“In Japan, we are expected to do things on our own from a very young age, and we start going to school alone from the age of six, with some children travelling for more than an hour on public transport,” says Yuki Oshima, founder of London-based designer childrenswear brand Owa Yurika...
“I never realised this was unusual until I moved to the west. I remember some of my friends going home to an empty household and cooking and cleaning before their parents came back from work. I do think the relative safety of the country partly enables this, but there’s a sense of community – adults who are strangers are always looking out for children if they ever need help. We were also encouraged to always be polite and give seats away to the elderly on buses and tubes. Recently, when we did a pop-up event at the Isetan department store in Tokyo, I was amazed to be reminded of how polite and proper Japanese kids are.”
The ethos behind Owa Yurika – co-founded with her mother Yuriko, a colour consultant and best-selling author on the subject – is to ensure children learn to appreciate quality in all things. It was inspired by the birth of Yuki’s daughter Honor Yurika, and the desire to bridge the gap between overly girly and streetwear-inspired children’s clothes. The result is a collection that is characterful and hard-wearing – with lots of innovative and surprising touches – crafted from beautiful fabrics. In short, clothes to cherish.
Yuki began her career as an analyst at a London investment bank before returning to Japan to become the fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Her father is a Korean-Japanese entrepreneur and her husband Bruce Wilpon is the son of Fred Wilpon, the New York multimillionaire real estate developer who also owns the New York Mets baseball team.
Now she divides her time between London, Tokyo and Hawaii, where she has been photographed for The Grace Tales. (“I feel deeply and utterly relaxed and fulfilled whenever I am there,” she says. “It’s literally paradise for me.”). She is also heavily involved in charity and has been the managing director of the Oshima scholarship at New York University since 2005, given to students to enable their further education, as well as chairperson for another family charitable foundation in Tokyo, called Ikeikai since 2007, helping to fund university education for students in Japan.
We wanted to discover everything about Japanese parenting, mealtimes and even an old Japanese breastfeeding method. She is a truly fascinating mother to get to know.
Go to www.owayurika.com
What made you launch Owa Yurika?
After university, I began a career in finance but realised my passion was in fashion. So I started working for Harper’s Bazaar in Tokyo as a fashion editor and then became a worldwide contributor for them. Since then I’ve pretty much always worked in women’s fashion while also assisting the family business. When I got pregnant with my daughter Honor Yurika (the ‘Yurika’ of ‘Owa Yurika’ comes from her middle name) and started looking more closely at clothes from various childrenswear brands, I noticed a gap in the market for something unique, stylish, three-dimensional with proper pattern cutting and also of very high quality. In womenswear, there are so many options from brands like Valentino to Balenciaga, but most of the children’s clothing I encountered either seemed very feminine or casual/streetwear-like. So I thought there must be a demand for modern, interesting and carefully created clothes.
Why did you decide to create it with your mother?
I am extremely close to my mother but we have lived worlds apart since I was 19. We had been discussing starting a business to give us the chance to spend more time together and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. My mother has always been extremely stylish and has written best-selling books on colour theory (Colour Coordinator 123, The Colour Coordinator, Why Not Change Your Life With Colour Theory?), so her input to the business is absolutely crucial. We have completely different sets of strengths so it’s always helpful to run things by her when I feel stuck with a decision or an idea as she can add a fresh perspective. I love being able to share the joy of our achievements.
What is the biggest lesson she has taught you?
To always be polite, respectful and kind with people around us. She says it’s ultimately the people around us who will help a company grow and I agree completely.
And what lessons have you learnt along the way building your own brand?
To manage my time in the most efficient way, i.e. what to prioritise. There never are enough hours in a day!
What do you want to achieve with Owa Yurika?
I would love for Owa Yurika to be able to offer unique options for customers who want to or want their children to embrace individuality through their clothes. I think it’s very important today that children feel confident in what may not be the most conventional items and become familiar with high-quality long-lasting materials and manufacturing rather than just the fast-fashion offerings from high street brands. I’ve noticed that some Japanese parents do dress kids in cool funky clothes and I get inspired by their styles. i.e. @coco_pinkprincess
Is what you create influenced by what you wore growing up?
To be honest, I wasn’t too interested in clothes when I was a child and I hated going shopping with my mother for clothes. My mother selected for me high-quality Japanese-made items from brands like Familiar and Sayegusa when I was very young and when I was a teenager she dressed me in lots of Comme des Garcons clothes which I absolutely loved. I still remember vividly some of the clothes I had and really wish my mother had kept them.
What do you love about having your own business?
I consider my business my other child and I get so much joy out of it daily, especially when we make achievements like winning awards or receiving compliments from customers. Having the flexibility of putting time aside for my daughter is also a privilege.
What does success mean to you?
My father always encouraged me to set very clear detailed goals, write them down, advertise them to people who are close in order to put pressure on myself, and make sure I meet them. So I consider it a success when I meet these goals that I set.
How do you balance work and raising your daughter?
Since my daughter started school, I drop her off in the morning and I pick her up every day and I am in the office in between. From the pick-up to her bedtime, it’s my time with her and I try not to get distracted by work unless it’s absolutely necessary, and I get some more work done after she goes to sleep. But to be honest, I also like to go to bed early as I’m an early riser. Weekends are entirely dedicated to her as well.