Julie Pinzur, the brainchild behind Mokuyobi, is as bubbly, fun and energetic as her brand. She shares with us her journey from sewing as a child, to raising $25k in a Kickstarter campaign, to having one of the coolest brands around. All you fashion entrepreneurs out there will learn a thing or two from this talented bird.
Do you remember your first week in Los Angeles?
I moved in December 2014. I used a moving service to move all my things and I brought a suitcase full of patches and a suitcase of clothes, and that week I didn’t have any furniture, I had a card table and a folding chair and I would just sit there and pack my orders.
This massive space was totally empty?
Well, it actually it was full of boxes. I moved here from New York for production because all the bags are made in downtown LA.
A friend of mine introduced me to some of the manufacturers. They were producing the products and I would come to LA every two months or so to check on production and oversee everything. There were boxes of bags in the apartment because they were using this place as the storage for my new season.
So you moved here purely for your business?
Yeah, I mean it’s like my whole life.
How did you feel about leaving New York?
I was ready. I was over winter. I grew up with winter in Chicago and it never really bothered me but in New York you walk around so much and the last couple of years were really brutal. I was just over it.
Tell me a bit about what you’re doing with your business, Mokuyobi ...
I always loved sewing. I started sewing when I was thirteen. I did home economics at school and I thought it was so interesting. I would always buy stuff and rip it apart to see how it was constructed. Construction was my favorite part of the design process.
I basically taught myself by ripping stuff up and putting it back together and then making my own version of something. That evolved and I would make presents for my friends in high school. When I went to college I was planning to study psychology because I didn’t know you could start a business or do the kind of thing I was interested in doing.
I went to The College of Wooster in Ohio and I realized they had a studio art program. I did not know you could study art. I didn’t know there were art schools, I didn’t know that whole world.
How did you end up in Ohio?
I was a spring-board diver and I was in the marching band so three of my requirements for colleges were; a liberal art school, a diving team and a marching band.
Once I was there I changed my major to art and did a lot of independent stuff. I realized that Wooster couldn’t teach me what I wanted to learn so I started looking into art schools.
I got into Parsons but I didn’t go right away because I wanted to study abroad in Tokyo first. I had been to Tokyo before when I visited my cousin who used to teach English there and I fell in love with Japan and I just had to go back.
Was Tokyo a big influence on your work?
Oh, absolutely. The name, the culture, the way everyone wears color ...
Was your style very different before you went?
I would say it was crazier. I used to wear every color of the rainbow but very specifically not purple and pink. Only the bright hues and all together. I would wear a yellow shirt, blue pants, green shoes.
I thought it was normal but then later when I started getting involved in the art world I realized it was good to throw in some neutrals, shades and tones. So it kind of evolved.
I think my designs changed and improved a lot once I got to art school. I also never really drew before and I started to do all of my illustrations. It wasn’t until I started to get really serious about constructing bags, and I found that I didn’t really feel like the bag my mine unless I designed the print as well as the design and construction. So I chose to major in illustration at Parsons and the program taught me everything. I look at the stuff I used to make before and I think; “Oh my gosh, this is really bad!” It’s really cool now that I can create what’s in my brain.
To get it to the point now where it’s your business and livelihood is amazing. Is it something that just took off or has it been evolving?
I was doing small things through college. I had my brand, it was a “thing” legally but I was in school. Once I graduated I thought; “Now I’m going to start it full time.”
My mom is a business planner so she helped me understand how to make a business plan and how to plan for the short term to accomplish what you need in the long term.
At that point I was making everything myself. It was super time consuming so I started researching mass production. I did a Kickstarter for the first bag I created which was the Bedford Bag. It’s a three-way backpack, over-the-shoulder and tote bag. It was a huge project and I got funded $25,000 so I got to work with this place in Indiana that I found.
It was definitely a challenge. There were a lot of things that I wasn’t expecting. Everything takes way longer than you think it does. I sourced everything myself and found all the components. You’ve got to price it out for wholesale and for retail … it was a real learning experience.
