Today I want you to meet my friend Jacqui of Mee a Bee, we met online and then got to meet up in real life when we went down to visit the in-laws a couple of year ago, we have a lot in common, I just wish we lived closer.
Could we start off with you telling us a little about yourself and your family?
I'm Jo's friend in Osaka, Jacqui. I am also a blogger and run my own craft-based business just like Jo! We have a lot in common including both being expats - though I am from New Zealand. I have two sons and spend most of my time being stay-at-home mum to them. While they're at school and kindergarten I spend way too much time online, I sew, bake and teach English as well.
How did you end up in Japan?
Many years ago I was lured to Japan by the promise of non-stop partying and good times that never end. My older brother was responsible to putting the idea in my head. I came here with the plan to work hard, save money and continue traveling. I did all of these things actually but I also met my husband-to-be and somewhere along the line I guess I made the decision to stay in Japan. It's been my home for sixteen years now.
So, a few years ago you decided to start Mee a Bee, how did it all come about and what made you focus on cute bags for kiddies?
I've always had a great desire to have my own business. I majored in marketing at university. I spent my teens and early twenties working part-time in retail, often alongside my father. It's from dad that I inherited the entrepreneurial spirit. Motherhood opened my eyes to the joy of child-raising. For a while I ran a website for the expat community of parents in Osaka. I thought about becoming a lactation consultant and even took a course. It was when my second child came along and my first was in kindergarten that I had the idea to start sewing bags for children. That was five years ago. Still going strong!
What would you say were the most challenging aspects of starting a business in Japan?
My biggest challenge is not unique to being located in Japan, it comes from being isolated in the community away from a support network. At times I have had to pass up opportunities or have been stressed out and overworked in part because I don't have any family nearby to help with childcare. You can only expect so much of friends. This past year has been much easier now that my little one is in a full-time kindergarten class.
Of course language has also been a hurdle. Not speaking fluently and not reading much beyond a first grader's level has meant that I have had to rely on computerised translation services to get information. Progress has been slow but I manage.
And what are you most proud of to date?
I don't have a real standout moment but I am proud to have developed a burgeoning brand from absolutely nothing. I have wonderful loyal customers cheering me along, people who read my blog and I have my own Facebook page for the Mee a Bee! with real fans! These things make me so happy.
I know you are terribly fussy about the materials you use for your bags, how do you decide what to use?
Over the years my signature look has developed so that Mee a Bee is known for the little messenger bag or crossbody bag that I make for preschoolers and toddlers. I have made thousands of these bags but still get excited when I start a new piece of fabric. My commitment is to Japanese fabrics made from natural materials like linen and cotton. I like small patterns with lots of attention to detail in the illustrations. I'm not really that fussy!
How would you describe your style?
It took ages to realise that my own personal style is reflected heavily in my bags. I like simple and minimalistic design. I love colour but in an understated way. If you were to visit my home you'd see it is a neutral palette punctuated with small bursts of colour or pattern, just like my bags.
Who or where do you draw your inspiration from?
I'm a big fan of ... Martha Stewart. If someone asked me to host a television show or edit a magazine I would be there in a heartbeat. Although my leanings are to a more modern way of decorating I adore Martha's style and commitment to the best of everything. I admire Martha's passion and dedication to her business. I really see her as the one who opened the door to women like Jo and I putting our mark on the world from a domestic vantage point.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an Olympic High Diving Champion. Don't ask me why. I still love the water and swim in a Master's club a couple of times a week. But I have never dived from a high board!
In your high school year book, how would this sentence be finished?
Jacqui is most likely to.....
Hmmm, I was a real straight arrow at school. I think most kids thought I would do well in life as I was always pretty good at school work and well-liked by the teachers. I don't think anyone would have predicted that I would end up leaving New Zealand and everyone is always shocked to hear that I spend my days sewing.
And finally, a question from Ebi-kun... what is your favorite dish from New Zealand and your favorite Japanese dish?
Ebi-kun, when I go back to New Zealand I always go straight to the bakery for a steak' n cheese pie followed by a chocolate lamington with whipped cream. Yum!!
Here in Japan I don't eat much Japanese food funnily enough but I do like sushi.
Thanks Jo, for the chance to meet your lovely readers!
Thank you for popping by Jac!
You can find Jacqui at her blog
and Facebook page.