Hosting monthly trunk shows online was a necessary decision for the survival of my business during Covid-19 times. All in-person events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, and shipping overseas has been patchy or still closed to some countries. Simply put, my job is to buy materials, make all the things and then sell them to make a profit for my time, energy and experience. This is my full-time job, my income, not my hobby or charity work.
Living and travelling widely in Australia and Asia over the past 18 years I noticed our beloved beaches and oceans becoming polluted with plastic and harming sea life. As a family we watched a disturbing documentary called 'A Plastic Ocean’. My then 10 year old asked me if people knew much about this plastic problem, I didn’t have an answer for him. The movie had such an impact on us that we took on the challenge of eliminating as much single use plastic from our lives as possible.
Using beeswax wraps is one way we can reduce our impact on the environment and embrace sustainable living. Beeswax wraps are the perfect alternative to plastic wrap for keeping food fresh. They are natural, reusable and versatile. Beeswax food wraps are perfect for storing cheese and prolonging the life of vegetables and fruit (avocados and apples do especially well). They are also good for covering any leftover food in bowls or for carrying sandwiches/onigiri and snacks on the go.
I absolutely love sharing my story with others and listening to other people’s stories. I am consistently inspired to continue what I am doing. Working together, we can reduce our plastic waste and care for our world for future generations.
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Something has been bubbling under the surface for a long time. Something that I think I didn't really want to admit to myself if I'm totally honest.
I left teaching 10 years ago because I couldn't imagine life as a mum and as a full-time educator. This is the hand that many women are dealt after having children but I felt it was an easy choice that was best for the family at that point in time. I already secretly knew that I wanted to set up in business on a full-time basis, having previously had a side-business since being a teen.
It was a juggle with one little one in Nursery and another as a tiny baby. I learned a lot in those first years, more than my brain could take at times. I can't tell you how often I wanted to give it all up, how I had no idea what a brand actually was never mind owning the skills to build one. I was bootstrapping (self-funding) all the way and it was just me, a studio and an extremely supportive hubby. Being a solo business owner in the handmade field means that you have to learn how to become a photographer, graphic designer, writer, social media manager, marketer, accountant, website designer and salesperson. Oh, and design and make products at the same time.
It sounds as if I'm complaining. I'm not. I've never felt freer, more in control or self-motivated in my whole working life. And I should be happy with that right? Well, not exactly. You see the thing I talked about at the beginning, that niggly feeling, that secret fear is that I'm still a teacher after all, despite being out of the classroom for a decade.
I want a world where people can work flexibly, feel like they're making a contribution to their family's finances, take their business wherever they travel and have fun while they work. Most of all I want to share my tips and tricks with you, so you don't have to work as crazily as I did in the beginning!
It's been a long time coming, but my new FREE Facebook group OVERSEAS MAKERS GUILD to support you in building your handmade business overseas is now LIVE! (When I say 'group' there's actually only me in it so far, as you guys are the first to know.) If you are planning, in the process of setting up, or in the early stages of launching a handmade business overseas, we'd love to have you join us.
Tell us about your work.
I create Japan-inspired artworks of pen and watercolor. I sell original artworks at gallery exhibitions and also offer my designs as prints, postcards, illustration books, and more.
Does your artwork have a story?
My illustrations express intersections.
Intersections of reality and fantasy, of familiar and unfamiliar, and intersections of identity.
As a foreigner living in Japan there can be a lot of focus placed on cultural identity, and the concept of “insider” versus “outsider.” Art is one place where there are no limits and we don’t have to be one thing or another. By creating a space between reality and imagination, between “inside” and “outside,” I feel I’ve found a space where I don’t have to define who I am. It is a place where viewers can find their own world as well and where everyone is welcome.
Do you have a business philosophy?
I believe that it is important to create from the heart. Both the artist and the viewer can feel a good vibe from artwork that is genuine. I will only put out a design that I’ve really put my love into and I have grown to trust that that energy will be conveyed naturally to my patrons as well.
