Ryoko tells us about her plans for national expansion, the importance of giving back and how good design will improve everyone's quality of life.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m from Yokohama, Japan, with roots in the Japanese deep south, from an island known for brown sugar and snakes. More recently, though, I have been a designer and had a stall on one of the markets near Brick Lane, before that place lost its appeal.
I always wanted to bring a new kind of design aesthetic, and way of thinking about objects to the UK market. And that is what I am doing now with Wagumi.
Pitch your business in a sentence
Good design makes people happy.
Give us a potted history of Wagumi
Wagumi is the project of a company called Lives in Japan. The aim is to showcase great Japanese design products for the first time in Europe. One of the things about Japan is strong local aesthetics and traditions.
Through craftsmanship, and approaches to design - towns, counties and in some cases villages in have been producing great stuff without national, let alone international, recognition for years. Connecting producers in these areas to Europe will hopefully help revive the Japanese countryside, but also bring great things, to kitchens and living rooms of the UK.
Have you ever sought outside funding?
I can’t say that we have, although we often partner with regional development agencies in the areas from which we source products.
How do you deal working for an international business and with an international product? Any tips?
Well, you need to understand your product, and the market that you are in. Hopefully, these should in some sense match – and in our case I think they do. Some things are universal, though, for example, even if you don’t cook so well, most people will find solace if the plates and utensils they use look great. Quality will transmit to any market. But of course, sometimes in our sales and promotions we need to find a way to explain how an item we stock will match our customers’ lifestyles.
Where do you see Wagumi in a year's time? In three years’ time?
Success for us is not just that the products we bring to the UK sell well in our shop, we also want them to fly the nest, and expand to greater things. That’s how we benefit the producers who put their faith in us.
Also, we'd like to to plug their ideas and produce into creative communities around the world. Not least like those in Club Workspace.
We are thinking about spreading, hopefully with pop-up shops elsewhere in the UK.
What are your top tips for small retail businesses to succeed online
I kind of want to ask this myself! Until now we have tended to prioritise the experience in our shop, and the partnerships between individuals and organisations that we have built in Europe. Maybe we’re old fashioned. But we certainly aim to expand online.
Who would you ask (dead or alive) to be a dream member on your board of directors?
Well… not just because I used to work at Panasonic, I would mention Konosuke Matsushita, the founder. His attention to detail was legendary - as are his ideas about the purpose of design, and the role it can play in people's lives.
Where were you before? Why did you decide to move into a coworking space? And what's the best thing about coworking?
We had a very small office space in our shop. But the building is listed, and the internet is not so reliable. So I am happy in the co-working space, with great facilities to connect the web, and connect to people.
Check out Wagumi on their website and on Twitter @Wagumi_UK.