Wake Up Call

“I Feel the Most ‘Me’ As an Entrepreneur”—Eunice Byun on the Ups and Downs of Founding A Cult-Fave Kitchenware Brand

Material: the epitome of elegance and ease.

By Isabelle Eyman
Photography Suruchi Avasthi
Eunice Byun in living room in New York City apartment.

There are countless reasons prospective founders choose the world of entrepreneurship. By now, through social media’s behind-the-scenes lens, we all know very well that starting something from scratch is oftentimes the more challenging road less traveled. Sure, if you succeed, there’s fame and perhaps even fortune waiting for you down the line. But those who capture the true, innate spirit of entrepreneurship seek something else instead: to pursue a belief, a dream in an innovation that will transform others’ lives for the better. When Eunice Byun co-founded Material, a brand whose kitchenware emphasizes ease and supports connection across the table, the true motivations of her career pivot were obvious from the start.

Byun’s approach to business, creativity, and her life’s everyday rhythms is varied and her passions are multifold. While she calls herself a “jack of all trades, master of none,” the quip isn’t tied to a self-deprecating tone. Instead, she acknowledges her success comes from being wholly and unapologetically herself.

While many of us adhere to a path we’re afraid to deter from, she has learned—through many a career shift—that what we do and love doesn’t have to make sense to others. Because when we go after what aligns moment to moment, the results will always add up to something even better than we could have ever imagined.

Eunice Byun.

Vase by Yoon Young Hur

Eunice Byun Reflects on the Routines That Help Her Move Forward

But despite this passion, capability, and drive, it’s evident from our conversation that Byun has mastered not the elusive pursuit of balance, but instead the ability to prioritize what’s important. Not only does she make time for her family, but Byun carves out well-protected space for herself. Whether it’s a simple coffee, a ritualized breakfast of a spicy fried egg atop a sourdough English muffin, or sneaking away for a morning Pilates class, Byun provides a study in making time for what matters.

So whether it’s her schedule or overseeing product development—Byun weaves intentionality throughout everything she does. And it’s likely one of the truths that’s most captivating about her path forward. Nothing feels rushed. Instead, just like the organic, natural elements Material’s pieces reflect, in Byun’s world, everything is accomplished without haste or hurry. It’s passion and purpose that lead the way.

Tell us about your career and starting a business. How did Material come to be?

I’m one of those jack of all trades, yet a master of none. One look at my resume and you’ll see I’ve tried my hand at different roles in various industries. But, what I appreciate is that it all made a ton of sense to me! Whether it was my time at Goldman Sachs or five years spent in the intimate apparel industry, I’ve continually been searching for new subjects that I could learn about and developing new segments within companies.

I love building from the ground up, which obviously translates into Material. 

Cooking, I have always loved. At a young age, I was making my own after-school snacks like yakisoba or steamed artichoke. But I took a real break in my college and early adulthood years. It wasn’t until my first daughter was born that I started cooking in earnest again. One day, I remember walking into our tiny, cramped NYC kitchen and thinking to myself, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Our cabinets were chock full of wedding registry gifts that were still unopened and one-offs from past roommates and my parents’ home that found their way into my kitchen.

It dawned on me that something was amiss. Here I am doing something I love with a lot of things around me that I don’t quite love. My good friend and now co-founder, Dave and I started getting to work on how we could re-think the kitchen through the eyes of today’s home cooks with a different set of motivations than the cooks of yesteryear. 

Eunice Byun working on couch_stress and gut health
Eunice Byun laptop.

What has life been like as an entrepreneur?

I feel the most “me” as an entrepreneur. I love having that blank sheet of paper and dreaming something up that somehow finds its way to becoming real. I thrive on the creativity and the possibilities. But it can also be a grind… it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve learned to pace myself and let little things go because the whole experience is a process and evolution. 

There are so many cookware brands popping up all the time. What sets Material apart?

We think about and design for the whole experience. We’re not solely focused on one core category or even one type of customer. We strive to make the whole idea of buying things for your kitchen seamless and effortless. Things should feel collected, not simply consumed. We’re focused on high-quality, well-designed products that delight.

In a few words, how would you describe your personal style?

Classic with a twist. I love clean looks with a little wink thrown in there somewhere.

Eunice Byun living room.

Let’s get into your morning routine. What does a typical day look like for you? 

I’m typically up at 6 a.m., savoring those quiet moments before the rest of the house is up. We have an eight-year-old and a three-year-old, so once they are up, it’s non-stop as I’m cooking breakfast, helping get them dressed and out the door. 

