When local leather crafting duo, Jasmyne Koh and Han Yean of KAKUDO decided to take their trade to the next level, the land of the rising sun presented them with a world of opportunities. 

With the rich history of leatherwork and artisan techniques, the Sumida ward of Tokyo, Japan became a nurturing cradle to hone their skills as well as a hotbed for growth, not only as craftspeople but also as entrepreneurs. 

In August this year, Koh and Han managed to stitch their names within the fast-paced life of the neon-lighted city, by debuting their own Randoseru bags – a firm-sided school bag made of stitched leather – at the Shinjuku Marui department store in Tokyo. 

Inspired by the iconic school bag often used by Japanese elementary school kids since the late 1880s, KAKUDO’s Randoseru bags are meticulously handcrafted, blending functionality and elegance to create a timeless yet practical piece of fashion. 

The absolute class is then injected with fun, as the school bag comes in a variety of different colours, with the Randoseru school bag in Nostalgic Red leading the march as KAKUDO’s flagship product. 

“Our new design aims to break the stereotypical mundane school bag image,” said Koh in an interview with The Bruneian. 

The Bruneian leather crafters pride themselves in designing and crafting eccentric, yet chic products that feature great detailing and precision. 

From the selection of leather to pattern cutting and then crafting the piece, all aspects are done with a sense of exactitude to ensure the highest of quality. 

“Not only are we very specific with the material specifications and colour representation of the leathers used in our products, but we also do not compromise on the craftsmanship as well,” added Koh, who is trained to hand-stitch leather with care.

Leather crafting with purpose, with perspective

Despite having branched out and stepping into the big pond that is Japan, KAKUDO’s started from humble beginnings; from two friends with a shared passion for leather and Japanese craftsmanship.  

Before there was KAKUDO however, there was Juste Leather, which was founded in 2015, an online shop known primarily for their handmade unibody envelope clutch bags as well as wallets via Facebook or Instagram. 

Increasing market demand for leather crafts had boosted Juste Leather’s popularity, but that was just not enough for the two young crafters, who felt a deep desire to refine their skillset, so it was off to Japan they went. 

According to Koh, the Sumida ward of Tokyo – the area where KAKUDO is based – was once home to over 3,000 leather crafters specialising in shoes, handbags and wallets, to name just a few. 

Thus, it became a fitting place for the duo to deepen their knowledge on traditional Japanese craftsmanship and immerse themselves in the world of artisan, which has enabled the leather crafters to approach their artistry with a bit more perspective. 

Thus, it became a fitting place for the duo to deepen their knowledge on traditional Japanese craftsmanship and immerse themselves in the world of artisan, which has enabled the leather crafters to approach their artistry with a bit more perspective. 

“KAKUDO has multiple meanings in Japanese and the one that resonates with our brand philosophy is ‘perspective’,” she explained.

The move to Japan was definitely a huge step for both Koh and Han, but it also marked the beginning of KAKUDO.

Koh is currently studying traditional Japanese craft at the Tokyo University of Arts whereas Han has been undergoing his apprenticeship in one of the oldest leather armour craftsmen in Japan, Yamato Budogu Tokyo.

Standing out in an unfamiliar market

“Japan has been a strong market for branded leather bags but recent years have observed the growth of the handcrafted handbags market as designs are more unique and customers preferring products that are non-generic in nature,” said Han. 

To distinguish KAKUDO from other leather crafters, the two friends decided to design a new product line that revolves around traditional Japanese leather but with a unique twist.

While KAKUDO has seemingly grown stronger, it has not always been smooth sailing for the young entrepreneurs. Han admits that there were challenges that they faced breaking into the Japanese market.

“Cultural norms, consumer habits and trends are definitely unique in Japan where common marketing knowledge overseas is mostly ineffective,” he said. 

“We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet prominent figures within the Japanese industry and obtained advice to tackle these hurdles,” he shared.

In a market where the culture is driven by the craftsmanship and a shifting taste, Han believed that having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, and an open mind to accept that things may not go according to plan, is crucial.

“Most important of all is the ability to understand and face the fear of the unfamiliar international scene and take that first step out of our comfort zone”

“In our case, we had to learn a new language, understand a market culture that does not adhere to typical international market trends,” he added.

With KAKUDO’s distinct aesthetic and functional attributes, the brand has the potential to attract a global audience, and with that Han expressed plans to expand the brand beyond Asia.

“We are currently working with our French contacts who have worked in high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton to target the European market,” he shared. 

KAKUDO is also looking forward to securing full production capabilities within Japan in the nearest future.

This article was first published on August 29, 2020 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 105

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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