This post has been updated on June 9th.
It feels like yesterday when I first launched our online shop 10 years ago, a week away from Satchi's arrival. It was in June 2010. Maybe I was desperate to hold onto something that belonged just to me before my life and time inevitably became more shared amongst the family needs. But I also think it was my calling. It has been my calling. The birth of BK came after spending a few years in a design field trying to convince big companies that customers were looking for deeper and more meaningful connections. After sensing much resistance, I came to the conclusion that I could create "the company" that connected deeply with the community. The company that is kind and respectful. That appreciates the beauty in slowness when the time was speeding up exponentially all around us. The company that inspires people to savor ordinary moments in every day. For the first few months, I sold nothing in our online store. But I had my personal mission to keep telling the stories through inspiration. As I started to line up our artifacts online and wrote many many many personal emails to bloggers around the world introducing Baum-kuchen and what we believe in, word slowly started to spread. Some of the artifacts that we carried from the very beginning include Traveler's Notebook, mt masking tapes, and MIDORI items.
This was before Instagram. This was also before anyone in the U.S. really knew that Traveler's Notebook existed. I asked Frido to spare a small part of the garage shelves for BK's inventory and I poured my heart into Baum-kuchen during Satchi's nap time and evening. I knew from the very beginning that we would wrap each order with love and care so that the artifacts were presented as gifts to the customer who ordered/received it. I wanted to create a deep connection with our customers, not just a transaction. During these early years, I probably looked both tired and energized. A slow start of BK was great because Frido and I also had a newborn baby to raise.
As Satchi got a little older, my next vision became loud and clear; open pop-up shops. If you have experience doing these pop-up shops, you probably know that it requires pure stamina, both physically and emotionally. I started attending local flea market monthly, leaving the house at 4:30 am with fully loaded car with tent, tables, and merchandise, unloading and building up the booth... helping customers all-day outside whether it was freezing temperature or a heatwave (we can get them all in Los Angeles in one day), then taking the booth down to pack up the car again. Sometimes I did it all by myself and sometimes I enlisted help from my sisters (this includes you, Susan). The opportunity gave me a real chance to have conversations with customers who wanted to know more about what we shared. Based on the feedback and inputs, I redesigned the visual booth display constantly to share the stories of what we curated. I am not certain if I could ever go back and do it again but looking back, I know for sure that these grueling days were our stepping stones to opening our brick & mortar space.
The brick and mortar space came as a surprise (perhaps more for everyone around me including Frido). After taking a month of maternity leave with Coco's birth in 2013, I was ready to get back to the BK operation. Having our physical shop was something Frido and I casually talked about but the actual execution was meant to be saved for a few years down the line. After all, we had 2 very young kids (3 years old and 3 months old) and our plates were already pretty full. With a bit of downtime in my hands, I started researching a commercial lease just to familiarize myself with what's out there... and before I knew it, I stumbled upon a sweet spot in Glassell Park as I combed through Craiglist. I told Frido that I would go and take a look in person just to check it out. The moment I went into the space, I knew that we were meant to be there and the rest was history. I convinced Frido with a lease that was month-to-month and we could just try for a few months until the year's end. If it didn't work out, I could always come back to our garage. I owe it to Frido with all these years of twists and turns at Baum-kuchen. He has been critical and has always given me very productive input. When I broke the news that it was "go time" for a commercial lease, he never doubted the idea and spent his vacation days building furniture for the shop space even though having a brick & mortar space might not have been his first priority at the time.
The first two years of having space in Glassell Park was slow and steady. I opened the shop a few days a week but it was usually very quiet and mostly just me fulfilling our online orders with handwritten shipping addresses. One parcel at a time. I still remember those quiet days.
Probably around that time, I faced a challenging self-inquiry that Baum-kuchen couldn't be a place that just sold "things". I felt it was not sustainable to keep chasing new and trendy things. "How can Baum-kuchen be Baum-kuchen without selling more artifacts?" I didn't really have the answer back then and it was frustrating not to know the "right direction" but now I know that it was a precursor to what became BK's TrulyYours a few years later.
After the BK's 5th birthday, Nerine came on board as the first official BK team member. I must admit that it took me a lot to start the process. I knew that I couldn't be the only one fulfilling every order since our family traveled frequently and it was just not going to work if BK had to close the online shop every time we stepped away. Honestly, I kicked and screamed to let go of the entire operation I stood behind Baum-kuchen. In 2015, Baum-kuchen was me and I was Baum-kuchen even though the equation was no longer sustainable. And I am so thankful that Nerine embraced the process gracefully and gave me the time and space to grow into the new role. With Nerine's help in fulfilling orders, I was able to spend more time thinking about new designs which opened up an opportunity to produce BK original items with 1.61 Soft Goods and other companies. Having more opportunities to design brought Frido and me back to our roots as designers. Baum-kuchen was not just a shop. It was our lifestyle studio/shop. And honestly, I love that Baum-kuchen became "us" and "we" became Baum-kuchen.
