Holiday Shopping With Sarang Shirts

Sarang Shirts just might be that something special you’re looking to give to your friends or family for the holidays.

Dima, who originally hails from Canada, but has lived in Korea for the past 8 years, came up with the idea for Sarang Shirts after coming to the realization that it’s just too difficult to find shirts with even basic Korean on them. And, who doesn’t want a shirt with a cool phrase, slang or a just the alphabet printed up in some cool font? Aiming to produce quality clothing and other items will cool phrases that people inside and outside of Korea would be happy to wear, I think Dima has hit the mark.

Check out this interview I had with Dima and of course look at the photos of his products that are sure to suit some of your holiday gift giving needs. Also, keep reading because there are some coupon codes you can use if you want to make a purchase after reading this post.

Could you introduce yourself?

I’m Dima from Canada and I’ve been in Korea nearly 8 years, although originally my family emigrated to Canada from the former USSR. When I first arrived in Korea, things were a bit different- foreigners weren’t quite as common and the kpop and korean drama craze had just barely started to gather steam. Koreans were floored at that time if a foreigner like me could say hello to them in Korean and read their name in Hangul off their name tag or business card.

Now when I travel around Asia and tell people I live in Korea, I’m amazed how many of them can a) read Hangul and b) use simple expressions in Korean to introduce themselves and (somewhat awkwardly!) to say “I love you”. I’m thinking to myself, “you’re an Indonesian who works at a bakery in Bali- why are you able to communicate and laugh with me in Korean?”… but to them, thanks to Korean dramas, it’s become the language of romance and emotion.

How did you come up with the idea for the shirts?

I don’t know a single foreigner who starts learning even the most basic Korean and doesn’t think, “this is awesome- I want some cool Hangul stuff”. Learning to read and speak Korean is empowering and we want to show off our progress and make a bit of a cultural connection with Koreans around us too. The problem is that shirts with Korean writing on them basically don’t exist in the marketplace- certainly not abroad and, oddly, not even in Korea. You go to a HomePlus or an eMart and you think, “well surely this is KOREA, so I’ll find at least one shirt with a random Korean word on it”, but no chance. You go to Dongdaemun market or Namdaemun market in Seoul or Nampo area in Busan and check there, and you’re out of luck. Now, sometimes there are flash sales in cool areas like Hongdae in Seoul or PNU in Busan where a hoodie with Hangul on it might appear, but that’s unpredictable and seemingly random. Often the words on the shirts are obscure (or even obscene!), so you don’t really know what you’re getting.

I have friends who’ve been here for years and new friends who’ve just arrived in the past few months. In my other life, I’m a web development consultant. I figured: hey, I can really do something here.

Is it just you or is there a group of you that manages Sarang shirts?

The whole thing is my baby, but I have some partnerships with designers based here in Busan and also a Korean designer working out of the USA (Utah, of all places!). We manufacture our items through a merchant based in California, so I find myself on the phone or on chat with them to make sure we’re getting our orders right, particularly since shipping to customers in the USA is a lot more straightforward than figuring out Korean addresses to ship to our customers here in Korea.

How do you choose the phrases that you put on them?

The phrases come in a few different categories: there are Korean drama and K-pop phrases, which are just casual everyday expressions, like 잘자 {Jal-Ja} which means “Sleep well”, or 걱정하지마세요 {Gok-Jeong-Ha-Ji-Ma-Se-Yo} which means “Don’t worry”. They’re lovely common expressions that, when you use nice typography, look romantic to our foreigner eyes. But normally Koreans would never think to make clothes with those kinds of words on them.

Another category we have is kind of flirty or irreverent expressions, so we have cute ducks and birds saying them. Things like 뭐라고? {Mwo-Ra-go?} which means “What did you say?” or 나한테 왜그래? {Na-han-te-Way-Ku-Rae?} which means “Why are you doing this to me?”. Those have been really popular.

Sarang ShirtsA third category is items for learners who love the Korean language. We made our own Hangul chart with really nice Korean typography (and no English on it!) and put it on a bag. That’s been popular. We also have that in the form of a shirt for women, where we’ve highlighted in the chart the Korean characters for “미” (beautiful) and “여”+”자” (woman). Personally, my favorites are the ones of a horse that say “한국말을 좋아합니다”. I’m not going to translate that one- if you’re a Korean learner though, you’ll get it and probably cringe a little.

Sarang ShirtsFinally, we have a category for Korean slang expressions that all the young whipper-snappers are into these days. These are words like 뇌섹남 {Nwe-Sek-Nam} which is a combination of the words for “brain”, “sexy”, and “man”, and means a man who is sexy because he is smart. And words like 꿀잼 {Ggool-jem} which means something is awesome and interesting, or 심쿵 {Shim-Kung}, which is something so cute that it makes your heart flutter and thumb. Those are popular too.

What’s your most popular item?

Sarang ShirtsWe just officially launched recently, and the response has been amazing, but right now many of the items are doing equally well in terms of sales. The 심쿵 {Shim-Kung} (heart flutters) stuff and the 뇌섹남 {Nwe-Sek-Nam} (Sexy Brain Man) items are particularly popular when people are looking for something romantic or flirty to wear in Korean.


Do you design all of the items yourself?

I design the majority of items, mainly because I can go from idea to putting a product into the store very quickly that way, in the span of a day or two. When it comes to more complex or more artistic designs though, I definitely throw that over to my design partners. I have a background in this sort of work and I love Korean expressions, so it’s a lot of fun for me.

Can you tell me a bit about the quality of your products?

We print all of our shirts and hoodies on high quality ring-spun cotton and we use the best materials from companies like American Apparel. It’s just really tough to find quality shirts in Korea that won’t fall apart when you wash them, so we do it in the USA, then ship them over.


What are you waiting for? Head over to Sarang Shirts to start shopping now. Oh and yeah, here are those all important coupon codes to help you save a few bucks this holiday season.

Coupon Codes:

  1. [tsosblog] gets 10% off anything, no minimum purchase
  2. [tsosbigfan] gets 15% off any order of $48 or more

Dima also wanted to add:

If you have an idea for a shirt or a Korean expression, please get in touch with me at I promise we’ll respond right away. Thanks very much to the TSOS blog for interviewing me- it’s been a pleasure!

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9 Responses

  1. Veronica says:

    This is so frickin awesome! My bestie in Korea moved back to the States earlier this year…I have been getting her Christmas box together (full of Korean snacks) and I wanted to add a non-food item…but what?! Ha! Ha! Now I’ve found it. She is gonna love the Miss You So Much It Hurts Hoodie!
    Great post. Thanks much!

  2. mtanter says:

    Thanks Hallie! I’ve just had a quick chat with Dima on the site and am waiting for him to do a shirt I want. This is very cool, I’m so glad you did this interview. More like this, please! 🙂 Marcy

    • Dima says:

      Marcy, thanks for reaching out! I just sent you an email updating you about a couple of products we added at your request. Hope you like them, and if you’d like something else, just respond to that email and we’ll work it out 🙂

    • Hallie says:

      That’s great Marcy thanks for the comment. I’ll see what I can do. ^^

  3. kei says:

    How cute! What a great idea, I especially love the totes and the cat shirt.

What do you think?