Cooking at home—it’s something that many of us (hello!) swear to do more of. Recipes help, as do enthusiastic cooking partners-in-crime; but what if we had tools that made the experience more enjoyable, too?
Pasta tastes better in a beautiful ceramic bowl—it just does. Sliced carrots are more artistic when you’re using a knife with a stunning handle. Those scrambled eggs? Definitely fluffier when made with a sleek whisk.
There’s something special about using items that are made with care. It makes us take more care, too: in our actions, in our intentions, in our mindsets. A perfect example? Material.
The cookware line, founded in New York in 2018 by Eunice Byun and Dave Nguyen, counts famous faces including Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, Eva Longoria, and Molly Yeh among its fans, and for good reason. Offering everything from cutting boards and knives to pots to glassware, Material focuses on, well, materials, to streamline the cooking experience for even the most novice of at-home chefs. It brings joy into making a meal for not only your loved ones, but for yourself.
Here, Byun discusses brand quality, scaling a business, and the beauty of simplicity.
You’ve worked at some big companies, including Goldman Sachs and Revlon. How did those positions prepare you for launching your own business?
A lot of the time, just knowing how the machine works helps immensely. By being at these larger companies and seeing how marketing interplays with merchandising—which affects sourcing and financing—gave me just enough exposure to know where to start when building out Material. I also learned how size can be a disadvantage, and how being nimble, scrappy, and swift as a tiny company can be used to our advantage.
How did you and your cofounder meet? How do you balance your friendship with your business partnership?
We both moved to the city over 15 years ago and met through a mutual friend. We became fast friends ourselves, bonding over our shared love of fashion and food. I like to say that Dave is the yin to my yang, complementary in every which way. His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. As we’ve grown as cofounders over the past five years, we’ve been through ups and downs together, thankfully with a strong foundation of friendship built upon honesty, transparency, and mutual respect. We do make time for moments outside of the office, usually over food, or these days over a friendly tennis match.
How did the two of you come up with the idea for Material?
It was, of course, over a shared meal at Russ & Daughters. We were talking about our burgeoning love of home cooking and lamenting over how much stuff out there felt uninspired, cluttered, and stuck in the era of celebrity chefs. We felt like there was a newer, more modern home cook who was inspired by design, smart and useful innovation, quality over quantity, an edited and curated perspective, and a sustainable mentality—someone who wanted a stronger personal connection to brands and their products. So, we set out to build just that.
It’s in the name, but materials are very important to the brand. How do you source and produce your products?
We work with global partners, sourcing beautiful materials from all over the world. We particularly think about how the materials will be used by home cooks, ensuring that there is an effortlessness to what we select and that nothing is extremely fussy. We search for partners that value sustainable practices and materials, and sometimes, like in the case of our recycled plastic cutting board, are the first to bring a material to this particular market.
How do you scale while keeping quality at the forefront?
We reflect upon this a lot because quality is central to what we do. A lot of it starts with finding the right partners who are values-aligned. It also means sometimes not offering something because what we could bring to that category is not markedly different from what’s already out there. We design everything in-house, because that way we can obsess over minute changes and archive things and pull them back out later when we have a new take or a quality material that shifts our approach for the better.
Giving back is a core tenet of Material. Why?
It roots the company we’re building in a purpose that is greater than the day-to-day work. We have a platform, and it’s one that we can use to do good. Whether it’s providing space for underrepresented voices to be uplifted or sharing profits with organizations that are serving the communities around us, we believe we do our jobs better when they’re tied to something more than simply dollars.
What makes you feel at home in your own space?
Familiar smells. It could be the simple waft of onions sautéing in a pan or the scent of my daughters’ shampoo. Any smell that reminds me of my family or the life that we’re building in our home is comforting.
What’s your go-to meal to cook for your loved ones?
One of my favorite meals for friends and family is a homestyle omakase. Thankfully, my husband and I tag team this because it’s quite an undertaking, but what I love is how it’s a progressive meal. You start with something light and build the richness and intensity of the meal as you go deeper. It’s also connective—we hand each piece to our guests and love hearing what combination they are loving.
In your eyes, what is the power of food?
Food is transformative. Food is connective. Food is enriching. Food is transportive. Food tells a story—at times simple, and other times intricate.
Cooking is daunting for a lot of people. What’s one thing you want novice home cooks to know?
Simplicity is beautiful and delicious. When you cook with what is in season, many times a little olive oil, salt, and pepper can do a whole lot. It’s not about the bells and whistles.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.