Once the house is quiet again, I always make myself breakfast and coffee. It’s pretty much the only moment in my day where I am alone, which as an introverted extrovert, has become sacred to me. 

Then I’m off to the office, which thankfully is in walking distance in NYC, working with our incredibly talented team on everything from design to marketing and forecasting and sales.

When my schedule allows for it, I try and drop into a Reformer class on my way home. Most days, I can put the girls down for bed, catching up on their days and reading books together.

I then have about two hours of downtime before bed, which usually includes catching up with my husband, wrapping up emails, watching something light-hearted (I’m currently tuning into Jenny Han shows that I am clearly late to watching like “The Summer I Turned Pretty”), a full skincare routine (I am Korean, after all!), and then turning in early around 10 p.m.

I’m one of those people who can fall asleep instantly when my head hits the pillow, and I try hard to get a full eight hours of sleep.

Material Kitchen glassware.

What time is your wake-up call?

Usually up at 6 a.m. after a good eight hours of sleep!

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Funnily enough, I check the weather. Growing up in San Diego, I used to never check the weather because it was consistently the same beautiful weather outside. When I moved to Chicago for college, I quickly realized that just because it is sunny outside, doesn’t mean it is warm. Now that I’m in NYC, the same applies and I joke with friends that I could be a meteorologist for the amount of time I spend looking at the weather and radar maps.

Eunice Byun kitchen.
Eunice Byun making breakfast.

What does your morning, pre-work routine look like?

Making myself breakfast, including a yummy pour-over coffee. I love the rhythms of cooking and there’s nothing better than a kitchen all to myself. 

What do you eat for breakfast?

I typically have a full breakfast. I love these vegan sourdough muffins that my sister-in-law told me about. I’ve also been reading about the benefits of sourdough for gut health, so it’s a perfect, hearty way to start off my day. I usually fry up an egg and slice up avocado with splashes of hot sauce atop. When I’m craving even more heat, I fry up my egg in chili oil

Coffee at home is always a pour-over using my trusty Chemex with a single-origin light roast bean. Always black, never with milk.

What will we always find in your refrigerator?

Three different types of kimchi (for my NYC folks, DM @chomamakimchi on Instagram), Castelvetrano olives (my girls love snacking on them), fresh veggies, and ssamjang (a Korean soybean paste that we dip veggies into. It’s our take on crudités).

Skincare products.

What are your morning rituals? 

Making pour-over coffee and using a warm gua sha on my face.

What are your favorite books?

What’s always on your nightstand?

Books, water, and my glasses.

What’s your favorite getting-ready soundtrack?

My older daughter is really into Broadway shows lately so it’s been a lot of Wicked and & Juliet soundtracks on repeat as of late.

Do you work out in the morning?

Every Wednesday, our team works from home so I take advantage of not needing to rush out the door with a morning Pilates workout. I walk out of class feeling taller, stronger, and centered for the rest of the day.

Eunice Byun cooking.

What’s your daily uniform?

I’ve been loving vests lately because they can be dressed up and down, and the tailored look feels very put together. I pair them with wide leg pants, shorts or skirts.

As it’s warming up in the city, I also wear a lot of linen dresses or slip dresses. And the San Diego girl in me always has a few sunglasses thrown in her bag, with my Celine ones in heavy rotation right now.

If you had one extra hour every morning, how would you use it? 

Doing something active to get my body going in the morning! I’d love to play tennis, which like so many others I started playing during the pandemic.

Eunice Byun outfit

What are one or two things you do every day to live a more present life?

My faith centers me through the highs and the lows. I usually pray before going to bed, reflecting on the things I am grateful for and praying for others in my life. I also cherish the time I spend with my family and force myself to put my phone away so that I can be fully present with them.

If you could pin your success down to one thing, what would that be?

My parents. They immigrated from Korea in their early twenties and worked hard their whole lives here in the U.S. But they believed in balance and surrounded themselves with community. I think a lot of my work ethic and balance comes directly from them.

My faith centers me through the highs and the lows.

Eunice Byun working on laptop in living room.

Sentence Finishers:

I never leave the house without: chapstick. 

If there were more hours in the day, I would: learn how to play the guitar.

Healthiest morning habit: green powder every morning. My husband got me hooked.

Worst morning habit: looking at emails.

One thing I want to be known for is: building something of substance and meaning.

The one thing I fear the most: sameness.

When I feel that fear, I: create and diverge away.

The book I always recommend: Crying in H Mart.

One trait you need to succeed in life is: graciousness.

Bath or shower? And what’s your favorite shower/bath product? Shower. New Wash—ever since I started using this, my hair has never felt better.