the fundamentals and it was really thinking about the tools at home cooks reach for every day for every meal. And a lot of it was about education. So you don't need eight knives, you really need two to three, a big one, a small one, probably a serrated one. And it was just an edit, it was like a really simple edit of some of the the most reach for tools in the kitchen. And I remember, in the beginning, it was taking around almost like designs and drawings and getting people excited by the brand and just the values division for it. And then at some point, I was like a traveling salesperson, I mean, I had a bag full of sharp objects and tools. And my favorite thing was just ripping them out and being like, hey, so like, play with the tongs, look at the hidden gravity locking mechanism, like isn't that such a great feature or, you know, look at the knives, and let me tell you about what makes a high quality knife. And let me walk you through the balance. And so there was a demonstration element. But to your point, you know, the best thing that we could do was almost give people samples and say, Actually go home and try it and just start chopping with it or start cooking with it. And just let us know what you think. So it was a form of a demo, but it took us probably a lot longer to get there because we actually had to design the entirety of the product. And then, you know, make tweaks based on some of the feedback that we were getting.

    Elizabeth Stein 16:19
    And how hard is it to in the beginning? Was it to a do the product design? And was that you guys? Are you had someone externally and then be find a partner to manufacture the product?

    Eunice Byun 16:33
    Yeah, I think some of the stuff that happened early on was super Kismet. Like we had just always I know, right? Because and again, I just think it goes back to opening yourself up to opportunity, right. And so we went to a trade show and ended up meeting someone who had two decades worth of experience in kitchenware, manufacturing and sourcing. And he loved what we were thinking about and doing. And so he came on as one of our first investors. So he really helped us get to partners that would never ever, ever work with a new company. You know, they were working for some really high end, massive brands. And they took a chance on us because he came in and invested in us from the very beginning. And then design wise, we always felt like design was something we wanted to own. I think that's a uniqueness in that we didn't feel like going to a design agency was going to be the best thing because we're kind of obsessive about design. And in terms of every single component. You know, we obsess over one mm, and we change things up. And we archive things because we're like, it's not quite there yet. And so we worked early on with an individual, an industrial designer. And then ultimately, our very first hire was an industrial designer. And we continue to this day to do everything in house because it allows us to think about things longitudinally as opposed to it's a project with a start and a finish. We're able to iterate like I said, put things back on the on the shelf, bring it back when we might have a different material we can work with or we're inspired by something else. So it's a much more iterative process, because I think we do everything in house ourselves.

    Elizabeth Stein 18:16
    What was the amount of time that it took from concept to actually launching? Yeah. And did you have a business plan?

    Eunice Byun 18:24
    Sort of kind of, you know, we I remember, I was still working full time. And my business partner had just resigned from his job. And I had summer Fridays, and I took it as a great time to take meetings. And we ended up getting a term sheet before we launched and found some amazing investors. And they were like, you gotta quit your job now. Like, you're you're no, you got to work on this. Real. Yeah. And I think that was in late August. And then we officially launched in March of 2018. So it did take us a while, you know, but it took us a while, I think to iterate on the product. You know, the lead time for hard goods is obviously a lot longer. But it was also establishing quality standards and making sure I mean, we had everything inspected piece by piece. And it was probably the most arduous process that a small company could have asked for. But we knew really early on, that standards really mattered to us, and that we wanted to deliver a high quality experience. So yeah, it took us quite some time. And you know, here we are five years later, and we've expanded into cookware and into ceramics and glassware, but the values and the way in which we've approached the business, I mean, it truly has not changed since day one.

    Elizabeth Stein 19:46
    I love that I think so often really starting so thoughtfully and coming up with those values is so critical and you can pivot and have different products but at the core, keeping that essence is so Important.

    Eunice Byun 20:01
    Yeah, it is. And I know, it seems like it's like business talk when someone is like, take a sheet of paper down and write down what matters to you from day one. But I mean, it has served as the north star to us. And as our team has grown, and you know, quite honestly, we've grown really measured Lee, we are a small but mighty team. But we've done so because we believe that hiring against a value system matters because each additional person needs to be carrying on the value in the vision maybe slightly differently. And that's what I love is everyone does kind of embody are personified a little bit differently. But at the core, there's something that we all share. And we wouldn't have been able to even build a team, unless we had that sheet of paper where we said, these are the things that matter. And these are the things that we hope will always matter and be so intertwined with the company from day one.

    Elizabeth Stein 20:56
    Yeah, I will say 14 years later into the business. For me, it's still incredible to look back and say like this is what I set up at the beginning. And to have that on your journey for the next 1015 20 years is going to be such an important north star as you said, Absolutely. We'll be right back. Since the beginning purely Elizabeth has been committed to the healing power of food. We believe there's a direct connection between the health of our farms and soil and the health of our food. That is why I'm so excited to announce our newest product launching our number one selling our original ancient grain granola is now available in an 18 ounce value size made with regenerative organic certified coconut oil and coconut sugar. For those who are not familiar with regenerative agriculture, it focuses on improving soil health, which is known to help improve crop yields, biodiversity, carbon emissions and water conservation. You can find our value size at your local Whole Foods Market or on our website at If you're interested in learning more about our sustainability journey, and how it impacts the delicious food you enjoy, please visit Enjoy. So as you think about what those values are, can you talk a little bit about guardrails as you think about product and mission? And really what you guys are doing so beautifully and differently in the marketplace?

