Umami Mart Registry

This month we're featuring women makers, an annual series we affectionately call Female Frontrunners. We feature sake breweries run by women for Sake Gumi, and we also feature women artisans and makers at the shop.

Both Yoko and I are from the Bay Area – we met as teenagers in Cupertino, then went off to faraway places after college (her to Tokyo, and me to NYC). But the strong pull of the Bay Area, sunny and abundant, brought us back to start our little retail store in Oakland in 2012. It is a special place here, the Bay Area; so it's important to us that we not only showcase makers from Japan, but from right in our community too! 

Miyuki Takimoto used to work together with Yoko's mom Kazuko for HAGU which is how we met her initially. Now, she works on her own, hand-stitching coasters and trivets with vintage Japanese fabrics. Each has been so unique that we have never been able to put them online before – but they're available now! They are so popular with our Oakland customers that we hope people can enjoy them across the U.S. We also use the coaster at our bar – they bring a splash of color and joy to the drinks.

Please introduce yourself.
My name is Miyuki and I am the creator of HAGU, which is devoted to making utilitarian cloth items from new and vintage Japanese fabric. I was born in Yamaguchi, Japan. I met my husband in Tokyo and just after we were married, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, 23 years ago. I love collecting pottery, visiting museums, sitting in coffee shops, and taking yoga and Japanese calligraphy classes. My favorite colors are moss green and charcoal gray. I have a careful personality and I remain stubbornly committed once I have set a goal.

Please describe the concept and history behind HAGU.
HAGU came about as the result of a fortunate coincidence: I had made a number of coasters to participate in a local sales event. After I finished making the coasters I took a picture and sent it to my friend, Kazuko, who is a very talented maker. She liked the coaster design and I told her that she could make them herself, but unfortunately she did not have the combination of fabrics that suited her taste.

Later, she called me and said that her daughter Yoko, one of the founders of Umami Mart, also liked them and suggested that we sell them there. I was very happy for the opportunity and initially Kazuko and I were making them together and selling them through Umami Mart. That was eight years ago. Now I am designing and making HAGU products by myself.

The name HAGU comes from the Japanese word that means to piece together (like patchwork) and connect things. I am thrilled about connecting pieces of cloth to connect with people. I like to imagine customers using my products, smiling, enjoying delicious coffee and having a good time with family or friends. By the way, HAGU sounds like “hug” so it’s easy to remember.

What did you do prior to owning your own business and how did those experiences help you in creating your own brand?
In Japan, I worked at an architectural firm in Tokyo as an interior designer for about 10 years. The office mainly undertook the remodeling of apartments and general housing. When I was assigned a project, I would make the design, estimate the cost, meet with the client, order the construction and material, and supervise the on-site work. I learned a lot through this work by being responsible for a project from start to finish and I think it helps to make HAGU a successful one-person operation.

What inspired you to choose found fabrics to make one-of-a-kind HAGU products?
As I mentioned earlier, I think I have basic knowledge of design and color, so I believe in my intuition when I pick a combination of fabrics. Also I live in the country side, so I can feel nature with my five senses, which inspires me and enhances my color sense.

How do you source your materials?
I have some favorite shops in Japan, but I live in California, so most of the time I order fabrics on-line and have them send to my mom in Japan. My favorite fabrics like katazome and sarasa are fairly rare, so when I discover them I must buy them right away or they will be gone the next day. This is especially true of vintage fabrics, which are in high demand. At least once a year I try to travel to Japan for fabric shopping and to visit family and friends.

Katazome and sarasa are labor intensive stencil dying techniques that require skilled workers. Each year, these fabrics are becoming harder and harder to find.

What does your work space look like?

My work space is in a spare bedroom. Actually I prefer materials to be hidden in storage, but unfortunately, things tend to overflow. To help organize my workspace, I got a bookcase from IKEA and asked my husband to make a shallow drawer unit that fits into one of the shelf spaces. I really like it because it has a lot of storage density and it fits my working style. I precut pieces of fabric and put them in different drawers according to color and pattern. Then I can easily select pieces in different combinations to form a coaster design.

Please describe your process of making a HAGU coaster from start to finish?
To make a set of coasters, I first select the fabrics. If the fabric is vintage or starched, I hand wash it gently in cold water and then iron it. Actually, all fabrics need ironing before cutting into pieces. One coaster requires six pieces plus an inner liner.

Before sewing I make a trial arrangement of pieces to see how the finished coaster will look. The order of sewing the pieces can have a dramatic effect on the final appearance of the coaster, so it is important to make sure the final pattern is pleasing before starting. After each piece is sewn, the partial coaster must be ironed to keep it flat and ready to receive the next piece. After five pieces have been sewn, the coaster’s inner lining is added. The back fabric is then sewn on and turned inside out, which actually brings the outside to the outside because the construction is done inside out. Once again, the coaster is ironed and the tag, which I also make, is attached.

How do you use your own products?

I use HAGU coasters every day, morning and night, with meals, and during coffee breaks. During the summer, I often make mugi-cha  and I use the fabric coaster to protect our wooden dining table from condensation. For my guests, I use it between a saucer and cup to provide a bit of heat retention and provide some anti-slip effect. The different layers of material are also visually interesting. Sometimes I place it under an ichirinzashi (tiny Japanese single flower vase) to highlight the display.

What’s next for HAGU?
Right now, I am making a trivet that will be similar in appearance to the coasters. Also, I would like to explore the use of other vintage and repurposed fabrics. However, the coasters that I continue to make for Umami Mart will be unique designs and only available at Umami Mart.

What other women-owned businesses do you admire?
After I came to California, I met many women who have their own business. They have different occupations but all have a very positive spirit in common!

Which women in history have inspired you?
One of my favorite TV programs is NHK’s Asadora, which is a 15 minute morning family drama broadcast six times a week with each story lasting half a year. The drama’s main character is usually based on a real woman who was successful and had to live in and overcome a difficult situation. Especially memorable for me was the story of Ayako Koshino who lost her husband doing the war but supported herself and raised three daughters by doing piece work with only a single sewing machine. The three daughters later became the world famous fashion designers, Junko Koshino, Hiroko Koshino and Michiko Koshino.