where were you born and raised?
I’m originally from Hoquiam, a small town on the Washington coast. Historically it was a logging town, and the name means “Hungry For Wood” in the local natives’ language. True to the region’s reputation, it rains a lot, and the nearby rain forest is great for seeing beautiful moss.
how did you come to be in nyc?
When it came time to pick a college, I wanted to try something very different from my roots. New York City seemed to fit the bill, and the diversity and vibrancy of the city quickly had me hooked.
when did you start making things?
I’ve been making things as long as I can remember. On a recent family trip, I found an embroidered towel that I made for my grandfather when I was probably about 5. My mother was a quilter and general craft enthusiast, she taught me to sew and was amazed that I went into a sewing related field since I used to shout and throw my mistakes across the room as a teenager. On that side it is at least 3rd generation since my grandma was a professional seamstress. My father loves to tinker on crazy projects (a favorite story from his childhood was about him making a Valentine that would shoot a tiny dart, and giving it to his teacher), and we also share a love of science. So I seem to have gotten the creative bug from my parents, but I’m not sure if it is nature or nurture.
did you go to school/ were you trained?
I went to school at New York University Gallatin School, and divided my time between costume design and any crazy thing I could imagine. My other academic focus was East Asian studies, but I found plenty of time for things like glassblowing, metal casting, circus arts, jewelry making, etc. I continue to dabble with classes at FIT such as shoemaking. I have learned a ton from working in a costume shop professionally, and am very proud of the work we do there. Mostly I work on Broadway musicals, but ballets, operas, ice shows and circuses each have taught me fun styles and techniques as well. I’m occasionally working in a puppet shop as well where I am improving my skills for working with wood, plastics and power tools.
when did you begin to sell what you were making?
I received a Gocco print machine as a gift, and was very excited about making t-shirts for myself and friends. Ultimately I found that it was just as easy to print 10 as to print 2, so it seemed ideal to sell the overflow. I put them up on Etsy, and took them to an anime convention, and it was so fun to see them find new homes and interact with buyers.
what is your ultimate goal with this line/ your work?
One of the things that gets me down about my day job is that average people have trouble getting access to what I do, theater seems out of reach either geographically or financially for many people. I wanted to have a body of work that I felt that I could afford if I were the customer. I’d also like to explore more ideas in the future that make people smile or laugh. The Ikyoto line is (perhaps cheesily) about having a joyful experience for myself as the creator, and for those who buy it.
describe your process?
When I have a funny idea or experience, I write it down to percolate for later. After a few months or years, a product may have emerged. The t-shirt images are from a vintage science textbook that I found in the trash of a jr. high school I was working at in Japan. The illustrations immediately jumped out and me and I filed them away for later use. I blew them up to 400 times their original size, burned screens on the Gocco machine, fiddled with how to fit a t-shirt into the device, print, dry and heat set. The puppet scarves grew out of relationship with the Puppet Kitchen (an East Village custom puppet and props company) where I can contribute to their retail plans, and in return, can use their designs. I deal with the fur in the usual way, razor blades and sewing machines, and have now become resigned to being covered with artificial hair.
describe your work space?
Until recently I did all of my printing on my cutting table at my office, but now I have a brand new studio share to settle in to. The most notable thing about my work space is the people. My co-workers always come up to chat with me about my side projects and their own (a small sampling of their stuff included an el-wire wrestler’s costume, starting a wedding photography business and hand-dyed weaving). We all help and inspire each other, and I can usually get any technical question answered.
where do you find/ get inspiration?
I’m half-Japanese of descent, and lived in Japan for two years after college. There is a strong Japanese pop culture influence in things I make. Another inspiration is the intellectual stimulation from podcasts, especially scientific ones such as Radiolab, which I listen to while working with my hands. I’m a huge nerd, and my partner and friends’ conversations provide me with a lot of fodder for creative use as well, such as a line of dinosaur prints I’m currently developing.
when you hit a wall, what do you do to get out of your funk?
My to-do list is way too long to ever run out of things to make, but when I’m emotionally in a funk and lacking energy to create, I tend to escape into a movie or a book. I also cook and eat lots of fruit and vegetables while singing the Shonen Knife song that recommends that exact course of action.
what are your thoughts on the co-op?
I’m so excited to be part of the Better Than Jam Co-op. I know several of the designers personally and am fans of them both as humans and of their work. Some people outside the city think that living in NYC would be incredibly lonely or alienating, but I find that it creates community as people with similar interests and values find each other. I feel that the co-op has the potential to be the center of one such community.
what do see of the future of bushwick?
Bushwick is so different since I used to live there in 2004, and since I only bet on a sure thing, I would bet on more change. So far it seems that artists and artisans will continue to be a driving force of that change.
what do you plan on doing at the co-op?
I’ve heard that there is interest in having a DIY underwear workshop, so that may be in our future as soon as we figure out the sewing machine situation. In terms of products, I have some dinosaur related designs in mind and some vintage windbreakers waiting to be refashioned.
PH Equation T Shirt
Evaporation T Shirt
Come and meet Kari at our next First Friday’s Event, May 7th 7-10pm