    Eunice Byun 22:32
    Thank you. Yeah, you know, I think for us, one of the most important things that we think about the design process is does this need to exist, right? And I think sometimes when you're in creative or just a design oriented mindset, you kind of want to believe that everything should exist, and that there's a reason for being and, you know, so many times we come back to but is this better than what's out there? Are we improving upon what's out there. And that's kind of a hard thing to do in the kitchen, where so many things have been around for a long time. And, you know, you think about how do you improve upon a wood spoon. And for us, it was the choice of the materials, you know, the choice of the actual design of the spoon, how to make it versatile, so that left handed and right handed people could use it, but you could still, you know, scrape into those little corners. I mean, we think about every single detail, but it has to ultimately be better or more meaningful than what's out there today. And that's why, you know, we pulled back from certain categories, and we exhibit restraint, because we're like, we don't fight know what we would do differently there yet. So I think that's that's helped us as a core guardrail.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:45
    Yeah. Never making a me too product, which is so critical.

    Eunice Byun 23:49
    Correct. Correct. And sometimes it's even, you know, customers ask us all the time, they'll say, Well, you make this a redesign that and we've we kind of file it away, because what they say absolutely matters. But we just need to find the right moment and the right design and the right inspiration to bring something to market. And I'd say the other really important design quality for us is, will this stand the test of time? Will it actually be long lasting? Because I think a lot of times, what people tend to maybe forget sometimes is when things don't last a while, you're actually creating a lot of waste in that process. Because now you have something that's not as functional and you either have to recycle it or you dispose of it when you have to go buy a new one. And you know, if you rinse and repeat that over and over again on an annual basis, you've just created unknowingly like a lot of waste in that process. And for us, it meant thinking about well what materials age well over time Wood is a great example it develops a patina, it's something that develops a really nice finish over time, or it could be the way that we think about our cookware it has a copper core because copper core really is kind of the best material to cook with. But it can be finicky. So we thought about how do we give you the benefits of copper without actually the upkeep of copper. And so all those design design decisions that we consider are really meant to create something that can stay in your home for a while. And that will, will really perform over a long period of time.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:23
    That’s beautiful. So as you think about materials lasting, how else do you think about sustainability and just any other like Sustainability tips in our kitchen, because another thought that comes to mind of like, okay, you get all this great new stuff from you as an example. And then what do you do with what you had in your kitchen before, and kind of the best way to think about recycling, reusing, etc.

    Eunice Byun 25:50
    So we have shared with our community before different ways to think about recycling. And there are, of course, some safety components here because of the food prep that's happening. So if you do have something where maybe the finish on it is peeling, you know, you might just have to dispose of that. Or if it's something that you can pass along, there are different programs for a recycling that we've pointed our, that we pointed our community to. Sometimes for us, it's about also sourcing new sustainable materials. So a good example of that is anything on our prepper category, it's made of 75% recycled plastic 25% renewable sugarcane. And that for us was just recognizing, you know, home cooks, sometimes we just want to be able to sanitize something and throw that into, you know, hot water, throw it into the dishwasher, you know, something that is plastic, and the thought of having virgin plastic in the kitchen was not appealing to us. So we spent a long time trying to source a new material that could act and feel like plastic, but not necessarily have the same sourcing struggles as as new plastic.

    Elizabeth Stein 26:58
    That was very refreshing for me getting your cutting board, I'd say because I'd been using a wooden cut cutting board and I was like, so happy just to have a board that can throw in the dishwasher.

    Eunice Byun 27:07
    Yes, for sure. And, again, you know, we're not professional cooks, we don't we talk about this a lot. We don't have a full staff in the kitchen. I mean, I when I cook, I'm trying to think about how do I minimize the number of pots and pans and the cleanup afterwards? Right? Like you just get really efficient in the kitchen. And that's why we cook are we designed, I'd say with home cooks in mind, because our needs are going to be really different than a professional kitchen. But yeah, we've we've really just thought about sustainability in terms of how do you have things last a long time and almost get better over time? And then how can you maybe innovate and be different in terms of the the actual raw materials that are being used?

    Elizabeth Stein 27:48
    When you think about new product, or just in general, I guess but the business after five years, because it's obviously wonderful, but then exhausting. At the same time. How do you stay inspired. And whether that means inspired, just showing up at work and being your best or inspired from a product design perspective.

    Eunice Byun 28:08
    You know, I think when you're doing something genuinely that you love that inspiration, it's like the well runs really deep. Because it doesn't take much for me to be inspired. Like I joke, sometimes I look at my daughter's their play kitchen, and it'll, it'll like spark something in me, I'm like, Oh my gosh, I didn't think about that from a design perspective. So it could be something as mundane as that, or the team. I mean, I cannot say enough about how amazing and incredible our team is. And you know, we just hired our eighth person. And, again, just it's such an incredibly high performing team. And they inspire me daily because of what they bring

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