We spent a relaxing morning sipping green tea with Rikumo’s founders, Kaz + Yuka Morihata, at their relocated concept store, located at 1216 Walnut Street [editor’s note: it has a garden!] to discuss where they’ve been, where they are going and where it all comes from. Showcasing Japanese culture through aesthetics, craftsmanship, simplicity + hospitality—the updated space features an expanded product line along with their well-loved towel + charcoal collections. After running a successful store for years, the two have made the jump to a bigger, more immersive space with a clearer view + vision for their future.
hg: you are a husband + wife team, how did you two meet?
yuka: we met at RISD where we were students there from ‘91-‘96. I majored in jewelry, metal + sculpture—Kaz majored in industrial design.
hg: do you each play distinct roles at work or do you share work duties?
yuka: we definitely share the duties, but basically Kaz takes care of a lot of the financials and I try to communicate with our staff more about design, but … we really do share everything.
kaz: if it comes down to the store or the design work—we set up the design work together, and for construction—I take the lead with that. I like to use my skills in construction + carpentry to show the details and quality of work here. I think we work together really well. She does more of the product selection and setting out directions and I take more of the framework of the business from financial to business plan. I think it just merges together. It’s not like, “you do this and I do that.”
yuka: I think it’s pretty convenient for us to be a family because we can have meetings basically 24 hours a day—even on the way to work—we are always talking about what we can do now, five years from now; everything is related to Rikumo.
hg: what was your initial inspiration to start Rikumo? and how did you come to be based in Philadelphia?
yuka: I was working as an interior designer before we started Rikumo. I was actually working in New York for a few years after school, and went to Tokyo for three years while Kaz was at Penn completing a Masters Degree in Architecture. Those three years in Tokyo were the foundation for starting our business because I met a lot of designers, manufacturers + craftsmen. After working there for three years as a designer we decided to bring their products to introduce to an audience outside of Japan. That’s how the idea came through.
kaz: Prior to grad school we were both in NYC working at an architecture firm, but we found we just wanted to focus on design work. I decided to go back to school here in Philadelphia to help me regroup, and we had a chance to think, "Where do we want to be?". I think Philadelphia is a relatively reasonable place to start a business—in terms of cost and it’s a little bit easier as compared to New York—it’s not as intense.
"...Philadelphia just happened to be our hometown after after all…"
hg: what does Rikumo mean?
kaz: It's sort of a made up word that we came up with, combining two Japanese words; Riku = land, Kumo = cloud. Our products come from the land of Japan, and the idea of a cloud communicates our brand's interest in conceptual aesthetic free of physical barriers.
yuka: when we first started I was always in the original store, talking to customers, explaining our products; it really helped develop a relationship with the customers. Now that we're growing, our staff helps us bridge that gap between Japanese sensibility and universal points of view, so even though most of them are not from Japan, they bring new interesting qualities to our concept.
hg: what sparked the decision to expand into a larger storefront?
kaz: when running a business, you need a vision. The economy started to become more stable, the currency rate is at a much more ideal level—so this just became a really good time to get this started.
yuka: we took a very slow, small steps at the beginning. We did not expect to have as many customers at our original location. It was so laid back and we still ran the wholesale out of the same space. We would be packaging all of the orders in the back and then run up to the front if a customer came in. In the past two years, more and more customers come in, even on off days + customers from outside of Philadelphia who had heard about us. We felt that we may have been ready to expand a little bit. Instead of going to another city, we decided that we wanted to stay here in Philadelphia and see how our customers respond to it.
hg: the concept and aesthetic of Rikumo was so straightforward at the original location. How has that changed and evolved over the years?
kaz: it’s becoming clearer and clearer. When Yuka and I started we were only two people—now that we have more people working with us, our vision and intention needs to be clear. The vision we have is in-place at this store in terms of details and design. It’s not quite something that can always be expressed with words—you have to sort of come in and feel the store...
"...things like the sound of water are an expression of our aesthetic."
yuka: when we first started I was always in the original store, talking to customers, explaining our products; it really helped develop a relationship with the customers. Now I can’t always be at the store, but our staff now understands our products so well, even though they are not from Japan and did not grow up with these products.
hg: with your move, you have gone from 500 to 2,000 sq./ft. of space. How are you using the extra space differently?
yuka: We've added a "knowledge section," which gives us an opportunity to engage our customer with our culture a bit further. We're planning on inviting artists from New York and even from Japan for demonstrations and discussions on culture and design. We want people to enjoy being in our store, to use it as a community space to learn about design and engage with their surroundings in a tactile, emotional way.
hg: the products in your store are functional, everyday objects that almost feel like art objects … yet nothing feels too precious to actually use; what is the process for deciding which items to bring into the store?
yuka: originally I would choose products based on our standards of quality and craftsmanship; what we loved about Japanese design and what we felt needed to be brought to the international eye. It was a simple process. But since Rikumo has grown, I really take into consideration who our customers are and what they want in their lives. In a way, they are creating what Rikumo is just as much as we are. Right now our product selection is centered on pieces that are...
"...artistic, well designed + very functional."
hg: with the proliferation of online shopping, what do you see as the key to getting people physically into retail shops these days?
kaz: I think you need to give people a reason to come into your store. Because the online shopping experience is quick and in front of a screen—it doesn’t give you the tangible feeling, smell, sounds or lighting levels. That’s all here. We are human beings and we get more out of using the five senses. The online experience lacks that, it’s click and go...
yuka: ...it’s not that we are against online shopping. We love online shopping! It’s just a different way of experiencing the products. Ideally if a customer visits us and are not able to come back to philly soon enough—they remember us and shop online. Or maybe they’ve been an online customer for three years and finally have an opportunity to come to the store. We want them to be excited. We have a great creative team that translates things well online in design and photography...
"...We want people to make an effort to visit us by dreaming to be here."
kaz: online you have global reach and we do our best to express our intentions. If they find it interesting, maybe they come visit the store. Here at the store we’re able to push it farther and push other elements.
yuka: I think Philadelphia is becoming more and more interesting to visit and it’s a good time to have people come into the city and enjoy our store.
hg: is there an importance to you for personal connections with the craftsmen and artisans you work with?
yuka: yes, it’s very important. I meet every single manufacturer + owner when I’m back in Japan. We don’t deal with the big corporate factories— mainly small third generation companies.
kaz: we’re helping them to sustain their business and grow on different levels. There are so many great, different things coming out of Japan that are made with such incredible workmanship, like the towels and charcoal products we carry. We really just want to share those new things with the rest of the world, because in that way we keep alive that philosophy of quality work.
hg: after getting through opening the concept store, what’s next?
yuka: we are actually… (slight pause…) …shall we?
yuka: ...is it official? ha, ha… (laughs) Sorry!
hg: you don’t have to divulge any secrets.
yuka: we would like to expand our retail experience outside of Philadelphia either on a small or big level, we’re not sure yet. It will depend on finding the right opportunities. We would also like to grow on an international / global level, that’s our goal. It may be one small step at a time.
kaz: something exciting is lined up, but it’s not quite ready to be released to the public...
Rikumo's first event will be a Tea + Chocolate Workshop on Wednesday February 24th!