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Big Ideas

Theme Magazine: Worldly Perspective

Jiae Kim and John Lee talk about the launch of their magazine, Theme, and discuss inspiration as a motivator toward action.


Theme is a lifestyle magazine with a strong focus on contemporary Asian culture. Its founders, Jiae Kim and John Lee, blended their combined experience in design, advertising, art direction and fashion to curate a publication with a singular “theme” for each issue. Their unique perspective attracts a creative, intelligent audience with an appreciation for well-written content and beautifully designed editorial with a global perspective.

The magazine started rather organically, and as a result of their mutual experiences living abroad. “We began Theme because we saw some really exciting things happening while living in Seoul and Tokyo. The art and fashion scene were booming in Tokyo, and Korean art was just starting to find its own voice. We didn’t like the way American media covered these stories, and we wanted to tell the stories the way it should be told – from an insider’s point of view.”

Kim and Lee prefer to keep a certain level of mystery in their work in order to let a project reach its full and true potential. “We jump into a project, sometimes a little blind, in order to get it off the ground. We’ve found that knowing too much, planning too much, can be crippling. Once you get a project going and you’re committed, you can tackle the challenges one at a time. This is how we started Theme, and this is how we tackle each issue. Nothing worth pursuing is really risk-free, so we try to embrace the risk. It makes us nimble.”

Collaboration is the backbone of magazine publishing. There’s no way you can produce a solid issue without fantastic editors, writers, photographers, illustrators, interns, proofreaders…

A solid belief and motivation in creating a solid product ensures their operation is financially successful, allowing the process to perpetuate itself. “Isn’t [the greatest obstacle for creative professionals] always money? Theme is an advertising-based magazine, and it was challenging at the start to attract good, consistent advertisers. But by producing stellar issues that influential people talk about and want to be a part of, we’ve managed to attract brands like Scion, Puma, Stussy, Dewars, Absolut, Nike, Zune to name a few. The business side of any creative business is just as important to nurture as the creative side. And most often than not, it requires just as much creativity.”

Relying on the select talent of others is key in their creative process. “Collaboration is the backbone of magazine publishing. There’s no way you can produce a solid issue without fantastic editors, writers, photographers, illustrators, interns, proofreaders, printers, scanners, retouchers. In the three years we’ve been publishing Theme, the consistent level of production and integrity in the design has attracted some awesome talent, which in turn keeps the level of work high. John and I have art direction/creative direction backgrounds, so we’re quite used to setting the overall direction of the magazine and letting the talent we work with do what they do best. The success of the magazine is really tied to the people we select to work with us.”

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