Founders Feature: Mokuyobi

For this week's Founders Feature we sat down with Julie of Mokuyobi threads. Mokuyobi offers some of the most eye-poppingly unique and high quality bags and apparel you will find in all of eCommerce! Let's take a look at some of these incredible products and find out how Mokuyobi was able to grow into a successful + prospering eCommerce company.
Read Time: 5 minutes
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Tell us a little bit about Mokuyobi.

In 2006, I started Mokuyobi with a passion to offer quality bags, apparel, and accessories with a focus on fun and colorful design that was made in the USA. From a young age I taught myself to sew and worked on developing this skill. Making things locally has always been paramount as the brand moved with me from Chicago to New York to Los Angeles. I worked with factories to produce our products in New Jersey, Indiana, and eventually moved all production to LA which is a huge hub for USA made fashion. It's here where I grew my team and expanded my small line of bags and t-shirts to a much wider offering including dozens of apparel styles and an extensive accessories range.

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What led you to start Mokuyobi?

I always felt there was a hole in the market for fun and functional bags that were quality made in the USA. The technical bag market lacked color and fun design and the fun bag market lacked quality. I wanted to fill in the middle to provide something that didn't exist but was full of personality. I further developed my Illustration skills during my studies at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and merged my extensive sewing background with my skills in making repeating patterns and playful, imaginative illustrations to develop the brand into what it is today.

What have been some of the greatest challenges you've experienced as an entrepreneur, and what did you take away or learn from those experiences?

I had no business experience when I began Mokuyobi. I have learned how to create a brand in this industry through slow growth and learning from my mistakes over many years. In the beginning I sewed all of the bags myself, six at a time and would sell mostly at local craft fairs. I eventually grew to work with outside manufacturers who I would work with to make the bags that I designed which let me focus on growing Mokuyobi's line and offering. Finding the right manufacturer was a learning experience and a lot of trial and error. Through manufacturing issues I learned how I had to modify my communication with the factories I was working with and what details I needed to provide to make sure the product could come out how I intended.

What kind of growth have you seen at Mokuyobi? What do you think helped drive that growth?

Mokuyobi grew slowly in the beginning but has flourished considerably in the last few years. As with working at anything consistently for 15 years, you start to get good at what you do. I failed a lot, and learned from my mistakes. I attribute my success to working hard towards my goals everyday and not letting the small things get in the way. I really enjoy what I do and have so much passion for making and creating items that I dream up. Being able to get to the point where I can think up an idea, sew it into a physical object, and have access the infrastructure and know how to work with local factories to mass produce it is a magical and exciting endeavor. There are always bumps and challenges around every corner but I will never stop pushing towards the next idea. The spark that I find in myself when I get excited to create is something that no one can take away from me.

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Do you have any techniques, tools, or words of wisdom on how you successfully engage your customers?

I think the most important aspect is to be genuine and honest with your customer about your product and it will come through. I am always very conscious of being transparent about what Mokuyobi stands for in our production practices and values. I am adamant about showing the work that happens behind the scenes; in our production facilities as well as all of the pattern work I do when making all of our bag samples. I believe that posting time lapse videos showing the work I put into creating a new product is extremely valuable. Most people don’t realize all the skill and steps that are put into what we do and conveying that process communicates our passion as a small artist-run business.

Why Mokuyobi? What sets you apart?

I have been sewing for over 20 years and my love of creating 3D objects is where it all began. I find immense pride in being so connected to our products. I design and sew all the first bag samples myself. This strong and direct connection I have in creating our products is what makes Mokuyobi special. Everything we offer started out as a spark of excitement with the goal of putting positivity into the world to brighten someone’s day.

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Who or what has been your biggest influence in starting your company?

As a teenager, I developed a huge respect for all things Paul Frank. His brand was the only exposure I had to products that felt personal, genuine, and fun. Even when sewing was just a hobby for me I gravitated very strongly to this concept and at 19 I realized that this was my calling. I was an extremely imaginative child and always did things my own way. A lot of my personality comes through in Mokuyobi: whimsical and abstract design with purpose that doesn’t come across as too serious or mundane. If you know me, I live a very on-brand lifestyle where I create my own world inside the spaces I exist in. With creating and expanding Mokuyobi I am my own fundamental influence in this way.

What advice would you give to someone that is just starting their business?

FOCUS! I see a lot of people that are starting out lose focus or get distracted from what their goal was when they began. Dedication and persistence are traits that will serve you well. Be grateful for failure as it will force you to improve and progress if you let it. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes so you don't make them again but most of all, don't forget to have fun! Being your own boss is not for everyone but if you enjoy what you do, it will be easier to persevere when things get difficult.

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What does the future have in store for Mokuyobi? Is there anything you want us to know about?

We just opened our first store in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles in a 2nd floor space that has been vacant for most of the last 10+ years. We are excited to join the diverse businesses in the area and introduce our customers to this vibrant district. It has been a huge dream of mine to open a store and create a store environment that embodies the brand and offers a unique retail shopping experience. Our goal is to continue to grow slowly and stay true to our values. We hope to eventually open more stores in the future and extend Mokuyobi's product offering & reach. Come and shop our collections in person at 101 Japanese Village Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (pictured above!) everyday from 11:30am-8:30pm!

That's all for this week's edition of The New Yak Times! Big thank yous to Julie and Mokuyobi for sharing her story, advice, and incredibly cool products with us! Tune in next week for another Founders Feature and subscribe below!

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