As an individual creating art and running a business I also value keeping a personal touch with customers. I always add a handwritten note to my webstore orders, to let my customers know it really is me every time at the other end of their order and that I am filled with personal gratitude for their support.
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Art has always been something I’ve loved to do, so creating artwork has never been a question. Since moving to Tokyo I became aware of a wide variety of amazing opportunities and venues to connect with other artists, showcase art, and find new fans. As I had the chance to connect with more people I was motivated and encouraged to widen the variety of offerings using my designs, such as making smaller printed merchandise that was more accessible, especially for younger patrons. Now I have a range of merchandise for tabling events and webstore sales, and also continue to offer original artworks at galleries.
What sets your artwork apart from others?
My subject matter and art style fit into that “in between” space. My experience living in Japan has evolved both my identity and my art style and viewers seem to pick up on that. Both Japanese and non-Japanese patrons find my designs unique, yet oddly relatable. I love thinking that how I express my imagination and experience through artwork might help open up more flexibility for everyone who feels like they are in an “in between” space living in Tokyo.
I think original art is often forgotten as an option for gifts or personal memories. I hope that I can remind people of the option and help them find something special and unique.
Find out more about Erica Ward Illustration
Click the “Shop” link from the menu on my website to see my available products. For inquiries about illustration or commission artworks, feel free to drop me a message in the “Contact” section or on social media.
To hear about upcoming exhibitions, events, and to peruse my artwork, feel free to follow me on Instagram and Facebook.
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The fabulous Lena from Root and Blossom created a business from a personal breakthrough. Now she's helping others to organise their cash and supporting charities along the way.
Hi! My name is Lena, and I am the owner of and maker at Root and Blossom. I sell personally handmade, high-quality cash wallets that equip people to be organized with their finances, whether it's for budgeting, currencies when traveling, or staying tidy.
Root and Blossom was a brand name I remember hitting me square across the back of my head in 2009 one night while walking through a parking lot to my boyfriend's (now husband) truck. In retrospect, my life lacked many advantages growing up but for whatever reason, I never saw it that way. I've always lived with the mentality that life is what you make of it; regardless of your situation, you need to take root and blossom to thrive.
In 2014 my husband and I were young, newly married with a one-year-old and pregnant. We were overwhelmed with the world of money, investing, saving, and spending. We took a financial class that focused on cash budgeting, the idea being that it's critical to physically feel the painful emotions associated with giving money over and seeing money leave your wallet each month that wasn't present when mindlessly swiping a card.
I was already quite overwhelmed with switching away from social spending norms that I needed to find a way to make it less of a hassle at the checkout stand fiddling with my money, so I designed, constructed, and began using my wallet! Having all my budgets organized into simple zipped pockets in one place allowed me to organize and handle my money and budgets with ease and confidence.
After two years, my husband and I were able to rid ourselves of debt because we now truly felt and saw the value of a dollar. Throughout that experience, I'd got checkout employees and other customers in line asking me where I bought my wallet and how they could get one. I started making individual sales here and there, but then those people had friends or family that they wanted to pass my information along to, which eventually led to my first Etsy wallet sale on September 2, 2014.
Over the last five and a half years, I've learned that people around the world desire these wallets for more reasons than my intended purpose, and I adore that! I set out to solve the problem of simplifying budgeting, but I also helped solve the problem of organizing currencies for people who are traveling through multiple countries and thrifty shoppers wanting a practical way to divide their coupons.
What I want potential customers to know about my business is that when you buy from Root and Blossom, you're not only supporting a single small business, you're supporting multiple!
It's my business philosophy that there is room for everyone, and the success of my business is because of the other team players in the arena. I also find it beautifully poetic that financial frustrations and burdens led me to a place of financial freedom where I now have the means to donate and support charities more than I was capable of previously! The bigger my business grows, the more I can give, and that's what keeps me in it.
