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Inspiring Conversations with Julie Pinzur of Mokuyobi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Pinzur.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I started Mokuyobi in 2006 with a goal of making fun and colorful bags, apparel, and accessories that are quality-made.

I always loved to make things and became very interested in the construction of apparel and bags from a young age. A lot of the items I found on the market were made inexpensively without thought to longevity or lacked color and usability. I wanted to create a brand that offered products that were lively, useful, and locally made.

While developing my sewing skills, I would often color block with solid fabrics or utilize whatever prints I gravitated towards at my local fabric store. Eventually, I felt that the products I made weren’t truly my own unless I was designing everything from scratch, including the fabric prints. I went to Parsons the New School for Design for Illustration and learned to make textile designs and patterns so I could incorporate my custom prints into my sewing. Mokuyobi is a fusion of my extensive self-taught sewing background, developed illustration skills, and a lifetime of finding the fun in everything around me. I began mass producing my designs using local resources in 2012 and started exhibiting at wholesale trade shows to increase Mokuyobi’s exposure. In 2014 I moved to Los Angeles to expand my line (escape winter) and utilize the large manufacturing infrastructure that LA has to offer.

I spent 15 years slowly building Mokuyobi and watched it change from a small personal endeavor to an established brand. In the past several years our sales have doubled or tripled continuously and our reach and interest have grown extensively. It had always been my dream to open up a retail store and we were finally able to make it happen this year! We opened Mokuyobi’s Flagship location in August (2021) in downtown Los Angeles in Little Tokyo. The space had sat vacant for the most part of 10+ years as it was an unusual 2nd floor office space. With this uncommon layout, I forced myself to think outside the box about how this location could work for us. I saw the opportunity to create an entryway experience that most stores can’t offer because of their one story layout. I put so much love into the design of this extensive space and when you walk inside it feels very special. I feel so proud to have accomplished this long-awaited goal and can’t wait to see what the future holds as we continue to grow.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Anytime you set out to blaze a new path, it won’t be easy. 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, many years. In the beginning, I cut & sewed all of the bags myself, six at a time and would sell mostly at local craft fairs learning from customer interactions about how I needed to improve my product presentation. My demand eventually grew to where I could no longer sew everything myself and I began the search for domestic bag manufacturers. I struggled for a long time to find USA factories that could produce my products. In 2012 I ran a Kickstarter where I raised $25,000 to do my first ever mass production run of backpacks. Production was delayed and there were endless amounts of obstacles but I made it through, shipped out every order, and learned more about 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 would come out how I intended.

Growing a brand from scratch, an ever present unavoidable challenge is having to wear [too] many hats. It can be overwhelming at times to need to become an expert at nineteen different jobs but it can also be extremely rewarding to master so many tasks and feel like you are the hardest working person on Earth. However, when growing a team there is nothing more rewarding than finding superstar employees who can take a chunk of responsibilities off your plate and complete them seamlessly.

Building a productive team was one of the most challenging obstacles I struggled with. I put a lot of effort into learning about the psychology of the workplace and how different people communicate. I didn’t have a ton of experience in working for other people and I spent a lot of time working to understand office dynamics and the conditions required for different people to thrive. The managerial skills that I worked to develop are integral to creating a positive work environment and a happy team. I am very grateful for the dedicated team that I have now and I’m looking forward to the bright future we will create together.

As you know, we’re big fans of Mokuyobi. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
I have built Mokuyobi to align with my core values which I feel are essential when creating a brand, producing products, and running a business. The four guiding ideals that make Mokuyobi shine are: Quality Made Fun, Ethical Production, Environmentally Made, and Amazing Customer Service.

Quality Made Fun

I created Mokuyobi with the purpose of producing awesomely fun, high-quality products that are designed with functionality in mind. My goal is to always bring positivity to the forefront and create a lighthearted atmosphere for imagination to thrive in our wide offering of bags, apparel styles, and accessories to make your day-to-day a fun-filled adventure.

Ethical Production

All our products are made in Los Angeles, California, within a 40-mile radius of our HQ. So many factories and workers have had to pivot after countless brands moved their production overseas in pursuit of greater profits and fewer regulations. I find infinite value in supporting our local community and skilled workers with whom we have built strong relationships over the years. We vow to support local businesses and produce ethically to keep the Made in the USA apparel industry alive. Everyone that we work with contributes to what makes Mokuyobi great and we deeply value and respect their livelihoods. We are an equal opportunity employer and we pay all of our employees a fair living wage.

My husband, Alex Seastrom, is the production manager for Mokuyobi and visits our many contractors daily to troubleshoot problems, ensure quality, and track progress on all our projects. I love how hands on our process is and I never want that to change.

Environmentally Made

Whenever feasible, we use recycled materials and reuse the packaging that protects our products. Any leftover fabric scraps that we get from our cutter we make into new small goods to cut down on waste. All of the nylon scraps that we collect after each production I use to make future bag samples. Our merchandise contains zero animal products.

We offer a lifetime warranty on all of our bags where we repair any Mokuyobi bag for free to keep our products in use as long as possible and out of landfills. Everything we create is made to last.

Amazing Customer Service

Providing quality customer support is a necessary service that aligns with offering a quality product. We always do our best to work with our fans and customers to answer questions and problem solve. I believe that it speaks volumes when you can connect with people and work with them within each situation instead of being steadfast in unfavorable concrete policies.

Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
I find that music is an amazing tool to get into a productive and positive headspace. Sparks of sounds and lyrics can also be a great mood booster as well as a pathway to creative imagination. Some of my favorites include Owl City, Sky Sailing, Mae, Cavetown, The Dear Hunter, Jack’s Mannequin, and Keane. I love listening to music that feels light, energetic, silly, or clever.

Reading is another great tool I like to use to push my thoughts off their predetermined brain-train track. I find it forces me to think about something new. I wish I spent more time reading but when I can sit down with a book, I always benefit from it. I enjoy reading sci-fi/fantasy books as well as non-fiction about the psychology of business.

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Image Credits:

Julie Pinzur Aimee Gauthier Gabriel Mendoza Weiss

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