The 2nd five years of BK happened in a glimpse of my eyes. We started to establish a more grounding relationship with people and companies we really admired, including Trina who has been writing regularly for BK, as well as The Superior Labor who has become an incredible partner in co-producing some of the BK original artifacts.
After Nerine, came Eunice who once was our customer (and aka. analogue fairy). She brought so much finesse and details to what we do at Baum-kuchen as well as her beautiful presence both in-person and online. Even after she moved 60 miles away from our shop in 2018, we continue to work together and collaborate. In 2017, when our online orders slowly started to increase in volume, we asked Ame to join our team. Shortly after, I had my first discussion with Kawai-san of TSL to do a joint workshop in Los Angeles. As I brainstormed on possible workshop contents, the idea of customizing the Traveler's Notebook even further came to my mind. Yes. We had seen personally embossed TN covers. We designed inserts and accessories that could be used with Traveler's Notebook but what's more? How can we help our customers feel even closer to their analogue systems they loved so much? The birth and execution of BK's TrulyYours service were pure serendipity. The open-mindedness of The Superior Labor to go along with the idea, Ame's sewing skill set, and our very first BKxTSL Inspiration Lab guests who trusted us to work on their beloved TN covers. Today, BK TrulyYours is an ever-evolving service that supports our community to customize Traveler's Notebook as well as other artifacts by giving a breath of fresh air to well worn-in artifacts. It took me a few years to start answering my questions I struggled so much with back then. "How can Baum-kuchen be Baum-kuchen without selling more artifacts?" Yes. We will continue to share curated artifacts as a part of the BK collection. And Yes. We are also a place where our community can come back to in order to extend the relationship with the artifacts we share with them.
Frido's involvement at BK has been very organic. He has watched me from day one of Baum-kuchen. Always supportive and encouraging. Perhaps occasionally surprised by some of the decisions I have made (you will have to ask Frido directly to confirm this). When it comes to a physical presence at BK, his role as a BK Creative Director grew more and more in the last few years. As other retailers and even Amazon started to carry (once hard to find) Japanese stationery, we started to see that it was important, even critical, to continue designing our original artifacts. At the end of the day, I was not willing to cut corners just to compete with Amazon. I wanted and still, fully believe in creating a company that can support our team members and their familes while creating a respectful community. Bringing design has strengthened Baum-kuchen to stay relevant in our community in a way discount and sales wouldn't have. I also have so enjoyed watching Frido's passion for designing BK original artifacts grow. He is constantly juggling between his work at ArtCenter College of Design which he enjoys so much, co-parent to homeschooling our girls, and BK. Over the years, together, we have prioritized what's important in our family life and Baum-kuchen. I am thankful that we can stand behind our lifestyle and know that it has been a chain of conscious decisions we have made over many years. Frido has designed a lot of artifacts for BK over the course of 10 years but the JIYU Planner definitely has been very close to him and I think our community feels it:)
As I watched a variety of BK original items fill our inventory shelf, welcoming Emil as our newest BK team member couldn't have been timed better. As an artist/designer, he works closely with Frido to develop the designs of BK artifacts. I have enjoyed Ame, Eunice, and Emil add new flavors to the BK design, expanding our vocabulary in how we can communicate what we believe. Emil is also meticulously organized and I am so thankful that he continues to physically tame the ever-growing BK inventory making it possible for me to start growing the wholesale relationship and dream up the next BK designs.
I am writing this from our 2nd brick & mortar location in Altadena. I see sewing machines, vintage embossing machines, and a big analogue table, which used to be our dining table before our time in Glassell Park, surrounded by all the artifacts we love so much. Next to my desk is a row of inventory shelves filled with white boxes, lovingly labeled to indicate the contents inside. It's very quiet here today because it's Saturday and only I usually work on Saturdays. Tomorrow morning, some of our customer's TN covers will go through BK's TrulyYours service with the sewing machine's steady noise. In the afternoon, we will be opening our door to our community for our short but sweet opening hours. A day after tomorrow on Monday, our whole ground team will come back to the studio to fulfill online orders and correspond to our customers via emails as I will walk into the studio around 10:30 am after our babysitter arrives since girls will be on their spring break. The studio will be lively and full of action. As I walk through the door on Sunday, Monday, and every day, I make a promise to myself. To continue to stay true to who I am and who we are as Baum-kuchen and truly be thankful for where we are today and for our genuine and generous community who constantly showers us with love.
Thank you so much for being a part of the journey through the 10 years of Baum-kuchen. When I receive an email from you sharing how much the BK parcel was anticipated and how the artifacts have helped your day, it brightens my day and my team's day. The connection I and our team have with our community is unique, deep, and meaningful. xoxo