HOW TO FIND ROOT AND BLOSSOM
If you are interested in checking out my cash wallets, please visit my shop at www.rootandblossom.etsy.com! You can also find the latest Root and Blossom information through Instagram, @rootandblossom. XO
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This month we welcome Tokyo-based Jikuu Japan founded by Mayuko Rutledge and Ali Buford. I'm so privileged to know these two savvy business women in person, the loveliest knife sellers in Japan.
Tell us a bit about your business.
We make handcrafted knives and other kitchen items from Japan. We blend traditional Japanese artistry with newer technologies and design to make modern treasures.
How did you meet?
We met at our children's’ school and discovered a common love of food, travel and all things made by hand. We also had a surprising history: Mayuko, from Shimane prefecture, was an exchange student in the United States at the same time that Ali, from the US, was part of a travel program in Japan including Shimane.
We had the dream to share our love of Japanese things with our friends and family in further flung places (including Tokyo!). Mayuko had relationships with makers in her hometown and once she started introducing Ali to the goods, especially those knives, she was hooked and an idea was born!
What's the story behind the knives?
We want to help in our small way to breathe life into the tradition of Japanese craftsmanship by connecting people to our products. Our chief artisan’s family has been making knives for centuries and samurai swords before that. There is something special about things that are made by human hands, repeatedly over time.
In what ways do you help your customers?
Japanese artistry is in a league-of-its-own but can be difficult to access - especially for foreigners. We want to connect our customers to products they love as well as give them information so that they can make the best purchasing decisions for themselves. And finally, we help customers understand how to care for their knives so that they can last a lifetime (or a very, very long time).
What sets your business apart from others?
Everything is handmade in a tradition centuries old, but re-imagined for modern kitchens. For example, our knives are typically made from high-speed carbon steel so that customers can have a super sharp knife but also one that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance (no oiling needed!)
We also provide quality customer care (e.g. generous warranty; classes for sharpening and knife skills; handle replacement for a small fee) so our customers can buy and own with confidence.
What's your best seller?
Our all purpose knife, the Santoku, and our vegetable knife, the Nakiri are our best sellers and our cornerstone products. We always tell our customers that you can get 99% of basic kitchen tasks completed with these two knives. And, they seem to listen to us!
Get in touch with Jikuu
Shop online: www.jikuujapan.com
Reach out to see our knives in person in Tokyo: email@example.com
We've all been there... searching the internet blindly to find that special gift for an important birthday, a special thank you, a pick-me-up for a friend, a graduation, Mothers' Day, Fathers' day...the list really goes on. We spend hours and hours scrolling for that 'special something'.
But why do we feel the need to gift that special something in the first place?
1. It shows the receiver that we know them.
2. It shows them we care enough to go the extra mile to find something they'll love.
3. It demonstrates our good taste.
4. We want the receiver to feel unique and valued.
5. We want to support small businesses and all they stand for.
6. We want to shop sustainably, buying items from brands that are not mass-produced.
7. We want a story. Of the hands who made it, the history, where the idea came from.
As a maker, I see the work that artisans put into their work and support them as much as I can. I appreciate that they do the same in return for my business.
I'm often asked where the Biku concept came from. Back in the day my response was a rather long-winded affair with twists and turns and tales of unrequited design love. But after several years of making, sourcing, talking to kimono vendors, thinking deeply, learning how to pitch, studying, focusing on brand messaging and thinking a LOT more, it boils down to this simple phrase. 'Re-purposing forgotten things.' Forgotten things, places and people make me sad. I wondered, 'How can I make the useless useful? How can I make the once-loved re-loved? How can I make the damaged beautiful? How can I make forgotten things remembered?' And in that process I remembered myself again.
On a more detailed level, Biku has a bunch of values that set it apart from other businesses, values that make it unique. The concept is based around 4 elements that came from my own life as a mum and business owner.
The Biku brand is still developing and more ideas are swimming around my head every day. It's pretty exciting stuff to be on this ride, Want to join me?
Subscribe to hear exclusive info about new designs, events and exciting changes ahead.
I'm Victoria, the founder, designer and creator at Bikudesigns, a vintage kimono accessories brand in Tokyo, Japan.