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Conversations with Nobuo Wellington and Yuko Makuuchi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nobuo Wellington and Yuko Makuuchi.

Please kick things off for us with some background on the story.
WM Craftworks is the creative enterprise of Yuko Makuuchi and Nobuo (Nobu) Wellington. Yuko and I got to where we are today traveling slightly different roads. For Yuko ceramic work started out taking adult education night classes at various community colleges around LA. Studying ceramics proved to be a great way to relieve stress after a tough day of work. At some point, we had to figure out what to do with all the ceramic pieces she was bringing home.

We had already given all our friends, family and coworkers as many cups, plates, bowls, etc. as they could take and our shelves at home were still overflowing. We finally got to point where we were literally tripping over boxes full of ceramics and I asked Yuko if she thought we could sell some of her works to make some space. Although it was always a long term goal to sell her work, Yuko wasn’t sure she was ready . . . “is it good enough?” We tried a small sale and the response was really enthusiastic. For Nobu finding woodworking was kind of a happenstantial discovery. When I moved to LA in 2002, my friends literally made fun of me because I didn’t own any tools. At the time, I figured why do I need tools, I live in an apartment, if something broke I’d just call the landlord and they’ll arrange to have it fixed. In 2009 as part of the recovery stimulus from the “Great Recession” I was able to buy a house.

However, the house needed a lot of work. I couldn’t afford to hire anyone to do the work so I had to learn how to do the work myself. Along with the learning came the acquisition of tools . . . a lot of tools. I liked buying tools. I really liked buying tools. At some point the work on the house was done but my addiction to tools showed no sign of abating. What to do . . . hmmmmm? Right about this time, Yuko started showing me pictures of things and saying, “You can make that right?” I would just say, “Let me try to figure it out.”

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
We founded WM Craftworks in 2013. At the time, we both had full-time jobs and crafting was our side hustle. Mostly we tried to get our work into local shops on consignment. In 2014 we were invited to join a cooperative store in Highland Park. That was really great for us because it gave us a home of sorts. This felt really good for as long as it lasted. But the coop closed when Highland Park blew up and the rent tripled and the business model of the coop was no longer workable. A couple of stores around the city continued to support us by carrying our work, but in terms of a business it was still a money pit. In 2017, we decided to apply to the Renegade Craft fair for their Christmas market. Our initial application was rejected and yes our feelings were hurt. And then one day on our way home from a weekend in Solvang, Yuko got an email saying they had a cancellation and do we still want to participate? We kind of freaked out. The market was in 10 days, we had never done a market. No tent, no display, should we do it? We talked about it for a hot second and decided to just go for it.

If not now, when? We were confident we could figure things out. Yuko replied yes to the email and paid our booth fee from the passenger seat of the car and for the rest of the trip home, we were both talking a mile a minute brainstorming. We signed up for a half booth, and Renegade found us booth mate that could provide a tent. We came up with a display design and I built it in the shop. We went to the bank and bought change, we pack our boxes and ten days later, we were setting up for our first market in Los Angeles State Historic Park just outside of Downtown LA. We didn’t make a ton of money. After buying credit card readers and materials for our display and whatever else, we probably did a litter better than break even. But we considered it a real success and decided that we wanted to keep doing craft fairs. At this time, we were still both holding down full-time jobs so we kept it to a handful of events a year, something in the spring, maybe one in the summer and one around the holidays. So that became our business model.

At this point, WM Craftworks was just about paying for itself and we were steadily growing little by little. Then in February of 2019 Nobu got laid off from his full-time job. One day after months of unsuccessfully trying to find another job, Yuko sat me down, opened a beer and said, let’s talk. She told me she could see how hard I was looking for a job, but she didn’t think the jobs I was applying for were really anything I was passionate about. She said there must be a flea market or farmer’s market every weekend. Why don’t you focus on doing that? So we took a couple of months to build up inventory and in the spring of 2019 starting with the Jackalope craft fair, we literally started doing some kind of a market Saturday and Sunday every week. The growth was noticeable and encouraging. 2020 has been quite a ride. We took a couple of weeks off to visit my family and a week after we got back, Covid 19 had shut down the world. And here we are.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As our tag line would indicate, WM Craftworks is the home of “Handcrafted Originals.” What we make are mostly home items. Yuko uses her ceramic skills to make coffee cups, pour over sets, plates and bowls. Lately, her most popular items have been handcrafted ceramic citrus reamers and French butter dishes. Nobu specializes in end grain cutting boards and lathe turned bowls. People have commissioned me to make custom woodworking items (a pair of urns, a coffee table, a sliding barn door), so I’m happy to work with customers on a very individual level. We both are. You is currently working on two dinner place setting commissions. One setting is for eight places and the other setting is for 12 places. I think what sets us apart is what sets all artists apart from one another, their individual aesthetic sense. People really respond to the truly unique aspect of our hand made goods, recognizing that no two pieces are exactly alike. It is not uncommon for someone to spend 15 or 20 minutes in our booth choosing between two coffee mugs for example. Each very similar to the other, but each having its own distinct qualities as well. To us, this is a feature and not a flaw in our work.

Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
We’re certainly open to opportunities to collaborate. I guess you can shoot us an email or stop by our booth and strike up a conversation and we’ll see where it goes. We list where we’re going to be on our website and we’re pretty easy to talk to. If you want to support WM Craftworks, you can visit our website or come see us in person at a market and purchase something. The holidays are upon us and our handcrafted originals make lovely gifts.

Contact Info:

  • Email: info@wmcraftworks.con
  • Website: wmcraftworks.com
  • Instagram: @wmcraftworks


Image Credits

Yuko Makuuchi, Nobu Wellington

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