You all know Yoko Kumano, co-founder and Sake Director of Umami Mart. She's a creative jack-of-all-trades and as our Visual Director, she is in charge of all our merchandising, photography, and making our shop look the way it does – shiny, fresh, and invigorating. 

Yoko is also the chief designer for a number of our products, like our zines, and label for our Umami Mart Junmai.

Yoko drew all the doodles for our zines!

Yoko recently designed the label for the Extreme Junmai 90, our collaborative bottle with Den Brewery to celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Additionally, she designed the packaging for the accompanying soap made by Heavenly Soap Co. 

Truly, Yoko is so talented and I asked her a few questions about her design inspiration and philosophy for the Extreme Junmai 90 label.

Sorry, we just sold out of this sake, but you can still get the soap!

KA: How has your years as Umami Mart owner informed this design or your design sensibility in general?

YK: Whenever I take photos or design things for Umami Mart, I stick to the mantra, simple is best. This label is a good example, I originally had some other ideas, but this was the most simple out of the three that incorporated the Umami Mart colors: red, white and black.

What inspired this design?
I knew I wanted to highlight the fact that this sake was using low polished rice. Therefore, I wanted to show the rice grain. So the main graphic on the label is a rice grain. The "white part" of the grain symbolizes the 90%, while the grey part symbolizes the 10% that was removed. I also knew I wanted the label to evoke a sense of sustainability, like the sake itself, so I wanted it to be printed on an earthy paper with texture that showed through the white part of the grain. This paper is also 100% recycled, which was a requirement of mine.

What was the process for this design?
I started the process thinking about our concept for the sake. I knew I wanted to do something with the 90/10 ratio. One of the first designs I came up with I vetoed a few days later because it incorporated another Umami Mart color, gold. However, I didn't think this fit the ethos of this sake that is rustic and uses sustainable techniques (read about them in our interview with Yoshi). I decided to save a gold accent for when we make a sake with higher polished rice.

As with all things at Umami Mart the process is collaborative. Both Kayoko and I have to agree on everything whether it's copy, a photo, or design. It's important to know when to stand by your idea but it's also important not to get too attached to something, because a better idea may come along after discussing it with someone else. I feel like this design was a perfect example of that since we did go through several iterations.

You have lived in Oakland for a while now- what do you like about living here? How does it fuel your creativity?
There are so many things I love about Oakland, but I'd say one of the best things is the weather. I grew up in the South Bay, where it feels too hot, and going across the bridge, I feel like I'm freezing. And if I go out of state it's either the humidity or snow that makes me want to hurry back home. The year round temperate climate allows me to walk around my neighborhood virtually any day of the year or hike in the redwoods. I just love walking around and taking it all in. Walking or hiking alone is where I get my best ideas whether it's artistic or logistical.

How do you invoke your creativity? Do you have any rituals or a special process before starting a project?
Walking is a big part of my creativity and I take a walk in the morning everyday, whether it's just a few blocks around my neighborhood or a long hike. It clears my mind and lets me be in my own thoughts. Without this, it's hard for me to start the day and get things in order. For anything creative, like design, photography or writing, I always have to do it in the morning. I think that creative work is the most fuel intensive and after lunch, I am usually running on half a tank and I don't have any good ideas.  

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