SATOMI KAWAKITA I Jewelry Designer
"Everything was a challenge to me: from learning English, getting a job, getting a visa, making my own jewelry outside of the full-time job, how to sell my jewelry?.... I struggled and had to try to see what "worked" for me for many years. I just tried everything I thought could work. I was not sure if all the hard work would eventually pay off, but I just did it anyway because I didn't want to do anything else. All the things I experienced (both good and bad), people I met (both the ones I liked and disliked) eventually connected and lead me to where I am now. Yes, all the small dots have connected and become a line."
Where did you grow up?
Describe that place and its people…
Osaka is the second biggest city in Japan. People in Osaka are very friendly and funny - and the food there is very good. I would say that Osaka is "comedy central" in Japan.
What were you like as a child?
I was very shy and liked making things with my hands at home. I got very into making pop-up cards because when I was 10 years old one of my father’s friend’s art teacher gifted me this book called “Origamic Architecture” by Masahiro Chatani.
What did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Origami Architect.
Your mother was a dress-maker, and she made a lot of your clothes as a child. Did she inspire you to get into design and start creating?
Yes. I was next to her from her buying fabric to sewing and turning it into a dress. It was very inspiring to see the entire process of making things. I started telling her which fabric I liked, what kind of design I wanted her to make - that was my first experience choosing materials and designs for something. I remember that I was very picky about color and style already. I was a very picky little customer!
How has she impacted your design?
She didn’t really impact me with design actually. Designing is something I didn't learn from anyone. It was a natural thing for me.
When did you first leave home? Where did you go?
I left my parents’ home for the first time when I was 26 years old. I went to Boston.
When did you come to the US? Was there a particular reason you wanted to come here?
I came to the US in January 2002. I came to learn English and I thought maybe I could do some glass blowing, too.
Do you have any formal art or design training?
I graduated from an Art School as a Design Major. But it was more like a “craft” thing - I learned how to work with metal, wood, ceramic, and textiles. I didn’t learn how to design formally at the school and I never thought that that was something one can teach to another.
How did you get into making jewelry?
I was a glassblower in Japan. Doing glass blowing for 5 years made me realize that I was more comfortable working on smaller scale/detailed pieces by myself at my own pace.
Soon after the glass studio where I used to work closed it’s door, I found that there weren't many options for metal clasps when I started making glass-bead accessories. That experience made me want to make my own clasps and learn how to make jewelry.
How would you describe your jewelry?
Organic. Delicate. Simple. Unique. Subtle.
What inspires your work?
Everything I see. Everything I touch.
Do you feel your work and designs are influenced by where you are from?
Probably yes. The balance of design, quality of the product, and material is very important to me.
I deeply respect the high level of craftsmanship and the minimal design aesthetic in Japan. My designs are basically pretty simple and minimal and don’t speak too much. And I can say that the quality of our products are very high and we use very fine material because we are making jewelry for people to wear for a long time. My design is timeless and not seasonal, I would say.
What are your favorite materials to work with when making jewelry?
18K Yellow gold and diamond because yellow gold is softer than other metals and diamonds are very strong. It’s easier to work with and I also like the look.
What’s your favorite part about having your own business?
No one tells me what to do...Just kidding!
Ok, I’m answering seriously now - That everything comes back to me, both good and bad, and it makes me feel “alive.”
What are your biggest challenges as a business owner?
You have to understand that you are an owner. It’s still new to me and I’m learning everyday what that means.
What lessons have you learned working for yourself?
You have to trust yourself and don’t do what you don't think it’s right. And do things that only you can do. And let other people do things you don’t need to do - and trust them.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As my business gets bigger and bigger I spend less time in the studio… and more time in the office… But this is pretty typical for a small business like mine. There are so many things you need to take care of besides making jewelry. But I’m trying to build a nice team so I can make more jewelry soon, hopefully.