Do you feel you’re in a place now where you know how it works?
Oh yes, definitely. That bag was the first stepping stone to where I am now. After that I started making seasons, before then I was just making bags whenever. I was going to craft fairs to sell my stuff to retailers but I wanted to work on a bigger scale so I start researching and going to trade shows.
Trade shows are where stores come to see your stuff and place orders six months in advance for what you’re going to release in the next season. That really pushed me into the whole season thing where you have to release your spring/summer and fall/winter collections. You have to have your designs ready at a certain time, you have to have your production start and finish at a certain time. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of constantly working and switching gears.
That’s kind of where I am right now.
Does it blow your mind to look back at where you started at school to where you are today?
It doesn’t really feel that surreal to me because I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s what I love to do. But if I told my younger self that I would have my own brand with three employees I’d be like; “What?”
It’s super cool but sometimes it’s hard to step back and see it as a whole because it’s my everyday life.
What about your work/life balance? Is that something you’d like to separate more in the future?
No, I like it together. Sometimes people think it’s crazy that I live in the same place that I work because you’re always surrounded by your work, but I don’t want to escape it. I feel guilty when I escape it.
Do you think there’s a reason why you don’t want to escape it?
I just love it. If I had billions of dollars and didn’t need to work I’d do the same thing just with a bigger office and more people. [Laughs]
How do you come up with your ideas?
All over the place. Different inspirations like architecture, nature… it’s also a lot of color palettes. I’ll see something out in the world and love the colors together.
What’s it like having people help you with your work?
Delegating was a big challenge for me. I’m very much a control freak but at this level you can’t be. So I have to let go a bit and trust people. It’s a lot of communication. I’ve got to tell them what I want and be clear.
Where do you hope to be in five years time?
I would love to have an office space. My ideal situation would be having some kind of building where I’d have a retail store and an office and a place to live, all in the one building. “The house of Mokuyobi”.
Is there any advice you would give, especially to someone starting out with their own business?
It’s a long road. Prepare yourself. Make sure it’s what you love and what you want to do. It’s really hard to start a business. There’s so much work you have to put into it and it takes about three years before you actually start making money doing it. It’s very overwhelming and you’ve got to be the kind of person that can think logically and handle everything.
What’s the breakdown between the business part and the creative part?
It’s mostly business.
How are you promoting your brand?
Social media. I try to do photo shoots. I’m working with a PR company right now and they handle magazine and editorial features.
It’s kind of hard to know what to do though, and who to work with. Everyone’s approaching me about things they think will be really great for me, but everybody says that.
When I was doing my first season I would just cold email people and ask if they wanted to carry my brand. Maybe like 2% of them would respond. Now, I don’t reach out to anybody.
It was just the evolution of going to trade shows, buyers seeing you in the industry and taking you seriously. If they’ve heard of you or seen you in another store they respect, then in their eyes it’s a cool brand.
It was so hard in the beginning. Nobody would respond to me.
What are some of your favorite things to do in LA?
One of my favorite things is going to the Rosebowl Swap Meet. It’s really cool but get ready to spend all day there and bring some cash. It’s really fun to find vintage finds there and cool prints. I get inspired by it.
Aside from that, I really like the piñata district. It’s downtown and it’s this street with piñatas for days. Anything as a piñata, you can buy it!
What does LA mean to you?
Eternal summer. It means finding your own path. Up until the point I moved to New York I was just following society’s norms, you go to high school, you go to college, you start a job. I was in New York because of school and LA was a huge decision that I made on my own. Completely. Without anyone being, “You need to…” or “You need to not…”
It was kind of weird to make this huge decision for myself. It kind of freaked me out a little bit because it made me realize how in control of your life you are. How you can make such a wild decision that will really affect your future.
Visit the amazing Mokuyobi store.
Photography by Magdalena Wielopolski ©