Korea has a saying that stems from Confucian ideas: “A boy and a girl should not sit together after they have reached the age of seven.” Due to the Confucian influence that aimed to secure chastity and purity by strictly separating both genders, Korean society is relatively conservative regarding sexual issues. However, there is a person who is trying to improve people’s sexual awareness, claiming sexual issues are not something to be discussed secretly but openly. As a first step for raising awareness, fashion creator Choi Da-eun established start-up, “Sixty One,” and planned to run the exhibition “Reverse 19.” The Argus met Choi who is struggling to improve society’s conservative sexual culture.
The Argus: Please briefly introduce yourself.
Choi Da-eun (Choi): I am a co-founder and chief marketing officer of “Sixty One,” which I launched in June with my colleagues that I met through a start-up program. Originally, working as a fashion creator, I used to collaborate with fashion brands and artists. Then one day, I realized that people were reluctant to talk about sexual issues though those are quite natural. Consequently, I established Sixty One in an attempt to achieve unconstrained atmosphere.
The Argus: What does “Sixty One” mean?
Choi: The name of company Sixty One symbolizes reversing stereotypical sexual image of number 19, which refers to unavailable contents for under age 19. If we turn over 19, it becomes 61 and it implies changing the negative awareness that many people have with regards to sexual culture.
Sixty One may be simply thought of as a brand that makes sex-related items. However, we seek not just to improve attitudes towards sexual issues, but to foster awareness of its being something as natural like eating or sleeping. To achieve that, I recently held an exhibition named Reverse 19.
The Argus: What is the exhibition “Reverse 19”?
Choi: Reverse 19 was designed to foster healthy and positive sexual awareness through young artists’ individual styles of works against Korea’s puritanical leanings. Holla Company, which made a sexual relations guide map application for adult couples, Holla Banana, conducted a lecture about sexual relationships, and many pieces of art were displayed from various areas including pop art, oriental paintings, western paintings, make-up, fashion, illustration, and photography. In Sixty One’s zone, the staff provided explanations regarding the products so visitors could easily touch or manipulate the materials of the exhibition in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Argus: How did people react to the exhibition?
Choi: I did not expect that people would support my values. To my surprise, as soon as I uploaded information about Sixty One and our exhibition, a lot of people cheered me on. After launching a brand dealing with sexuality that people are socially reluctant to talk about, reporters who got interest in our action interviewed me.
Thankfully, many people complimented me on my courage to break the stereotypes of Korean society. I only did what I wanted to do, so it is fortunate that everyone supports our movement.
The Argus: How did you come to challenge social stereotypes?
Choi: Actually, I was an introvert when I was younger. Then one day I strongly expressed my opinion that I really wanted to study the arts, which caused a quarrel between my father and me, but he did compliment me on expressing my thoughts. Since that time, I have become confident at showing my thoughts and pursuing what I want to do.
Working as a fashion creator, I felt people are still unfamiliar with expressing sexual desire. At the first exhibition I planned, I featured charming sexual products with daily props. People liked the idea so much without aversion, and I wanted to deal with sexual themes to set healthy and beautiful sexual images.
The Argus: Did you have any difficulties raising awareness?
Choi: There are two main hardships. First of all, it is difficult to promote Sixty One publicly. The business itself is not a problem, but many portal sites misunderstand our intention. Even though we have a good idea to raise awareness of sexual culture, mass media usually regard the direct words to be used in introducing our company or products as unsuitable. Thus, we must carefully select indirect expressions. News articles introduce our activities, and I have had some interviews, but I do not think many people are likely to visit our website, exhibitions and other events only through articles. I think that broadening our influence through exposure via other brands’ promotions is the best that we can do right now.
On a personal level, at the beginning, I was the only person who could test the major products for women among my co-workers, so actually I was worried that people would come to know about my private sexual life. However, that worry related to my own sense of sexual shame was the very problem I was criticizing, so I determined to change the social atmosphere on sexual culture.
The Argus: Do you have any plans for the future?
Choi: I plan to collaborate with various fields such as make-up or accessories. I hope that someday we can think of sexual issues more naturally. First of all, we will make opportunities for adult goods to be familiarly exposed without compromising. To do this, we are planning to hold small parties near universities and provide practical sex education for the youth. Applying trends from fashion culture such as making a lookbook every season, Sixty One may release new adult products in upcoming seasons. This kind of plan can let people enjoy entertainment and pay attention to sexual culture.
The Argus: Are there any messages you want to convey to the readers?
Choi: After I entered university, I associated with friends who shared lots in common, but one day I realized that a lot of them gave up on what they dreamed of and started working for companies irrelevant to their interests. Of course, I do not think those are not good things to do for the future, but definitely everyone had their own hopes like some was happy when they played music, and others were interested in make-up and so on. It is a pity that people give up on their dream because of realistic limitation. Fortunately, I am doing what I really wanted to do right now.
I always recall the saying, “But near missed things.” It means that I missed the things nearby, though it is grammatically wrong. I think it can be interpreted in two ways: I missed something already, and I could miss something unknown, so I can do my best reminding this sentence. I hope the readers of The Argus will do their best in their own field that they like or have an interest in. Also, I ask for your support in the struggle to change the social atmosphere so that we can talk about our opinions on sexual issues freely.