My day: I come in at 9am in the morning and check emails, do small errands, and work in the studio until lunch. Then we have clients come to our showroom in the afternoon for consultations. I am literally running around the showroom/studio/office all day and am never able to get out until the end of a day. I come in some weekends or stay until late when I design new pieces so I can concentrate on things. I prefer doing it when no one is around. I do like working with people though.
What is your work process?
I draw rough sketch and carve wax and bring it to my caster who casts. I check how it looks in metal and repeat this process until I feel right/find the perfect figure. This process could be done after the first try, but sometimes I do it 10 times to finalize one design. Then I test drive and see how I feel.
I design new pieces when I like. This may sound very selfish, but I don’t like “disposable” or "seasonal" things. I like to spend good amount of time and effort to create things for people to wear for a long time.
Good design should be timeless, and real luxury is not about how much you can spend on a diamond, it's how much you can spend for the time and the skills.
What are the things that you want to fill your days with?
Client’s and employee’s happy faces. Good laughs. Sweets. A sense of accomplishment. And Big sales!
Do you have a morning ritual to get you ready for the day?
I have something sweet every morning to get the day started. Sweets are my gasoline.
What are the things that are most important to you?
Family, friends, and the people around me. Fairness. Generosity. Appreciation. Living creatively. Good laughs. And trusting your ability and not setting limitations on yourself.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you do?
There is no "right" way to do things and I can't really tell people the best way to be a jewelry designer, but these are the things I can say -
-Try to find out what makes you happy, what you are good at doing,
-Try to make things that only you can make.
-Being original and “yourself” is very important. Try not to look around too much or follow what other people are doing. Find your own way to do things.
-Work 5 times harder than other people, and think 10 times more. “Think well” and “think too much” are completely different things….so, don't think too much, but think well.
-Do whatever you think could work and learn something new from mistakes...and never stop trying.
-Try not to get it all at once. Remember that things you get easily, you lose easily.
-Be prepared and don’t miss the chance when it comes.
-Keep telling people around you what you want to do.
-Be the biggest fan of your work!
Do you have a mentor?
Yes. Mr.Takeshi Tsujino. A glass blower, designer, owner of FRESCO(glass studio in Osaka), an amazing artist, and a pioneer who taught me glass-blowing and introduced me the US. He carries out his words and was the first adult (to me back then...I was 19 and he was 29) who listened to me seriously and didn't treat me as a child. It meant a lot to me and made me start thinking about how to live more seriously. His words have been encouraging me so much for the last 20 years.
How does your work allow you to live authentically?
I always try to hear my inner voice and see if I really feel right when I do something, when I make something, when I say something.
It took me years to get where I am now and it was not easy. I tried very hard to be a glassblower, but I gave up. Then I tried to look for new materials to work with next very carefully. I knew that I liked to make things with my hands, but I was not sure what material that would be.
When I decided to learn jewelry making, I got very into it and I was able to feel “this is it” - this is the material I like to work with - finally. I learned a good lesson from that experience..."liking something" and "being good at doing something" are different sometimes, sadly. I would probably not have realized that if I didn't try glassblowing. And I learned another lesson, that quitting is not so bad as long as you are positive. It could lead you to a better place.
Then the new journey started.
Everything was a challenge to me: from learning English, getting a job, getting a visa, making my own jewelry outside of the full-time job, how to sell my jewelry?.... I struggled and had to try to see what "worked" for me for many years. I just tried everything I thought could work. I was not sure if all the hard work would eventually pay off, but I just did it anyway because I didn't want to do anything else. All the things I experienced (both good and bad), people I met (both the ones I liked and disliked) eventually connected and lead me to where I am now. Yes, all the small dots have connected and become a line. “Nothing is wasted”...well said, Steve Jobs! Things I have done, the time I spent on thinking, I was not always sure if I was doing right or if I was going the right direction, but I just tried to trust myself and kept going. It’s not easy. But everyone has different potential. You just have to find your own and just have to believe in yourself.
I’m very happy with what I have now, what I have experienced, the way I did it. It was a long way and I could have taken a short-cut, but that’s not how I like to live. So I named my company ROUNDABOUT. The way I run my business, the way I live. And I can’t change it.